Steve Pierce, Deputy MD and Chief HR Officer, Hitachi Europe
Steve Pierce describes how the workplace of the future, and the skills required in it, will be affected and transformed by digitisation.
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Read the transcript of Steve Pierce’s interview on how the workplace of the future, and the skills required in it, will be transformed by digital technology.Show transcript
Anna Delaney (Business Reporter)
What does the future of the workplace look like? Education sustainability in societies, and innovation have a growing burden. Businesses, decision makers, and governments have a responsibility in finding the right path.
I’m here with Steve Pierce, Chief HR Officer and Deputy MD for Hitachi Europe, and we’re going to discuss how best to prepare for the future of the workforce.
Steve, the world of employment is changing. People’s expectations are changing. Technology is having impact. Education levels are rising. Can you paint a picture of what the future of the workplace looks like?
Steve Pierce (Hitachi Europe)
That’s a great question, and actually, it’s a very difficult one to answer. There’s a lot of media attention on the future of work at the moment because so much is changing. When we look at what’s happening in artificial intelligence– the internet of things, automation, and robotics– clearly, the world is changing at a faster rate than ever before. But actually, like every other industrial revolution, people aren’t quite sure where it’s going to end up.
This is seen as the fourth industrial revolution after steam, electric, and then digital change over previous centuries. But actually, often, I think they’re judged by the outcome at the end, looking backwards rather than looking forwards.
This time, we’re actually at the beginning and saying, actually, where are we going to finish up? And we don’t know the answer to it in full.
One of Hitachi’s straplines is that the future is open to suggestion, which I think implies actually that, by working together with stakeholders, where it’s looking at innovation and thinking through the future, that we’re going to shape it. So sitting where we are today, I think we can’t be definitive about what it will look like, but we know it will look very different from today because of those forces and the speed of innovation that we’re seeing.
And is the speed of innovation going too quickly?
I think the speed of change is something which is inevitable, and it’s something that we can’t stop because, if we do, others won’t. So there’s always a competitive driver, I think, for change.
I think the challenge that we have as employers and also through other aspects of society is how do we prepare as staff and how do we prepare as individuals for what that future will require from us and how it differs from what is required of us in the past?
We see a lot of new roles being created– for instance, the new drone operators, virtual reality designers– roles we wouldn’t have imagined five years ago, let alone 10 years ago. What do you predict these new roles will be, and what are the skills we need for them?
There’s an interesting statistic which suggests that, for children starting school today, two thirds of them will do a job which isn’t invented yet, and some of these examples are those you’ve just given. Who would have thought 20 years ago there’ll be people who specialise in app design, for example, or who work in social media in different ways?
And of course, therefore, we don’t know what will be the case in 20 years’ time. It’s clear that the generations that are coming through into the workplace in the coming years are going to need to be the digital natives, where using technology is a way of life rather than something which is added and learned separately.
Learning digital skills and the ability to adapt to that is going to be critical to their success and to the success of employers as they need those skills in the future. I think it’s working with technology and developing technology are going to be crucial, and those sort of roles are going to be important in the future of the workplace.
If we don’t know the jobs, then how do we know the skills that you’ll need? How can we ensure our children will be equipped with those skills?
It’s a challenge for us as a society to say, actually, are we equipping our children with some of those skills beyond the basics of obviously the education system that we focus on? I think this whole area of STEM skills– so around science, technology, engineering, and math– they’re going to be critical, so that they have the technological understanding and ability to help shape the technology of the future.
But I think also we need to recognise that where jobs will change – it will very often be in the areas of repetitive manual tasks, as it actually has been for many years. I mean, when I started out in industry 30 years ago, at that point, there was automation of packaging machinery and so on to take away some of those repetitive roles, and that’s obviously continued over the decades since then.
That’s obviously escalating and will continue into the future, which means that we need to ensure that our young people and our employees in our workplace are able to adapt that to do some different types of roles, and the areas where the skills will be needed will be around creativity. We don’t have too many creative robots. We try to actually create creative robots, but it’s a really tough thing to do. So creativity, communication – robots and automation has been used to try to create good communication, but you can’t create in the same way as you can through people.
