There is a lot fear about the future of work.

  • Will there be enough work to go around?
  • Will these be high quality employment opportunities, low quality service jobs, or tasks done in the gig economy?
  • What kind of skills will be needed for these jobs?

At the Vancouver Future Camp, an unConference on the future organized by Vancouver futurist Nik Badminton, one of the most animated sessions was on the future of jobs

Anthony Pak showed an infographic. He had built using data on jobs at risk from the Brookfield Institute. It seems that a lot of jobs will be disappearing over the next decade, as automation, robots and AIs and demographic change eat away at the core of the economy. Where will the new jobs come from?

One way to explore such questions is with scenario planning. This is an approach to thinking about the future was pioneered at RAND Corporation in the 1960s and refined at Shell Oil in the 1970s. There are many good online guides to scenario planning, so we won’t go into the details here (see Introduction to Scenario Planning on Slideshare).

The basic approach is straightforward.

1 – Identify the predictable changes that people can agree on. These are generally things like demographics, Moore’s law (though this appears to be slowing) and other well established trends.
2 – Call out the critical uncertainties. These are things that could go either way, or where there is a great deal of contention in the community.
3 – Combine pairs of critical uncertainties to generate sets of four scenarios to explore. (Sometimes people combine three critical uncertainties and unfold eight scenarios but in practice this is often difficult for people to imagine and even more difficult to communicate).
4 – Develop each of the four scenarios, create catchy names, find images and tell stories about them to make them meaningful and memorable.
5 – Figure out the early indicators for each of the critical uncertainties so that you will know in advance which scenario is most likely to be realized.
6 – Plan how you will respond to each of the scenarios. Have plans that are viable across more than one scenario to ensure resilience.
7 – Act to shape the world in the direction of the preferred scenarios.

Recently, Shift: The Commission on Work, Workers and Technology, has published its scenarios for the future of work. A good introduction to the report can be found here. Make sure that you click through and read the full report. It has good coverage of the established trends and a wonderful section on the methodology that is worth reading for anyone whose job it is to prepare their organization (or their community, their family or even themselves) for the future.

The two critical uncertainties they chose to develop are as follows:

1 – Tasks (the gig economy) or Jobs (more conventional employment)
2 – Less work (a result of automation, lower economic growth and demographic change) or More work (driven by innovation and economic growth)

The four resulting scenarios are described below.

These are a good set of scenarios for people to use to prepare for the future of work, but they are not the only ones worth considering.

Some other critical uncertainties we discussed at Future Camp are below.

One can combine these four pairs of critical uncertainties with the two used by Shift to generate many other uncertainties to explore. We will try out a few of these in future posts and we encourage you to do so as well, and to add to the list of critical uncertainties yourselves (please share other critical uncertainties that you think should be explored).

TeamFit is interested in this work as we are obsessed with skills, how they are evolving, recombining and being applied in new ways on projects and in new roles. We have designed the platform to support people in the gig (task) economy and people with jobs, and the vast majority of people who are likely to move back and forth between modes or even function in both in parallel. Skills records are the property of the individual and follow them across their career.

TeamFit is also designed to support the emergence of new skills and just as important new combinations of skills. Beyond that, the next generation platform will identify the potential skills that a person does not have yet but could develop based on their foundational skills and work experience. This will be important if a scenario that combines High Skills and Evolving Skills develops.

Scenario planning is one the most powerful tools for thinking about and preparing for the future. The Shift Report has built four useful scenarios based on Tasks vs. Jobs and Less Work vs. More Work, but there are other critical uncertainties we need to think about. TeamFit will continue to explore these so that we can build robust systems that will help people and individuals thrive in the skill economy.