Humanising the Future of Work podcast

Episode 2: Superjobs... redesigning roles and the workplace

As organisations adopt new technologies, they’re finding that virtually every job must change, and that the jobs of the future are more digital, more multidisciplinary, and more data- and information-driven...creating new roles we call 'superjobs'. In this episode our speakers discuss how to navigate ‘superjobs’ and the trends they are seeing on the ground with their clients.

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Kate Sweeney

Kate leads our Future of Work proposition in the UK, helping organisations navigate today’s working world where changes in demographics, the labour market and career expectations are re-redefining the relationship between employer and employee.

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Phil Coleman
Head of Workforce Transformation

Philip is a Partner in Deloitte's Banking & Securities Consulting practice. With over 20 years of experience, Philip is a business transformation professional with a market focus on Global Banking clients.

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Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte

Speakers: Kate Sweeney, Human Capital Partner and Organisation Transformation Leader and Phil Coleman, Head of Workforce Transformation and Human Capital Financial Services Partner

DH: I’m your host, Daniel Hind. Today, I have the pleasure of hearing the views of two of Deloitte’s Human Capital partners, Kate Sweeney and Phil Coleman.

KS: Hi, Daniel. Yes, Kate Sweeney. I lead our organisation transformation business here in the UK. And in organisation transformation, we’re all about, how do we architect, design, and work with leaders through their major transformation programmes? Very much focused on the people experience of transformation. And the whole question of future of work is so exciting for us around how do organisations need to be designed differently to be effective in this new world.

PC: Hi, Daniel. So, I’m Phil Coleman. I’m the leader of the workforce transformation practice in Human Capital. In workforce transformation, we focus on helping our clients design the workforce of the future, thinking through what are the impacts of the future of work on their current workforce, what will their target state look like, and most importantly, how can they lead and manage the transition from where they are today to the workforce model that they need to have in ten, 15 years’ time.

DH: Great. Thank you. So, superjobs is quite a grand title. I suppose my opening question would be, what does superjobs mean to you?

PC: First of all, I’m not sure that the term superjobs is one that I particularly like. I have a vision of a caped crusader coming into the workplace, and it’s not really the correct that I would have in mind. But what I think it represents is that there are a number of jobs that used to be characterised by the application of deep specialism, often knowledge specialism, which increasingly are being augmented by technology, automation, machine learning, augmented reality.

And what that means is that the role of the human is to work with a multitude of these technologies to be able to apply the skills that are very much the essence of the human in the workplace; very much increasingly utilising the skills of empathy, situational judgment, and situational awareness.

And when you have the knowledge now codified in the technology, what that means is that the individual who is using that technology, they can apply that knowledge and skills in a way where, in the previous world, they would have very much been focused on a particular domain expertise, now they can use technology and apply multiple domain expertise, but leverage the human skills that actually really matter for the engagement with their colleagues.

DH: Thanks, Phil. Great perspective. Kate, anything you want to add?

KS: I completely agree with Phil about superjobs being an interesting title. I think, for me, the really interesting question is just about how the world of work and the world of jobs are changing. So, for me, the concept around superjobs, as Phil was saying, is about the fact that jobs in the future will need to blend very different skills, and the skills that will be important in the future are going to be different.

I think it also needs to be a challenge that we set ourselves, as we start thinking about work going forwards, and an aspiration, because we know that the trends that are hitting the workplace are going to fundamentally change jobs, both in terms of the nature of jobs, but also where jobs are.

And I think as we go through that journey, it’s going to be important for us to aspire to jobs that are more interesting for people to do. Whether they’re the CEO of a business or whether they’re working on the shop floor, how do we make those jobs the sorts of jobs that people want to do, where they are bring their whole self to work, and they are stretching themselves in these new roles? And I think we’ve got a real opportunity to start thinking about designing jobs in a very different way.

DH: When you talked about trends that we see affecting the workplace, are there any examples you can give to bring that to life?

KS: I think, I mean, Phil touched on a number of them. So, absolutely, the automation of the workplace, but the rise of AI, the mixing of machines and humans, I think is a big trend. We’re also seeing significant trends around the nature of learning and the half-life skills.

I was talking to the European director of a major technology firm, and he was saying that they now encourage their coders to learn a new coding language every year. So, within a year, that coding language is obsolete. So, some big changes in the speed of skills. Some big changes as well around the rise of the gig economy and the move away from all employees being owned into ecosystems and networks of employees. There’s a whole range of different trends that are dramatically shifting the workplace at the moment.

DH: With regards to what we see happening in the UK, some of the projects that we’re working with clients on, have we got any examples that we can talk about, that maybe help the listeners bring this to life?

PC: Yes, we do. So, we’re doing work across a number of different sectors. And clearly, the UK economy, the workforce challenges and the workforce trends do differ across the sectors that we’re facing, but there are some common themes and some common threads that actually are cutting across all of these.

