It's not just about automating the work people do, but about amplifying human potential.Justin Gray, Accenture New Zealand As the world embraces the digital age and enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution, business strategy analysts say the responsibility for creating the future workforce rests on the shoulders of the highest levels of an organisation.

And thanks to the last - online - revolution being fresh in people's minds, those leaders have an advantage as they're acutely aware of the disruptive nature of technology. Because of this consciousness, and the increase in knowledge and information available to them, leaders can get ahead of this issue.

Justin Gray, managing director of Accenture New Zealand, says winners in the digital age will do more than just complete a technology checklist.

"They know their success hinges on people. Understanding changing customer needs and behaviours is, of course, hugely important.


"However, the deciding factor in the digital era will be the ability to evolve corporate culture. That means not simply taking advantage of emerging technologies but, critically, embracing the new business strategies those technologies enable."

Navigating the path towards the workforce of the future will require leaders to ask tough questions.

How will they:

* Attract and develop the new talent they need?

* Scale and accelerate the pace of change?

* Make sure the people with them now don't get left behind?

* Secure the right amount and type of investment in our people to prepare them?

Leading organisations already have started to enable people - consumers, employees and ecosystem partners - to deliver incremental business outcomes on the back of new integrated platforms. That demands a digital corporate culture enabling people to continuously adapt, learn, create new solutions, drive relentless change, and disrupt the status quo.

An Accenture survey of 10,000 workers in 10 countries reported that by building relevant skills in digitalisation, fewer jobs will be lost to total automation. But it is important to understand that the roles within those jobs will change, and different jobs will be created.

Feedback from the report is that, generally, employees are excited about the automation of jobs and the impact of digital technology.

"The overwhelming majority (87 per cent) of the people we surveyed are optimistic about the impact of new digital technologies on their working lives," says Gray.

And he adds leaders need to take note of how keen employees are to take this opportunity to learn new skills and thrive in the digital environment - "85 per cent are ready to invest their free time in the next six months to learn new skills".

"Understandably Millennials and Gen Z, the digital natives, make up a large proportion of those excited for the changes, but there are definitely older generations represented in this number as well.

"While it seems daunting, this technology revolution is within our control," says Gray. "The impact of innovations like automation and Artificial Intelligence will be positive, because the power lies with people.

"It's not just about automating the work people do, but about amplifying human potential. It's not about eliminating people, but elevating them. Technologies like Artificial Intelligence will liberate people from process-oriented tasks to concentrate on more human, creative and judgment-based work," he says.

He says Accenture modelling shows improving human-like skills such as leadership, analytical and creative skills as well as emotional intelligence would reduce job losses due to total automation considerably.

"Humans will start to take on creative and strategic roles that are augmented by technology. For instance, at Stitch Fix [an online US clothing retailer], Artificial Intelligence and humans work together to create a unique customer experience.

"The subscription clothing and styling service uses machine learning algorithms to analyse customers' survey responses, measurements, recommended Pinterest boards, and personal notes. This information is then sent to the company's human fashion stylists, who select five items from a variety of brands to send to the customer.

"This is just one business that demonstrates the potential for digital businesses to create roles for humans, augmented by AI."

He says types of industries and sectors impacted in New Zealand are not any different to those impacted globally.

"It's going to start with areas where there is some consistency and repetition and where there is not a lot of need for creativity. The key for New Zealand is less about where the impact will be and more about how we can be uniquely placed to take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves.

"In New Zealand, we are well educated, innovative and resourceful. If we challenge ourselves to embrace the change, to tackle the need to shift our workplace culture then we are going to find enormous opportunity. We'll develop new business models, revenue streams and ideas that we can take to the rest of the world. This is a leapfrog opportunity."

He warns that if organisations don't pay attention to the growth of automation and other emerging digital technologies, they will miss out on the opportunity to develop a competitive edge.

"Those that have a handle on automation, and a workforce equipped with new skills, will be the leading organisations of tomorrow."

He says responsibility sits with leadership as there will need to be organisation wide change that requires the utmost level of support and sponsorship.

For example, to combat their lack of experience in cloud computing, coding and data science, American multinational telecommunications conglomerate AT&T launched Workforce 2020 aimed at reskilling 140,000 workers for new roles (with the expectation they'd change roles again every four years.) In four months, employees who had taken the training filled half of the technology management roles and received 47 per cent of promotions.

Before undertaking such transformation change, leaders need to ask: Is the culture of my organisation ready to accept such wide change? Is our legacy technology holding back any major development? How will we maintain momentum once we get our change programme off the ground?

Also, he says parents and education institutions need to remember that it's not just STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills that students need to learn.

"The employees of the future will also need skills like creativity, strategic thinking and emotional intelligence. These are the irreplaceable human traits that future technologies will augment.

"Meanwhile, governments should foster programmes that encourage professional development and the ability for employees to gain new skills, including promoting quality apprenticeships and creating job opportunities for young people by aligning skills to business demands."