It's all about human-machine collaboration

As automation gains ground we will have to redesign people’s jobs but are there essential human skills required in project management? A new report explores the issues

Driven by rapid advances in digital technologies, the nature of our work is being transformed. While artificial intelligence and robotics grow more sophisticated, jobs are being reinvented. Collaboration and communication through increasingly intuitive user-friendly interfaces could lead to fundamental changes in workplace structures and may offer new possibilities for productivity and creativity in the workforce. Human-machine collaboration will open the way to virtual and network-based companies as everything shifts online.

Organisations are already reconsidering the shape and composition of their workforce. According to Deloitte, 41% of surveyed companies have already implemented aspects of cognitive or artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in their workforce, whilst 37% are carrying out pilot programmes. However, only 17% of surveyed executives stated a readiness to manage a collaborative workforce of people, robots and AI.

The area with the greatest scope for change is in manufacturing - in the automation of repetitive tasks. In Germany, for example, it is estimated that up to 80% of jobs for people with low-level education are at risk from automation

The area with the greatest scope for change is in manufacturing - in the automation of repetitive tasks. In Germany, for example, it is estimated that up to 80% of jobs for people with low-level education are at risk from automation, compared with only 18% for people with a doctorate degree. It’s a similar story when we look at income levels: in the lowest 10% income group, 61% of jobs are projected to be at risk, while only 20% are under threat at the upper end.

As companies redesign jobs and workforces, questions arise around the eventual limits of automation. Could essential human skills, such as empathy, communication, persuasion, personal service, problem-solving, and strategic decision-making become even more valuable?

In moving towards greater automation, companies will have to rethink the role of people and provide training to prepare their employees for this new work environment. Robots and people work side-by-side at Ford’s Cologne plant, complementing each other’s skills (simple and heavy manual tasks vs creative thinking). Businesses might soon start dividing skills and reframing jobs according to essential human skills and non-essential tasks that could be carried out by machines.

 Automation and human-machine collaboration is just one of the trends and drivers researched in Future of Project Management (FoPM), a collaboration between Arup, The Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management at UCL, and the Association for Project Management (APM), with crowd-sourced inputs from the global project management community.

FoPM is presented in three sections that set the context for the future through these emerging trends, then imagine that future through the eyes of future clients delivering projects, and finally outline plans and priorities for future action and research. 

I hope it will be a thought-leadership resource for project teams seeking inspiration to find a better way, and an interactive platform for debate about change in the project management profession. This should create a virtuous cycle prompting future research that in turn will provide fresh insight to develop and improve the profession.

Even in a future where professionals across the world have been gradually replaced by increasingly capable systems, core elements of project management will still provide an irreplaceably human combination of leadership, integration of specialists, and ethical behaviour. This report is already provoking reflection and debate as part of the process of preparing for the challenges and opportunities ahead. I encourage anyone involved in projects or delivering change to explore FoPM and share your thoughts and ideas.

Rob Leslie-Carter, director at Arup

Future of Project Management is being launched by the authors and contributors at Arup on Friday 28 April.  It can be downloaded from www.arup.com/fopm.

  

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