Teamwork – actually working collaboratively and positively together, again, is a human skill. Computers and machines can’t create everything. And perhaps we are also looking more at how craftsmanship and craft work can have a role in the future.
So it may not be mass produced, but not everybody necessarily wants to buy all their furniture which is mass produced. It’s actually the ability do something different, do something creative, which is still going to be important for the future.
And are schools actually equipping children with these skills?
I think they are to an extent, but there’s going to be a need to continue to do that and to perhaps take a fresh look at some of those areas of learning which we’re not picking up– for example, coding. The use of technology in terms of the intervention, the creativity around developing the technology itself is something which, I think, schools will need to do more of in the future to equip our young people with the ability to create the future, if you like, rather than just using it to that combination of working with the technology and developing the technology and also develop those people skills– the creativity and the communication– the areas which are going to be really important in the future.
Do schools teach enough about teamwork and communication and collaboration and creativity? I think those are those are big questions that we have to look at in a society.
Let’s talk about automation because a lot of people are saying robots are going to take away all our jobs. And on the other hand, they’re replacing the tasks that humans don’t want to do– the dangerous jobs, the mundane roles. Where do you stand?
There’s probably elements of both of those things in the future. Clearly, there are many roles which perhaps are, because they’re more repetitive, that they’re not going to be so attractive in the longer term for people to keep doing them, and it actually makes sense to automate them. But we’ve been doing that for decades.
Now, let’s not forget – this is this is not something which is just starting. We’ve been automating for a long time, and I’m sure that will continue to happen. But at the same time, we have this whole concept, really, of co-bots, so not actually doing roles for us but doing roles with us. And that’s back to the point about working with technology, I think, where we have robots which support the roles that we do.
So if we think about in the health service, if within nursing we have co-bots that could do some of the manual handling and some of the more manually demanding roles, which allows our nurses to focus on the care of the patients in other ways, isn’t that a good thing? Or where doctors can use artificial intelligence to help diagnose disease and then use their skills and their expertise to actually take that information, understand it, and apply it to the individual– again, isn’t that going to be a good thing?
And there are many other, obviously, examples of where co-bots, where working with technology will help create hopefully a better society.
So automation doesn’t just mean that jobs are disappearing. They’re also changing. But how do we know which parts of the job can be automated?
It’s going to be the elements where you need to assimilate a lot of information, which obviously robots or computers can do much faster than humans can do, and that makes sense to say, OK, how can we use technology to understand what the broader thinking is, whether it’s in health care or in engineering or in technology in other ways. I think it makes sense then for people to have the intervention, which says, OK, how do we how do we interpret that, how do we apply that? And I think it’s the interpretation and the application which is where the human element is going to be critical, and then the whole communication of that. So it’s combining the best of both.
Let’s take an example like a data collector, and that role will move to, say, a data analyst. They’ll need new skills. What will these skills be, particularly as we don’t know what these jobs are going to be? I think it’s incumbent on us as employers to continue to develop our staff as we’ve always tried to do or responsible employers have tried to do to ensure that we equip our people for the future.
Because the future isn’t completely clear, as we’ve said, I think there are some generic areas where we need to be encouraging our staff to learn, not least in analytics, as you say, so to go beyond that the collection of data to actually the analysis and understanding of it, which is a different skill set.
I think it’s broader than that actually. I think the bigger issue for us as employers is how do we help our staff continue to change? This continued change for the future means that we’re going to have to keep on doing things differently in the long term.
As human beings, change is something often we’re not very good at. We like what we like, and traditionally perhaps we go back to earlier generations. They had a job for life, where you broadly did the same thing for a whole career. That’s going to change. That’s already changed, in fact, in many cases. So we have to be better, more flexible as employees to be able to do things differently and continue to change.
Now, as employers, we need to help our staff to do that. The term that changes are constant has been around for a long time, but I just think there’s greater focus on it now. It’s even more important than it was.
And I think linked to all of that is the length of working lives. Babies being born now are predicted to live till they’re 106, 107 years old. The whole area around pensions and the need for funding retirement means it’s very likely children today will work for much longer than traditionally people have worked. Therefore, they’re more likely to do different things.
