Conversations at #ShiftForum: Protecting Human Capital in the Digital Age

We’ve all heard the dystopian predictions of doom in which robots will take over the world and leave us humans with nothing to do. I don’t subscribe to that extreme view. In fact, recent research reveals that business leaders are divided about the impact machines will have on our day-to-day work in the near future, but they all agreed on one thing: balancing technology with a human touch will be vital to success.

So who is looking out for the interests of humans? How do we ensure that people have the relevant skills to thrive in the jobs of tomorrow? What role should government take in shaping future workforce development and technology policy? I hosted a roundtable exploring this topic at NewCo’s Shift Forum, held recently in San Francisco, and the conversation was fascinating.

woman speaking on stage with images of people behind her
Liz Matthews, senior vice president of Global Brand and Creative at Dell, on stage at NewCo’s Shift Forum 2018 where she discussed the future of work.

With emerging technologies like augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI), big data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) poised to completely transform the workplace by 2030, our small group agreed that government must help create a level playing field and that it has a role in ensuring basic security and privacy protections. But beyond that, no one saw government as being nimble or visionary enough to actively manage tech advancement in a way that was beneficial to the workforce.

Skills for the #FutureofWork

As technology disrupts entire industries, it’s inevitable that some jobs will be lost while new ones will be created. And it’s not just occurring in blue-collar professions; some will argue that AI is already taking over a number of white-collar jobs by automating certain tasks in sectors like accounting or the law.

The most likely area for government to intervene is in the area of workforce development, specifically by shaping soft skills development in a way that maps to technology advancements. To do so, our roundtable participants noted, government must:

  • Drive skills development from the state and local level to ensure a talent pipeline for jobs in a particular region.
  • Focus on soft skills – critical thinking, for example – knowing that they should be applicable for those currently in the workforce regardless of how technology shifts in the future.
  • Realize not everyone, particularly those likely to be displaced in the next 10-15 years, wants to be coders.
  • Work with companies to build education curriculum targeted to available jobs.

In the long-term, universal basic income (a much-discussed topic at several Shift Forum sessions) in some form will be part of the conversation. Our group explored ways to balance this safety net concept with the dignity of work. For example, could an alternative be using an individual’s personal data as a commodity against which they would be paid?

The real trick, everyone agreed, will be for government to intervene appropriately and drive productivity while not stifling innovation.

Business Must Lead

Organizations, too, have a role to play. As jobs are phased out or upleveled, what is a company’s obligation to its employees? Certainly on-the-job training and skills development. But it will be just as important, if not more so, for companies to create internal cultures that encourage exploration and knowledge-sharing across generations. Reaching out proactively to local governments or partnering with unions are other ways the business community can start preparing for the workforce changes to come, our group concluded.

What are your views on the role of government and business in preparing for the massive societal and economic shifts on the horizon? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

About the Author: Cris Turner

Editor's Note: Cris Turner left Dell Technologies in 2020. Christopher “Cris” Turner leads Dell’s Americas American Government Affairs office. With 20 years of experience, Mr. Turner manages Dell’s U.S., Canadian and Latin America government affairs efforts and advocates for Dell’s public policy positions before federal, state and local policymakers. Prior to his current role, Mr. Turner led global cybersecurity and cloud computing policy efforts, designed advocacy campaigns in the U.S. and Mexico, and coordinated corporate social responsibility activities in Washington, D.C., for Dell. He is one of the creators of the Dell PolicyHack™, a policy development format that brings together entrepreneurs, government officials, students and policy wonks to create solutions to the toughest issues facing governments. Mr. Turner has extensive experience managing high level government affairs strategies for corporations and trade associations. Prior to joining Dell in 2008, Mr. Turner served as the federal and state public policy manager for the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), where he advocated on cybersecurity, telecommunications, trade and Internet issues before federal and state elected and appointed officials. From 1999-2007, Mr. Turner managed security, infrastructure, transportation and telecommunications issues for various clients at leading government affairs firms in Washington, D.C. Mr. Turner began his career at Steptoe & Johnson, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, where he managed policy issues related to international air transportation. Mr. Turner is a graduate of Georgetown University, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government. He also attended the University of Colorado School of Law. Mr. Turner serves on the Boards of Directors for the Global Entrepreneurship Network, MathCounts, and the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute. He, his wife and daughter reside in Washington, D.C.