AARP International

What do advances in technology mean for the future of work?

The nature of work will continuously change with technological advances, including automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. These technological changes could have an outsized impact on older workers.

ADVANCES IN TECH

TREND SNAPSHOT

The promise of a world with rapidly evolving technology also comes with vast challenges for workers and the future of the workplace. This is especially true for automation and artificial intelligence (AI). The future of work is expected to change in three critical ways:

  • Certain jobs will be eliminated
  • New jobs will be created
  • The nature of work will change as automation and AI are used to enhance and complement human capabilities  

These changes will cause disruptions to workers and employers. For AARP, the impact of this shift on work is less about the technology and more about the role people will play, and what skills they will need to be successful while working alongside technology.

 We anticipate that this shift has three potential consequences for workers:

  • Elimination of jobs could cause workers to experience longer spells of unemployment as it becomes more difficult for workers to find jobs that match their skills. This could also exacerbate income inequality and racial and ethnic disparities.
  • Workers will need to accentuate different aspects of their existing skill set and acquire new skills as technology continually evolves; for example, the need for uniquely human skills such as judgment, creativity and communication will increase as demand for easily automatable skills decreases.
  • Some attempts to automate processes could create unintended consequences for job applicants and workers, such as discrimination caused by algorithmic bias and the erosion of privacy.

Workers won’t be the only ones required to evolve. Employers could need to rethink business processes to take full advantage of the potential for better technology paired with human skills.

“If the jobs are taken over by machinery, then some jobs for older people just won't be there.”

—Stephanie S., Worcester, MA, participant in AARP focus group

HOW WILL THIS AFFECT WORK?

With the workplace constantly evolving to keep up with the latest technology, there will be opportunities and challenges for employers and workers alike.

Opportunities for workers

  • The increasing use of technology will create higher demand for the uniquely human skills that workers gain through years of experience.
  • Job quality could improve as work becomes less routine, repetitive and tedious.
  • Changing technology could create new jobs and industries, creating opportunities for all workers—not only those who already have IT or engineering backgrounds.
  • Older workers can take advantage of ongoing training options provided by employers, educational institutions and training providers to work effectively alongside tech (see Megatrend: Lifelong Learning).
  • Technology such as ergonomically assistive technologies and exoskeletons could help older workers and workers with limited mobility stay in the workforce longer, especially those with physically demanding jobs.
  • New technology could provide the basis for workers to start their own businesses.

Challenges for workers

  • In the short-term, automation will eliminate some jobs previously done by humans. Without support from employers or the government, people displaced by technology may face extended periods of unemployment. For example, job elimination can happen simultaneously across a company or an entire industry, making it difficult for those displaced by technology to find new jobs, leading to longer unemployment periods and more competition for remaining jobs.
  • Older workers whose jobs are eliminated may have more difficulty than younger workers finding work due to age discrimination.
  • Ever-evolving technology means that workers will need to continually refine or learn new skills to remain relevant. But affordable training options may be difficult to find and employers may not distribute training opportunities equitably (see Megatrend: Lifelong Learning).
  • Workers will need to learn to shift their approach to job interviews and applications and highlight skills that may be formal or informal—classroom-based or workplace-based.
  • Common automated hiring processes such as algorithmic employee screening (AI) can create age bias if not designed properly and specifically to overcome biases.
  • The digital divide and lack of broadband access prevents some lower-income and rural workers from developing the skills necessary to succeed in a tech-driven work environment.

Opportunities for employers

  • Incorporating technology into the workplace increases the demand for higher-order cognitive skills, which workers gain the longer they have been in the workforce. This includes skills like critical thinking, collaboration and change management.
  • Other than IT, the second-highest skillset in demand in the future will be customer service. Older adults have often cultivated these skills through decades of experience and can easily help address a growing cross-industry customer service expectation and other emerging needs.
  • New technology (AI and algorithms) may be able to detect and better address biases if intentionally designed to do so and could reduce the risk of discrimination throughout the employment life cycle, supporting inclusive policies that help increase worker retention.
  • Automation can be used to reduce the physical demands of many jobs, making it easier for employers to hire and retain workers of all ages while extending work opportunities to those with limited mobility. Repetitive/tedious or rote work may be reduced to allow workers to focus on and use their higher-order cognitive skills to help a company succeed.
  • Employers can gain a competitive advantage by optimizing the balance between human and AI responsibilities, identifying the synergies needed to accomplish tasks efficiently and effectively.

Challenges for employers

  • Keeping pace with technological advances, implementing them throughout the organization, and ensuring profitability may require significant investment in capital, human resources and time.
  • AI bias in algorithms and programming may exacerbate ageism and other discrimination in hiring, leading to the lack of a diverse workforce and, potentially, legal action.
  • To account for continuously changing skill needs and rapidly and regularly shifting work requirements, employers will need to identify cost-efficient ways to ensure that their workers have the skills, abilities and experience needed to grow and adapt. This will require new, flexible and multidimensional hiring, training and internal staffing processes.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

  • Policymakers can work with employers to provide opportunities to retrain workers displaced by technology and get them into new roles as quickly as possible.
  • Policymakers and employers should proactively focus on identifying the jobs, roles and skills that are likely to be eliminated due to technology, and proactively retrain all relevant workers before displacement happens.
  • Employers will need to look for, address and overcome stereotypes and biases in algorithmic employee screenings if they are going to take advantage of the resources, knowledge and skills offered by older workers.
  • Employers can provide training for all employees and make the trainingt easily accessible to everyone regardless of age, skill or education level. This can include using AI to analyze needs for reskilling or program expansion (see Megatrend: Lifelong Learning).
  • Policymakers could introduce smart industrial policies to support scientific and technological innovation that benefits older workers through increased funding and investments targeted for AI-based R&D.

MORE PERSPECTIVE

If you want to dive a little deeper, check out this informative thought piece from an expert.

ARTICLE:

A Point of View on Rapid Technological Advancement and Automation
Jeanne Meister, Managing Partner, Founder Future Workplace Academy

Download
 

Toward the Future of Black Older Workers
Alex Camardelle, Director of Workforce Policy, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

Download

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