Now, what will the technology look like in 60 or 70 years’ time? Very different from today, I’m sure. So they’re going to need to continue to adapt, being flexible, being open to change is something which is perhaps is a more fundamental part of who we are as people, but it’s going to be a key capability that we need to have as a society if we’re going to adapt to the needs and the requirements of the future.
Let’s look at the workforce now. We’ve got an ageing workforce. We’ve got a new generation coming in– that teemed with automation. Do we have enough roles for everyone? I think it’s important to remember that, whilst society is changing, whilst the world of work is changing, it isn’t changing as fast as the media might have you believe in the sense that there’s always stories out there about autonomous cars or automation or robotics because they’re interesting stories, and they are really important for it to share and for us to understand what’s happening.
Having said that, it takes a very long time, as we’ve seen with autonomous cars as a good example, to get to a point where we have something which is really usable. You know, when will actually autonomous cars be on the road? Talking to experts about it, they would suggest it’s probably decades away because of all of the elements that have to be considered, not least the technology, but also the moral questions about elements of autonomous driving.
So actually, things are changing, but they’re not going to change overnight. So people have got some time to adapt, but they haven’t got long, I guess, and we’ve got to move faster than we have ever moved before. But to answer your question, today, there are more jobs in the UK than there have ever been before. You know, there’s a very high employment level. There’s a lot of demand out there.
That will continue to change, of course. But I’m of the view which says there are a lot of opportunities which will be coming up which we haven’t seen today which we’ll see in the future. So there will be enough, but just different roles.
I think an interesting example– if you go back to the first industrial revolution, before that, we had a largely agricultural economy, and you had a lot of people looking after horses. After the Industrial Revolution, and particularly into the 20th century, those people you might argue that looked after the horses looked after the cars.
After the digital revolution that we had through the 1980s and computerization, you go into the bonnet of a car now, you probably can’t do much yourself because, actually, there are digital skills which are required to maintain a car. So those people are gone from horses to mechanical engineering to more electrical engineering. And the future will be different again.
But as people, we’ve adapted. The roles have changed through the decades. But you might argue that people that looked after one motor transport now look after another, and there’ll be another mode of transport in the future. So different skills required, but actually, with the capability to learn and the ability of organisations to adapt and provide those skills and the opportunities, means that the roles may be different, but they’ll still be really important.
So jobs are changing, but also the way in which we work is changing. So there are a lot more freelancers. People can work from home. What are the other trends that you see happening in the workplace?
Certainly true. There’s a lot more flexibility around the way that work is done, and technology is a fantastic enabler of that, of course. And we’ve seen this obviously developing over a number of years, but many of us are connected 24/7 pretty much through technology. That’s clearly has to be managed in the right sort of way, but it does give people an opportunity to work remotely, to connect to their company, to their role from different places, to work more from home where it makes sense to do so, and all of that means we’re better connected.
And also, we’re able to deliver in different Ways from a workplace point of view, companies traditionally would have had everybody in the same place at the same time, and we don’t need to do that anymore. So we could work different hours. We can connect with different parts of the world, and we can connect from different places. And therefore, we can deliver in different ways.
And that makes us hopefully more agile as companies but also more accommodating of our people because, clearly, a key differentiator for the future with all of these changes we’ve talked about is going to be our talent. Today, we all want to find the best people who we can attract to our organisations who will help us deliver our strategies for the future. And that’s going to be, I guess, increasingly important as we move forward with some of these skills that we’ve talked about.
And therefore, we need to be employers that people want to work for. What do people want when they work? Well, one of those things is a degree of flexibility and accommodation of the rest of their life, not just their employment. And that’s, again, where technology can help us.
And how will this impact diversity? Will this encourage it?
I think it certainly should encourage it, and it needs to be embraced as an opportunity, I think, to encourage diversity. So those that perhaps have particular caring responsibilities or other needs can still work from different places when they need to do so, for example, rather than commuting to the same place as everybody else at the same time as everybody else.
