Future proofing our workforce

Nobody can predict how intelligent machines will change the world of work for humans. But one thing is becoming clear: things are going to be different.

Some jobs could become automated, while others will see their jobs change as smarter technology is integrated into their workplaces.

That’s why MaRS, with support from Google.org, Google’s philanthropy, is creating the Employment Pathway Platform.

The platform, which is still in development, will help workers to chart a course through the shifting sands of the job market and develop a personalized plan for establishing or transitioning to a new career. It will pull together data on in-demand skills and training options from multiple sources and then analyze a user’s existing skills and employment preferences against them.

Users will receive a detailed skills assessment, potential job matches that align with their aptitudes, a step-by-step guide on how to gain the skills and experiences necessary to make the switch, and connections to training institutions with relevant services. Each user’s pathway will update as they develop new skills or as the employment market shifts, ensuring that it stays relevant.

Why the platform is needed

The coming wave of automation is often painted as a zero-sum game. But the reality is more nuanced.

To start, there have been five major waves of automation since the 1850s and each one has ended up increasing overall employment. The inverse relationship between technology use and human jobs is less robust than many people think. Consider the ATM. Surely it was a job-killer for bank staff? Not so, says James Bessen, a Boston University economist. His research found that the number of bank tellers actually increased after the introduction of ATMs. Yes, fewer tellers were needed at each branch, but the resulting cost savings enabled the banks to open more branches, which increased the number of tellers working overall.

Disruptive technologies like robotics and artificial intelligence shift the skills demanded by the job market. It’s rare for automation to completely eliminate an occupation; rather, it usually takes over routine parts of a job, leaving humans to spend more time on the creative or relationship-focused elements of their work. Bank tellers now handle fewer cash withdrawals and deposits, but have increased soft skills such as being able to build customer loyalty and help customers with their broader financial needs.

As the impact of automation will differ from job to job, a uniform response to career transitions will likely come up short. The best results will come from providing a personalized strategy for each user, helping them to future-proof their careers. By helping workers make the transition, the Employment Pathway Platform aims to maximize participation in the digital economy.