“Navigating the Future of Work” by Hagel et al.

Introduction

The workforce, the workplace, and the conditions of the market in the 21st century are very different from what they were in the past. The modern market is driven by innovation, meaning that skills, knowledge, technologies, and practices are quick to become obsolete (Watson 2016). With the planet’s population continuing to grow, the competition between different generations is likely to intensify. This is not a grim prediction of the future but an objective reality. Businesses, workers, and social institutions are expected to adapt to these changing environments in order to mitigate the potential side effects brought by the sudden changes perpetrated by innovation, automation, and digitalization of information (Silvestrov et al. 2016).

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The article titled “Navigating the Future of Work,” written by John Hagel, Jeff Schwartz, and Josh Bersin, published in Deloitte Reviews in July 2017, highlights some of the issues pertaining to innovation. These include the necessity for businesses to adapt and compete, the stress on the workers forced to adopt the “life-long learning” doctrine as a condition of simply maintaining their jobs, and the inevitable eventuality of the governments having to deal with a large number of unemployed or underemployed individuals (Hagel et al. 2017). Despite correctly pointing out some of the issues, the authors made wrong conclusions regarding the bargaining power of customers, demographics, and the changes conditions for workers, seriously underplaying the scope of change and its potential consequences. The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze the article, highlight and elaborate on its deficiencies, and offer an evidence-based outlook on the situation.

Summary

The article begins by outlining the three major forces of change that would shape the future of work in various ways. These factors are demographics, technology, and the so-called “power of the pull” (Hagel et al. 2017). According to the authors, demographics will have a strong influence because the number of able workers will increase. Competition between generations is likely, as the gradual increase of lifespan will mean that the elderly will be more inclined to progress their careers beyond the age of 60. The second factor, technology, implied that the improvements in automation and digitalization of processes would render even more jobs obsolete. Employment, according to the authors, would shift towards jobs and skills that machines could not replicate, revolving around empathy, decision-making, and human intellect (Hagel et al. 2017). In addition, access to high-output production technology would improve the standing of smaller businesses, giving them the tools to produce quality products without necessarily having large factories and production values. Lastly, the authors cite the so-called “power of the pull,” which stands for customer empowerment and the rise of global talent markets. It is stated that competition and progress would be motivated by these forces, dragging the prices down (Hagel et al. 2017).

After outlining these factors, the article explores how changes would affect the three main components that make up modern society – businesses, workers, and governments. It is stated that change will provide many distinct advantages and disadvantages that society as a whole will need to adapt and cope with. The vision of future businesses is positive – it is stated that the workplaces of the future would be geared towards creativity, problem-solving, designing and providing new services, and offering customization options to the clients. The workers are suggested to learn to adapt to the changing realities of the market and adopt the concept of lifelong learning, which suggests a necessity for learning and updating skills on a daily basis in order to keep up with the changing demands of the employers.

The authors state, optimistically, that changes would enable people to “plan their own career paths,” and “pursue their passions” best (Hagel et al. 2017). The rise of the gig economy is implied. Lastly, the governments are suggested to prepare to deal with difficulties when obtaining jobs and provide government-sponsored retraining courses as well as temporary bailouts for people without jobs. One of the challenges seen before the legislative branch of the government is ensuring legal support for freelancers, providing them the advantages of government protection while also enabling them to pay their taxes. The article is concluded with a statement that without businesses, workers, and governments working together, the road to change will be “bumpy” at best (Hagel et al. 2017).

Purpose

The purpose of the article is to provide several frameworks for change and to prepare the readers (who would represent either businesses, workers, or governments) about the coming changes and the future of the workplace. One of the implied purposes is to generate a discussion between the representatives of various spheres, prepare a united response to the challenges faced in front of the society, and provide an impulse for further research into the subject.

As a whole, the article serves as a cursory overview of the situation developing right now, supported by academic evidence. It also provides interesting information regarding case studies, such as the event at Volkswagen, where people are replacing robots. The machines at their current technological level cannot replicate some of the complex customizations offered by the automobile concern to its customers.

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Knowledge management is of paramount importance in outlining the new business landscape. The speed and accuracy of information transfer rely on technology, which continues to advance on a progressive scale. Thus, employees are expected to achieve greater degrees of autonomy. Menial tasks with little to no decision-making are likely to be replaced by machines, leaving the more intellectually challenging tasks to humans. Knowledge management and decision-making are intertwined, as advances in technology would provide quicker, more accurate, and variable information to be accessible at the manager’s fingertips (Mao et al. 2016).