I think technology maybe could also help us, when you look at the ageing workforce, to do things differently, to use technology to support what we do. It’s an enabler, both in physical terms with certain aspects of manual handling or our other areas, but also from a digital point of view in terms of improving what we do and how we do it and the speed of our ability to deliver.
It’s certainly a big opportunity for us to support diversity, but I think overall, we still need the right culture in our organisations. It’s never going to be the solution in itself if the culture of the organisation isn’t right.
I was going to ask about culture. I know it’s important to Hitachi, but with such a disparate workforce, how do you retain that positive culture?
The whole point about culture is it helps shape where the organisation wants to go and how it sees itself. And often, that’s articulated through values.
When you think about what’s important in many organisations today, they typically have values around teamwork, around innovation, customer focus. Those are going to be really important for the future as well. So I think, while we’re talking about change, there’s a lot of constants in that, and those are around people and how we want people to behave and think.
Integrity and ethics is another example– critical for organisations today and will be as important for the future. We set out our view as organisations as to what we will need for the future based really on where we are today because those are about people, and talented people clearly are absolutely crucial for us as organisations.
So then how do you maintain those, as you say? How do you ensure that they become a part of the lifeblood of the organisation? They have to be lived and not just spoken about, so they have to be demonstrated through role modelling, through leadership, and they have to be measured and rewarded where they can so that they become part of how the organisation works, not just the poster on the wall with some nice words, which everybody eventually stops looking at.
Where those values aren’t operated, then some action has to be taken to ensure that the importance of the value, of the approach, is still seen. So I think just because we’re a more disparate workforce doesn’t mean that we don’t have the same core values, the same focus and importance seen in some of those areas, which help us to shape who we are, who we want to be in the future, and probably who we have been for decades.
Steve, we hear a lot about Hitachi’s social innovation and the UN’s sustainable development goals. How do they fit in from an employer’s perspective?
Hitachi’s mission, since it began as a company 108 years ago, has been about how we can improve society through technology, and that mission is as important today as it was when we began. We’re a Japanese company with a fabulous heritage, amazing products, and great people– very talented people– around the world. All those staff– there’s 300,000 staff around the world– in a sense have a shared mission, which is around that improvement of society.
So the UN’s sustainable development goals are clearly critical for us as a planet going forward, and Hitachi’s social innovation business plays into a number of areas of those goals, which is actually how can we play our part in creating a better society?
And from an employment point of view, that creates an amazing mission. It isn’t just about work. It’s about improving the world in which we live in. And so, if you actually want to be challenged as individuals but also inspired as individuals, I can’t think of a better way to be inspired than to leave a better world than the one we inherited when we start working for our company.
But some people might argue that we’re living in turbulent times. How will this impact the future of the workplace?
Everybody thinks their time is turbulent. If you look back over the years, there have been many, many different changes– political, economic, cultural, social, technological, and so on. And there’s always change, and those changes are of different natures at different times and at different speeds, I guess.
But what’s constant and what we need to ensure remains constant is great leadership. Hitachi has been around for 108 years, as I said, and we’ve continued to focus on doing the right thing over that period of time despite the turbulence of the world around us.
Great leadership leads through change and manages change, and whether those are long-term changes like the future of work, automation, and so forth, or whether the short term changes that happen day to day, we need to ensure that we have the right people who can manage through that change and ensure that we are still able to deliver on our broader mission.
Sure, it’s tough, and I’m sure there are many challenges, and our expectation is that that won’t change and will continue to be challenging into the future.
What does great leadership look like?
I think great leadership is having a mission and a vision and helping the staff in the organisations to work towards it and managing the other issues on the outside of that as necessary to ensure that they don’t distract from doing the right thing and doing them in the right way and also delivering to the stakeholders of the organisation. And that’s why it’s such a demanding role to play because it is managing the different forces. It’s actually managing change and turbulence, managing ambiguity, and a range of stakeholders.
It’s a tough thing to do, but done well you can have enduring, successful companies like Hitachi.
Our world faces a number of challenges, from climate change and pollution to population growth and urbanisation. Hitachi believes that it must help to find innovative and commercially viable solutions for these challenges.
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