I’ll give an example to start with, from the customer operations centre of a major industrial utility organisation. These are customer operations who are regularly dealing with business-to-business inquiries, as well as a little bit of business-to-retail customer engagement and customer problem solving.

Traditionally, they basically will have call centre structures, fully staffed on premises, with call operatives, usually in excess of the actual demand that is required, because that is what is necessary to meet their customer operation service levels.

What they have recognised with the advent of technology and the gig economy is that they can actually train a contingent workforce that are not necessarily able to travel to a call centre.

Could be based at home. Could actually be able to offer careers and job opportunities that can reach people who are not able to travel, therefore increasing their diversity footprint.

What that’s allowing them to do is to identify peaks in demand, call in through the gig economy, contingent to extra capacity that actually can go online from their home working place rather than coming into a call centre environment.

And that use of technology is both enabling diversity outcomes, in terms of being able to give work to working mothers and to disabled people. It is able to have much more flexibility and dynamism in terms of how they ratchet up or ratchet down capacity, based upon the demand.

And it’s allowing them to optimise and manage the customer experience and the service levels much more effectively than they could do, where they had a fairly fixed, rigid capacity at any time, that didn’t necessarily have the flexibility to cope with the spikes in demand that they may foresee.

DH: Sticking with the theme of automation. I saw yesterday that the BEIS, which is a cross-political committee of MPs, had announced that UK firms are losing out to competitors across the G7, and their view was that this was partly due to the support from government, and also the investment within the UK into automation and robotics in particular.

Do we expect to see over the coming years much more focus on this area? So, the actual redesign of jobs within organisations is going to be a much hotter topic for a wider range of industries and sectors.

PC: Absolutely. And I think that there are some very clear technology enablers for changing the nature of jobs and the nature of work, and there are also some employment and, beyond that, some social consequences that we are going to need to face into.

So, let me give an example. Sticking in the industrial sector. For a major power and utilities company, we’ve been looking at some of the jobs that actually are helping to manage and keep safe their field operations; high-risk environments, where, effectively, power is being produced and created.

Today, they have console operators, who are sitting in control centres, looking at the dials and identifying where there may be any emergent issues or problems from the telemetry that is coming in. And they have field engineers who quite literally are trained to be using all five senses to identify problems; arguably, the sixth sense of experience as well. They’re looking out for smells that could be indicative of a problem; taste in the mouth from the atmosphere that they’re walking around; the sights and the sounds.

And what they are looking into for the future is an environment where augmented reality, predictive analytics, internet of things that will actually allow parts and components that are breaking down to be able to be reported before they actually give and break.

All of these technologies are coming together and creating a new class of job for the super operator, who actually is able to use augmented reality, machine analytics to work out where they might go to, be preventative in terms of problems being solved, but still retain that human element of having that sixth sense and that awareness of the broader environment.

And that effectively is going to take what currently is two jobs, console operator in a command centre and a field operator in the arena of the production, into one job, where a lot of that telemetry can be provided in real time, using augmented reality, to the field operator that now is doing an expanded job.

What we are also seeing, though, is that in society at large, there is an increasing pressure that workforces are retooled to be able to take on the jobs of the future. So, it’s not simply a case of automation and redundancy. There is also increasingly a social responsibility expectation on organisations to actually do the right thing by their employees.

One of the best examples of that was a bank in the Southern Hemisphere, who were automating a lot of the customer interactions and transactions. The need for the volume of branch tellers who were dealing with customers face-to-face, or call centre operative dealing with them on the phone, was rapidly reducing because of the digitisation.

But they identified that there were other industries where the same type of skill sets that those operatives had, will actually be able to provide jobs. So, they actively helped with redeployment and reskilling and moving those employees into other types of employment, where their skills could be utilised.

So, I think what we’re increasingly seeing in terms of the social circumstance is it’s not simply a case of automate and reduce. It’s also a case of automate, retrain, or have a responsibility for the effective redeployment of workforce to areas where their skills are best utilised in the future of work.

KS: And there are some, I think, knock-on implications as well, that it’s worth us thinking about. So, we’ve been talking a lot about the jobs themselves, and particularly the jobs that are being impacted by automation. I think if you take a holistic view of the organisation, that is a very different requirement for leaders. How do you lead in this new world? What do those roles look like? What are the capabilities that you need?

It’s going to have an impact for the whole organisation around finance function, decision-making that you will need to take around, how do you invest? How do you understand value? How do you understand cost? All of those things will be different in this new world.

So, even some of the roles that are less directly impacted, I think there is a knock-on change to the skills and thought processes that are required in those roles as well.

PC: So, what I think we are seeing is that the skill requirements of the resultant generalist jobs, or superjobs as we’re calling them, that are actually combining a lot of the previous knowledge or specialist-based skills, and then applying them more broadly, the skill requirements are often quite different from the skill requirements of the specialist jobs which tend to be either knowledge-based or mechanical-based.