The authors advocate for increased prospects for adult education in order to enable individuals to learn new skills as they progress through their careers. Lastly, the article is aimed at current and future workers, stating that the concept of lifelong learning will be required to maintain stable employment. Another implication is that menial jobs relying solely on mechanical skills (factory workers, box carriers, janitors, and others) would be replaced. Building careers in humanitarian spheres that rely on human interaction and empathy are proposed as a more viable option.

Industry

The article outlines the potential obstacles, challenges, and threats to the industry with frightening accuracy. Indeed, most of the symptoms predicted to happen in the next ten years are already here, shaping the realities of the working environment. Businesses, workers, and governments will have to face these obstacles and react accordingly. The general idea is clear – if the three forces fail to cooperate in order to soften the turbulence of adaptation, the consequences would likely be less than savory for the society as a whole. Although it is unlikely that the end result of these adaptations will be like the authors predict – a result focused on diversification, innovation, and education, some sort of answer is sure to follow.

The industry will react first. A business’ success or failure resides on how quickly it reacts to changes in the environment. Therefore, companies are expected to increase their demands towards the qualifications of their workers-turned-managers, with an emphasis on knowledge management and information technology. Employees would be expected to be fluent in the use of advanced programs and tools available for information management. This process is already in motion, as modern employees are required to be skilled in various computer applications as well as the software used in project management, scheduling, cost control, budgeting, and others (Stone et al. 2015).

The government is likely to react only when the public demands it. This would happen through political institutions and street action (Flora 2017). However, changes to employment and transformations into a gig economy would not come overnight. This would give governments time to prepare. Workers, on the other hand, would feel the changes as soon as they occur. Alterations to the employment market would result in political, social, and economic activity from various stakeholders affected by the situation. Industries most affected by automation of labor processes would be the electronics industry, automobile industry, and digital industry (Atkinson and Storey 2016). The Healthcare industry will see a gradual increase in demand due to being one of the “humanitarian industries” that cannot be fully automatized. The farming sector is likely to remain unchanged.

Criticism of the Article

Although the majority of recommendations and predictions in the article make common sense and are supported by empiric data cited throughout the paper, some predictions and conclusions are less than likely. My criticism of this paper will be pointed at several statements, which I perceive as false based on my research of the topic areas. These statements are as follows:

  • The power of the pull. According to the authors, the bargaining power of the customers will increase as the result of globalization as well as emerging small businesses competing with large corporations (Hagel et al. 2017). While this prediction may well be true, there are numerous other factors that influence the bargaining power of the customers. One of these major factors is wealth. If customers have less wealth, their bargaining power diminishes (Fabbri and Clapper 2016). The authors allude to a potential job crisis as a result of technological innovations and demographics. In a job crisis, companies have greater power, whereas workers (customers) are forced to compete with one another over jobs. As a result, the bargaining power of the customers should fall, not increase.
  • Demographics. The authors seem to confuse the increase of the elderly workforce with the desire to continue to work. The introduction of the older generation into the workforce is never done out of a desire to be productive, but other due to necessity (Means 2015). In countries such as Russia, the elderly often work after reaching the age of 60 due to small pensions (Horemans et al. 2016). In the USA, many elderly patients cannot afford quality healthcare and would be forced to work just to be able to cover it. In addition, general population growth is barely taken into account. Overall, the number of jobs is expected to drop, while the number of people eligible for work is expected to grow (Watson 2016). In addition, globalization trends and technological connectivity will enable workers from low-wage regions to compete for labor with domestic laborers (Katz et al. 2015). This trend is already happening, as many international corporations are building their factories in countries like India, China, and Vietnam.
  • Lifelong learning and the pursuit of passion. The article states that the changes to the nature of work will enable people to become lifelong learners and help them pursue their passions (Hagel et al. 2017). This statement is just plain wrong. According to recent surveys, the majority of employees around the world are not working their dream job or even the job they studied for, meaning that the scores for professional displacement are high (Somers et al. 2018). In the event of a labor crisis caused by advances in technology coupled with demographic growth and transnational talent competition, the numbers of “professionally displaced” would grow even higher (Somers et al. 2018). Instead of pursuing their dreams, people would be forced to perform whatever work they could get their hands on, fear of losing it to someone else. The perspectives of lifelong learning mean that workers would need to spend their free time constantly “upgrading their skills” in order to keep their jobs in an increasingly competitive environment.
  • Relationship between the industry, technology, and work. Although the paper does state that the increased demands for information management would make skilled managers invaluable, it does not take into account its effect on the knowledge management industry. Christensen et al. (2015) state that the advances in technology may remove some of the middle-manager class while simultaneously increasing the demands and workloads of the people still left in the organizational chain. Multitasking would become one of the most marketable skills in addition to technical acumen and knowledge management. The fact that most industries would have to rely on information technology in management and leadership even more so than before is also supported by Donate and Pablo (2015).

