As we continue to hurtle into the future, at what seems an exponentially faster pace, there are many uncertainties that lie ahead. How can we better accommodate an increasing demand from the millennial generation for a blended work and life balance? What impact will disruptive technology have on the lives of millions of semi-skilled or blue collar workers? How do world economies continue to grow and create room for further innovation while serving the needs of a bulging population?
We are seeing changes across all industry sectors from new business models that capitalise on emerging technologies, as Uber have wonderfully demonstrated, to the adoption of new management styles that encourage less drudgery and more empowerment to employees. Here at Waterstons we are proud of our trust and empowerment culture that focuses on measuring employee contribution rather than time in the office.
In construction, the traditional design and build process is being challenged in many different ways. The design process is becoming much more interactive for the client through 3D modelling, virtual and augmented reality. Digital models can be saved in the cloud and accessed by project teams regardless of device and location, providing much greater opportunity for the supply chains to collaborate. There is an increasing trend toward pre-fabricated building components that removes the need to build everything from scratch; site assembly can happen in a matter of days, and quality is increased through the benefits of lean manufacturing. Finally, smart construction equipment and recent developments in robotics are starting to assist in improvements to health and safety and efficiency to the build processes. For example a Japanese equipment manufacturer has already developed fully autonomous bulldozers, led by drones that map the area in real-time to provide data on the workload.
The manufacturing sector is seeing enormous changes as well. A recent article by the World Economic Forum suggests that despite having proclaimed manufacturing as dying in western economies it can still be the driver for improving living standards. We have seen some change already with successful companies focussing less on building and selling widgets and more on creating products that focus on creating value. There has been a long held view that robotics will continue to develop and take over the production processes. However this does mean time can be spent innovating new products and creating value services around these products. Some visionary organisations are exploring how to make products more configurable by the end user which can then be manufactured and delivered in a couple of days rather than weeks or months. This will change the nature of supply chains, putting emphasis on local supply with fully integrated processes and systems.
Another area that is evolving quickly for both manufacturing and construction is 3D printing. In the future, 3D printers may become a commodity product, where every home has one and simple components can be ordered on-line and printed at home. In construction, we are already seeing experiments with concrete printers that can print the walls of a house from the design in concrete in a matter of days.
In education the landscape is changing too. The fourth industrial revolution is changing the way we work in many different ways, and successful economies will thrive if they acknowledge we need to change the way we learn as well. First, there needs to be an overhaul of the education system to focus on skills that are less likely to be automated. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines are critical. Secondly, the way we learn needs to be challenged. There is an increasing view across all education institutions that learning will be the work of the future. In the past, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for the career life of their students. In the future students need to be equipped with skills that allow them to adapt to more rapid economic and social change than ever before. They may end up in a job that hasn’t yet even been created and they will almost certainly have to use technologies that haven’t yet been invented. Couple this with massive social change and our children and grandchildren should be equipped to solve a range of problems that we can’t yet imagine.
Furthermore we also need to create support and pathways for the millions of people who need to transition roles in the immediate future. The pace of change is increasing and if we are all to benefit from the improved lifestyles our technology will afford us, it would be socially irresponsible to confine those without the right skills to the scrapheap. We need to create opportunities for everyone to take advantage of the new environment.
Finally, the internet has revolutionised social networks, connecting people from across the globe around knowledge, beliefs and shared common interests. Collaboration on a global scale will continue to increase as ideas can be propagated quickly to millions of people for peer review and feedback, meaning knowledge can be commoditised quickly to benefit all of us. While the future of working and learning can sometimes seem overwhelming at times, I believe this is an incredibly exciting time to be alive. Keeping an open mind about how the future will evolve and ensuring we as a society keep social values at the centre of the revolution means we can all benefit and pass down to our children and grandchildren a legacy to be proud of.