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Social Innovation

The future of work

Do we have the right skills for a digital future? We talk to Chief HR Officer at Hitachi Europe Stephen Pierce about how technology will impact the future workforce.

The world is changing.

We are on the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, enabled by technological advances which have made the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI) and digital automation possible.

This is presenting society with huge opportunities to make our lives smarter, safer and more sustainable. However, technology’s advancement requires an upskilling in the human workforce in order to keep up with the pace of change.

The field of “artificial intelligence” exemplifies this current challenge. Public consciousness of AI is high, with the media regularly covering stories about how AI will significantly change the way we live and work. Despite this, and the vast opportunities it presents in a number of industries, it appears our ability to harness its potential might be under threat due to a shortage of people who have the skills to use it. The number of roles related to AI has risen by 485% in the UK since 2014, yet companies have revealed that they are struggling to recruit qualified employees.

We spoke to Stephen Pierce, Deputy Managing Director and Chief Human Resources Officer at Hitachi Europe, to hear his thoughts on what the fourth industrial revolution means for jobs and how developments in technology will impact the future workforce, such as the employment of robots.

Q: How does this fourth industrial revolution compare to previous ones, in terms of challenges and opportunities?

A: Industrial development does present challenges – whilst there are headlines in the media warning that robots are stealing our jobs, job displacement is natural as technological advancements lead to machines taking over jobs that once only humans could do. However, they simultaneously present great opportunities, as often they lead to the creation of new jobs which are higher skilled than the jobs that were replaced. We also need to bear in mind that in many cases automation will enhance existing jobs rather than replacing them so we need to consider the impact of automation changing roles and ways of working. All this means the fourth industrial revolution will lead to technology supporting us by carrying out tasks that will free up our time to do other things and work differently, focussing where the human factor is most important.

Q: How do you think developments in technology will impact the future workforce?

A: The future of work is increasingly in the public eye. Artificial intelligence, robots and predictive maintenance, to name a few, are technologies which are going to change the way we work. Most importantly, they are going to make us more productive and efficient and save us time, so we can focus on more important tasks that cannot be done by a machine. At Hitachi, we believe that the role of robots is to support humans rather than replace them, and allowing robots to take over certain jobs will give humans more time to do creative tasks for example. This means the future workforce will need different skills and this has implications for universities and other organisations training the workforce of the future with the skills they will need for success.

Q: What role do you think AI-enabled technologies, such as robots, are set to play in the future of society and how will this affect us?

This is a huge topic with implications for all aspects of life. There’s no doubt that robots are set to play an integral role in society and will support humans. Hitachi’s own humanoid robot EMIEW3 is designed for this very purpose, and as a customer service robot, it can guide customers around transport hubs, such as airports and train stations. However, it has many other potential roles in which it can support humans, such as at home and in healthcare. With the predicted population growth, combined with the fact that people are living for longer, society desperately needs new technologies, such as robot carers, to help alleviate the pressure on our public services. So the journey is really just beginning and Hitachi with our focus on Social Innovation will contribute to the transformation of society as it gathers pace in the months and years ahead.