David D'Souza, Head of London for the CIPD, reflects upon our latest event "Shifting Workforce Demographics" by asking questions about the future of work. 

It was fascinating to attend the latest Future of work event run by the Future of Work hub, with an interesting mixture of speakers and perspectives. I'm most interested in that range of perspectives as the lens through which we see the world, to some extent, dictates whether we approach the next few years with trepidation or excitement. I happen to think that either approach is valid given the level of economic and social insecurity we currently exist in. For this post I decided to focus on some of the questions we should be answering or considering. I don't offer concrete answers - only a few questions that struck me as the speakers and panel members offered their views on the day. 

Generational differences

Are people that radically different in their values or are we just seeing consistently human reactions to differing environments? Do the young really want to job hop or is that there is simply an absence of job security? Did previous generations really not care about purpose in their work or did they just work in environments that had less transparency? I was born in 1979 (on a generational cusp) and different speakers regularly lump me into different generations with differing traits - does that lack of subtlety help or hinder? How do the same people that talk cluster people in generations marry that up with narratives about individualisation? 


How much impact will technology have and when? If roles are automated do the people in 'safe jobs' understand their jobs are safe if society and economies don't flourish as a whole? What is 'enough' automation? How much control are we exerting over the change in the way we are doing work and how much can we? How do we ensure that the best bits of what make us human aren't lost in the rush to utilise algorithms? What does fair look like? Can a robot ever feel compassion? On your worst days in the office do you want a friend to talk to or a chatbot? Could an algorithm ever genuinely console someone? 


How long does it take to get this right? How do we stop thinking about diversity as binary traits and start thinking more about the richness of diversity we have? What is the cost to the economy of more diverse approaches not being embraced? Do we factor the cost of individuals into that calculation?  Are we locked into a series of small improvements or are there legal or educational changes that would allow us to make leaps forward? Who are the key people to have the debate - and are they the same people who can help make that change? 

I would love to be able to answer the above, but the best that most people will be able to do is to offer an opinion. Reconciling the breadth of those opinions at times feels an unmanageable task because some of the questions strike at the heart of people's views on work, identity and humanity. I don't have the answers, but when the world gets around to answering them I hope the answer to most is centered on the fact that the future of work is human and in our hands. 

By David D'Souza, Head of London for the CIPD. 

Peter Cheese (also of the CIPD) led the panel discussion at our event: Shifting Workforce Demographics - rising to the challenge. 


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