Overall, these three points are either misinterpreted or underrepresented in the article, meaning that the final predictions for the future of the workforce are inaccurate. The situation, from where I am standing, would be drastically worse than described.

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Conclusions

Although the article is well-supported by facts and the narrative flow is smooth, the authors seem to try and mitigate the actual state of events promised by advances in technology and the subsequent transformation of the workplace. In truth, the world is at the doorstep of yet another industrial revolution, which could only be compared to the introduction of first factories and machines, which ruined individual manufacturers and paved the way for mass production. That historical time period was characterized by mass riots, destruction of the means of production, and attacks on business owners (Silvestrov et al. 2016). Unemployment among workers was on the rise.

As it stands, a gradual increase in unemployment will pose a heavy burden on the government and cause tensions within society. The article offers several solutions, among which are government-funded facilities for adult learning. However, a bloated education sector will not solve the problem of mass unemployment. Increased spending in the healthcare sector will be a formidable substitute. The situation begets the question of whether or not another technological revolution is worth it. From where I stand, the trend of “destructive innovation” is ultimately self-defeating, as the decreased bargaining power of buyers would result in decreased purchasing power, meaning fewer profits for businesses and corporations to extract.

References

Atkinson, J., and Storey, D. J. 2016. Employment, the Small Firm, and the Labour Market, New York, NY: Routledge.

Christensen, C. M, Raynor, M., and McDonald, R. 2015. What is Disruptive Innovation? Web.

Donate, M. J., and de Pablo, S. J. D. 2015. “The Role of Knowledge-Oriented Leadership In Knowledge Management Practices and Innovation,” Journal of Business Research (68:2), 360-370.

Fabbri, D., and Clapper, F. K. 2016. “Bargaining Power and Trade Credit,” Journal of Corporate Finance (41:2016), pp. 66-80.

Flora, P. 2017. Development of Welfare States in Europe and America, New York, NY: Routledge.

Hagel, J., Schwartz, J., and Bersin, J. 2017. “Navigating the Future of Work: Can We Point Businesses, Workers, and Social Institutions in the Same Direction?” Deloitte Reviews (2017:21), pp. 26-45.

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Horemans, J., Marx, I., and Nolan, B. 2016. “Hanging In, But Only Just: Part-Time Employment and In-Work Poverty Throughout the Crisis,” IZA Journal of European Labour Studies (5:5), pp. 1-19.

Katz, H. C., Kochan, T. A., and Colvin, A. J. S. 2015. Labor Relations in a Globalizing World, New York, NY: Cornell University Press.

Mao, H., Liu, S., Zhang, Z., and Deng, Z. 2016. “Information Technology Resource, Knowledge Management Capability, and Competitive Advantage: The Moderating Role of Resource Commitment,” International Journal of Information Management (36:6), pp. 1062-1074.

Means, A. J. 2015. “Generational Precarity, Education, and the Crisis of Capitalism: Conventional, Neo-Keynesian, and Marxian Perspectives,” Critical Sociology (43:3), pp. 339-354.

Silvestrov, S., Zeldner, A., and Osipov, V. 2016. “Introduction to the Theory of Economic Dysfunction,” Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences (6:3), pp. 394-399.

Somers, M. A., Cabus, S. J., Groot, W., and van den Brink, H. M. 2018. “Horizontal Mismatch Between Employment and Field of Education: Evidence from a Systematic Literature Review,” Journal of Economic Surveys (0:0), pp. 1-37.

Stone, D. L., Deadrick, D. L., Lukaszewski, K. M., and Johnson, R. (2015). “The Influence of Technology on the Future of Human Resource Management,” Human Resource Management Review (25:2), pp. 216-231.

Watson, S. A. 2016. “Challenges Faced by Old Job-Seekers in a Technology-Driven Age,” Career Planning and Adult Development Journal (32:3), pp. 38-45.

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