“Self Marketing , self-realisation, self-determination, creativity and creating space to manoeuvre are becoming more and more important.”
An interview with Prof. Dr Weissenberger-Eibl — Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI and holder of the Chair for Innovation and Technology Management at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT — on the future of work, the challenges leaders and managers will face in future and the importance of marketing oneself to the global labour market.
What big changes do you see on the horizon when it comes to work?
Work in future will differ considerably from what we currently know. That is the finding from our study on the digital transformation of work undertaken on behalf of the Vodafone Foundation. Work today is still largely characterised by relatively stable occupational structures as well as specialised training and continuing education pathways. In future, professions will become more independent of industry boundaries, and many new job profiles will develop out of the interaction between human and machine. Specialised knowledge will become far less important, whereas core digital competences and more general skills will gain in significance. This means that in future, employees will have to learn how to market themselves even more effectively in a project-based world of work and to improve their abilities to organise themselves and network with others. We have also identified shifts in management, away from rigid hierarchies towards increased responsibility for individual employees. This has led to the development of a number of atypical forms of employment. Part-time workers have become more important, and this in turn will require that managers improve their ability to coordinate.
What exactly do you mean by ability to coordinate?
In future, work will be much more project-based. This means that with the increased use of part-time workers, basic terms of employment will have to be implemented to better coordinate such things as working hours, place of work, holidays, sick days and work-life integration. Companies will work more and more with self-employed contractors, freelancers, click-workers and co-workers. The challenge for managers will be successfully coordinating projects and personnel whilst accounting for both the types of diverse skills at hand and their availability within the given projects’ respective timeframes. Managers will have to take on the role of coach and facilitator in order to orchestrate this network of skills. Something like a conductor, in other words, who has a group of top-notch individuals with diverse abilities and skills, all of whom he must expertly coordinate with the desired goal in mind.
Do you also foresee a change in the relationship between companies and their customers/suppliers?
These shifts in collaborative work will of course create changes both within the organisation and outside of it. Open Innovation and Lead User already feature prominently in innovation research. Many companies are already changing in response to their customers and suppliers, and some are consciously entering into strategic relationships with their competitors too.
Given the increasing complexity in terms of the players, how will internal and external collaboration function in the future?
The digital revolution allows companies and employees to be much more flexible. On top of this, a trend towards more individualised lifestyles and family structures mean that set working hours and fixed work places are becoming less and less attractive. Given the general shortage of skilled workers, it is all the more important to effectively match qualified individuals from internal and external networks to specific projects and to create stronger relationships with these highly skilled workers. Progressive automation and networking of machines and processes also means that it is increasingly impossible to distinguish between internal and external; instead, it is the networking of individuals, skills and machines that will be of prime importance. The use of industrial robots is expected to lead to increased efficiency and productivity in terms of labour and production processes and thereby enhance competitiveness. One exciting finding from the studies we are currently undertaking is that companies that use industrial robots end up outsourcing production capacities to save on costs far less frequently than those that don’t. Automation and digitalisation contribute towards keeping jobs and skills in Germany and in Europe.
On the other hand, a recent study out of Oxford predicts that 60% of jobs will be lost to industrial robots.
What is important is to be able to demonstrate to companies and to politicians the potential, and the opportunities, for remaining competitive and being able to keep jobs in Germany and Europe. A digitalised world means that work and life will simply have to be organised differently. Machines will take on certain routine tasks or jobs that are dangerous for human workers. People will be able to concentrate more on their own interests and abilities. Abilities such as empathy, making connections and qualitatively interpreting data that cannot be expressed in quantitative terms will continue to be of the utmost value. Work will become more flexible and especially more individualised. The trend towards self-employment will continue unabated. Self-marketing, self-realisation, self-determination, creativity and creating space to manoeuvre are becoming more and more important. In the future, the emphasis will therefore increasingly be on efficient organisation of one’s own time and resources, one’s own digital reputation and optimal use of professional networks. We are talking here about marketing oneself beyond and across industry boundaries.
Professor Dr Marion Weissenberger-Eibl has been director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI since 2007 and holds the Chair for Innovation and Technology Management at the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Technology Management and Innovation at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology KIT. Dr Weissenberger-Eibl works on the conditions conducive to innovations and their effects. Her main research focuses are the management of innovations and technology, roadmapping, strategic technology projections and planning, enterprise networks and knowledge management.