Thought Leadership by Eric Croeser
The debate between which is more important, experience or qualifications, has been a debate for decades in the heavy asset-driven industries such as mining, oil and gas and manufacturing. The addition of minimum qualification criteria imposed by regulatory bodies on certain positions, such as artisans, has led to a steady creep in the barrier to entry for “unskilled” workers. Adding this phenomenon to an increasingly aging working population in the “unsexy” labour-intensive industries is resulting in a widening skill gap that will be difficult to close should nothing change.
The increase in geographically sparse work areas and the increasing drive of the middle class to flock to metropolitan areas, has added huge costs to companies operating in these far-off areas, ensuring workers are accommodated on a fly-in, fly-out basis. This increases the cost of production drastically and has lead large corporates to invest heavily into autonomous processes and machines to alleviate this demand and hopefully reduce the cost of production, leading to increased returns for their shareholders. This phenomenon unfortunately has a detrimental impact on the skilled workforce, but the real losers are the un-skilled labourers as the downsizing due to automation causes a “class-shift”, forcing higher-skilled workers to take lower-paying and lower-barrier positions. This can have a positive effect on the overall workforce performance in the short term, but will have a detrimental effect over the long run as no skills transfer, upskilling and talent pipeline management can occur.
Let us apply this to a real-world problem statement;
The global economy and development working paper 100, (Kharas 2017), states that the rate of increase in the global middle class is estimated at 14- million people per annum and that this number could rise to 170-million people annually in the next five years. That means conservatively speaking, three quarters of a billion people globally will be joining the ranks of the middle class. In 2015, the global middle class spent approximately $35-trillion (more than a third of the global economy) and their market growth was higher than that of global GDP growth.
What does this mean for business? The middle class would inevitably want things they never could afford before; they will want “stuff”. Stuff such as cars, houses, technology, comforts, toys etc. This demand will undoubtedly add massive amounts of carbon emissions to the global footprint, but also cause a commodity boom of such magnitude that we have not witnessed in the last couple of decades.
This is definitely great news for any company in the commodity and primary manufacturing sectors.
Or is it?
It is at this point that we need to look at the average age of the global working class when this boom hits.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2017), the percentage of young people as a percentage of the population has drastically decreased globally since 1990, whilst the working age of the population has remained constant at 66 years of age since the same date.
This, in conjunction with the current drive to autonomy, means one thing: when the boom hits, there will be no skills to take full advantage of it. This shortage of skills will lead to an under-supply and inevitably push up prices – out of the reach of the new “middle class achievers”.
What can be done?
Enter the augmented employee
I believe the “augmented employee” is the answer to these preceding questions. The use of VR and AR – in combination with smart wearable devices (such as Microsoft’s Hololens) and powered by Internet of Things (IoT) technology – will allow the limited number of remaining (and aged) skilled and experienced labourers to empower and assist an unskilled, cost-effective workforce in the most remote areas around the globe.
This combination of skill and experience, with the added benefit of a lower cost of entry and reduction in time latency between events and actions, will ultimately unlock the full potential of IoT as we have never seen before.
The augmented employee will be the future of industry, and I believe that future is now.