And that means that interpersonal skills, personal confidence, empathy, the ability to relate and problem solve for customers, be they colleagues or be they end customers of the organisation, become increasingly important. And very often, for the people impacted, those are not necessarily skills would’ve been well honed or well developed in early parts of the career.

So, what we are seeing is there is an increasing imperative on learning functions in organisations to be able to help people build the skills and build the capabilities that actually is going to allow them to step into those new roles, where the specialist component of what they were doing is now heavily aided by automation, but where the balance of what they’re going to be expected to do will play much more on those human interaction type of skills and capabilities.

DH: So, Kate, what’s the scale that you see of the impact of automation in the workplace? Are we seeing particular roles that more affected?

KS: So, I think we’re only just beginning to touch on the impact of automation coming into the workforce. And as we were talking about earlier on today, I think it is going to have an impact on all roles. And the superjobs is definitely one factor that we’re seeing, where people are really having to redesign roles around automation, and really thinking about some of the different skills that people will need to do those jobs.

But I always worry, when we talk about superjobs, that we’re focusing on some of the really high-end roles, and some of the opportunities for people in those roles. And in reality, if we’re looking at the workforce as a whole, we have some absolutely critical roles that are in the caring space, and those roles are equally important, and thinking about how they’ll change under the impact of future of work, we ought to be considering as part of the debate as well.

DH: Yes. So, how would an organisation typically try and embark on this type of project? So, if they’re talking quite large-scale job design, where’s the starting point? Because it can seem like quite an overwhelming task.

KS: So, I think one of the starting points is to start thinking about work very differently. I think the really interesting question that organisations ought to be asking themselves is, what are we going to need to be doing in the future? And then how might we set about doing that? I think, too often, people start thinking with their current workforce, their current set of roles and job descriptions, and start reorganising boxes on a page.

And actually, I think the really interesting questions are where people start breaking down jobs into tasks that need to be completed and reassembling them in different ways. And thinking about what needs to be onshore; what needs to be offshore. What can be automated. What could be sourced through our network, through our ecosystems. And really break down the jobs into component parts, and then start to understand how roles might look in the future.

PC: And some of the research that we’ve been doing is identifying how you can, in a consistent way, codify what is the work that actually is being done, distinct from how it’s currently done, and who’s currently doing it.

From that, identifying for that work how much of that work could be subject to automation, either now or in the future, as the technology evolves; how much of that work is suitable for contingent, or offshoring, or other types of talent model; and also what are the elements and the essence of work that actually needs to be done in a highly humanistic way.

From that, it provides the building blocks for organisations to think through what are the roles of the future, what are the jobs of the future; and beyond that, what are the organisational impacts, what are the cultural impacts, and what are the challenges of getting from the workforce they have today to the workforce they have tomorrow, in terms of retooling, retraining. Are the people that they have today, the people that they will need tomorrow? And understanding the nature of work is always the starting point.

DH: So, really looking at the output and working back from there.

KS: Absolutely, and reimagining the future. I think one of the challenges with this work is we don’t know the answers to most of the questions that we’re asking at the moment. So, I think, for an awful lot of people, there are some scenario planning they need to be doing around understanding the art of the possible and really stretching themselves.

I think people aren’t moving quickly enough, and now is the opportunity to do some pilots, to do some experiments, to trial crowdsourcing on a critical programme. Businesses are going to have to learn to operate in these new ways, and it isn’t a leap from how we’ve always done things to some mystical view of the future, where the world is populated by superjobs, and we understand how to work in those ways. We don’t know how to manage people who are ‘cobot’; part humans and part machines. We need to learn as businesses, and I think now is the moment to experiment and test and pilot.

PC: And I think it’s also fair to say that when we do this work analysis, organisations will look at it and say, just because something could be automated or could be outsourced to the gig economy, doesn’t necessarily mean that is what they want to do. So, it’s actually about providing choice.

There are many areas where there are many very positive reasons why organisations might want to stop short of the full potential of automation or the full potential of offshoring and exploiting the gig economy because of the intangible human element that actually makes the output of the work the quality that it does. And this is where what we are providing to our clients are tools and accelerators to actually allow good judgment to be applied. It is not a prescription to say, everything that can be automated, automate.

KS: And then there’s the step beyond jobs. So, we’ve been talking about, how do you break down work and think about how you want to reassemble it in the future. But key questions for me as well is, what’s the culture of the organisation that you want to have? How do you want to lead it? Who’s going to be in your ecosystem? And how are you going to partner with them? So, there are some bigger questions over and above roles and jobs.

DH: Thanks for that, Kate and Phil. Unfortunately, we’ve run out of time today. So, I must thank you for coming along and sharing your thoughts and look forward to seeing you again in the future. That’s it for this week. If you do like the podcast, please follow us or subscribe. If you have any ideas for a future topic, please contact our Future of Work team. Details are listed on the podcast channel. Thank you.

Read the related blog post here.

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