Perspectives

Superjobs…redesigning roles and the workplace

As organisations embrace and adopt robotics and AI, the jobs of today are becoming more machine-powered and data driven, and require more human skills like problem-solving, communication, interpretation, and design. Automation has the potential to take out routine tasks and many jobs will evolve into what we call ‘superjobs’. We invited two Deloitte Human Capital Partners, Kate Sweeney and Phil Coleman, to share their expert opinions on what superjobs are and how they are challenging organisations’ perceptions of work structure and workforce management.

Kate Sweeney is the head of Organisation Transformation within Human Capital, with a focus on the private sector and Phil Coleman is the head of Workforce Transformation team within Human Capital with a focus on financial services. Here’s what they had to say…

A more technologically-enabled future

We support leaders and their organisations in their journey through major transformation programmes. Alongside that, we help clients imagine how whole organisations and their workforces should be re-designed in order to be effective in the next 10-15 years, and also ensure a positive transition experience for their people. We expect that in the near future, as the scale of automation grows, organisations will have to rethink and invest in how they create new job structures and transition people to a more technologically-enabled future.

So what are superjobs?

Before we jump into discussing the term superjobs, we need to set the scene by outlining significant trends we’re seeing in the workplace which are impacting the structure or work and workforce management:

  • Advances in technology are driving automation of the workplace, the rise of AI, and blending of machines and humans.
  • Big changes are happening to the skills lifecycle and the nature of learning. For example, a major technology firm recently shared with us that they are encouraging their software developers to learn a new coding language every year; because coding languages can now become obsolete in 12 months.
  • The rise of the gig economy means organisations are moving away from ‘owning’ all employees to running ecosystems and networks of employees.

Firstly, the term superjobs is not ideal as it creates a vision of a caped crusader coming into the workplace! The term actually means that jobs are evolving. Instead of having a deep expertise in a particular domain area, individuals will have to leverage both human skills and technology to work across multiple domains. Jobs that have previously been dependent on specialist knowledge are being augmented by technology, automation, machine learning, and augmented reality. In this environment, the role of the human will be to work with a multitude of technologies and use skills that are the essence of the human in the workplace, such as empathy and situational judgment.

The challenge is to redesign jobs so they are more interesting for people to do. Whether this is the role of a CEO, or someone working on a shop floor, these new ‘superjobs’ will need to be aspirational, so people can bring their whole self to work and be able to learn new skills.

Breaking down and building up again

Too often, organisations start this journey by looking at their current workforce, their current set of roles and job descriptions, and reorganise from there. Instead, they should start breaking down jobs into tasks that need to be completed and reassembling them in different ways. What needs to be onshore; what needs to be offshore? What can be automated? What could be sourced through our network, through our ecosystems? You can then start to understand how roles might look in the future.

Most organisations would need to do scenario planning so that they can understand the art of the possible and really challenge their thinking about jobs of the future. We expect that when they look at the work analysis they will need to make decisions on whether they are going to automate or outsource a task/role. Just because it could be automated or could be outsourced to the gig economy doesn’t mean they should. We are providing to our clients with tools and accelerators to explore scenarios, but also provide advice for these kinds of judgements.

Re-designing the workforce

We recently delivered a project for a major industrial utility organisation, helping them to re-design their customer operations centre. These centres were organised as call centre units fully staffed on premises. Often, in order to guarantee their ability to meet customer service expectations, the number of call operatives would be in excess of the actual demand. With the rise of technology and the gig economy, our client realised that they could train a contingent workforce to work remotely instead.

From talent perspective, they increased their diversity footprint as they were able to offer careers and job opportunities to people who were not able to travel. From a business delivery perspective, they could better respond to customer demands as a contingent workforce could create extra capacity. Ultimately, this new workforce structure enabled the organisation to optimise and manage the customer experience and service levels much more effectively, compared to where they had a fairly fixed, rigid capacity that didn’t have the flexibility to cope with spikes in demand.

Augmenting jobs with technology

We also worked with a major power and utilities company as they explored the evolution of a number of jobs, mostly looking at the roles of employees working in high-risk environments where power is being produced and created. Today, the organisation has console operators based in control centres, whose job is to identify any emergent issues or problems from the incoming data. They also have field engineers who are trained to use all five senses to identify problems; arguably, the sixth sense of experience as well – they look out for smells that could be indicative of a problem; abnormal tastes from the atmosphere they are walking in; sights and the sounds out of the ordinary.

The client wanted to consider a future environment where augmented reality, predictive analytics, and internet of things can be used to detect and report parts and components that are breaking down before they actually break. These technologies will enable a new class of job for the super operator, who would use augmented reality and machine analytics to prevent future problems, yet still use the human element of having that sixth sense and awareness of the broader environment. This will effectively combine two jobs of today, the console operator and a field operator.

Focus on human skills

The skill requirements of superjobs are quite different to the requirements of specialist jobs that tend to be either knowledge-based or mechanical-based. People in specialist jobs will need to evolve their skills and apply them more broadly. Interpersonal skills will also become very important, especially as today these skills are not typically well developed. Learning functions in organisations will need to help people build these skills and capabilities as this will enable people to step into those new roles – or superjobs. There should still be the specialist component but as it becomes heavily aided by automation people will be expected to draw on human interaction type skills and capabilities.

With this in mind, it is important that we don’t just focus on high-tech jobs and the opportunities for people in these roles. There are some absolutely critical roles that are in the caring space for example, and they will evolve under the impact of future of work as well!

A case for responsible automation

Superjobs isn’t a simple case of automation and redundancy. There is a social responsibility for organisations to do the right thing by their employees, and an increasing pressure for them to prepare workforces for the jobs of the future. This means facilitating effective redeployment of people to areas where their skills are best utilised. Even roles that are less directly impacted by automation will experience a knock-on effect due to changing organisational processes. We expect that leaders will have to consider their own skills as well such as their approach to decision-making and how they run the organisation overall.

One of the best examples we can give comes from a bank we’ve worked with that automated a lot of customer interactions and transactions. As a result of digitalisation, the need for branch tellers dealing with customers face-to-face and call centre operatives rapidly reducing. The bank identified other industries where the same type of skill sets were in demand and actively helped their people with redeployment and reskilling, so that they could move into other parts of the organisation.

Businesses are going to have to learn to operate in these new ways and now is the time to do pilots, to experiment and trial new technologies and ways of working. It is not possible to leap overnight from how companies operate today, to a mystical view of the future, where the world is populated by superjobs and ‘cobots’ (part humans and part machines). But organisations should start thinking beyond jobs and consider how they break down work and reassemble it in the future. Thinking about what organisational culture they want to have; how they want to lead it; who’s going to be in their ecosystem etc. These are some bigger questions over and above roles and jobs that companies should be considering.

Listen to the full interview [podcast] with Kate Sweeney and Phil Coleman.

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