Students predict world of work in 2040

Focus 2040 looks at expectations of future generations
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/06/2011

Walker Pearson, 40, is an executive in strategy and operation at a global automotive firm. He drives a programmable, hydrogen-fuelled car, uses artificial intelligence in his day-to-day life and places his overall happiness above everything else. He works whenever, and wherever, he wants and rarely goes to the office — those manual and laborious jobs are done by robo-employees anyways.

Pearson, a member of generation Z, is working in 2040 and is a figment of Ananya Datta’s imagination. Datta is this year’s winner of the Focus 2040 competition, held at McMaster University in Hamilton in March, with business students from across the country predicting the world of work in 2040.

“Students can take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to the real world… They have to think about the practical implications of what they’re forecasting,” said Ezra Rosen, chairman of the Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) and co-founder of Focus 2040. “It’s getting them to think out of the box and use their creativity and imagination.”

Twenty students representing 11 universities participated in the competition, presented by SCNetwork and McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business.

The competition is divided into three stages: the workforce, the workplace and work systems. Contestants submitted a presentation at each stage outlining predictions surrounding that sector. More than 30 judges from the HR industry reviewed each round and provided a numerical score to each contestant. Only 10 made it to the final work systems challenge.

“We needed some way to wean out the ones who were very poor, yet give feedback to the ones we wanted to move to the second round,” said Rosen. “Submitters, typically, entered the first round without much effort and, if they got accepted, it made them take it more seriously and by the third round they put in hours and hours of research.”

Datta — who is pursuing her MBA at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. — accepted an internship at ArcelorMittal Dofasco in Hamilton. Richie George, also an MBA student at Queen’s, came in second and won the Foresters Insurance internship in Toronto. Ashlee Chang, a fourth-year student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., placed third and won an internship at BPI Group in Paris, France. And Jose Gottselig, an MBA student at Queen’s, placed fourth and won an internship at GlaxoSmithKline in Mississauga, Ont.

Robots were a key theme in this year’s competition. Participants said they will be a key component of the workplace — giving HR an entirely new challenge, said Rosen.

“Robots will become an integral part of work systems everywhere,” said Datta. “Anything that can be predicted, computed or trained would be handled by robots.”

Other predictions included virtual meetings with holograms of the attendees; a virtual card for each employee including all necessary information for HR; and instant translation software so one person speaking in Mandarin could be heard in English by another.

And competition for talent will be driven by the employees.

“Generations Z and alpha would typically be a lot more independent and they will be more like mercenaries — selling their skills and experience to the highest bidder anywhere in the world,” said Rosen.

Focus 2040 was implemented last year to mark SCNetwork’s 30th anniversary. Members wanted to do something that would pique the interest of business students in HR and this type of competition seemed like the best way to do it, said Rosen.

“The pursuit of HR as a field of study has been suffering and we were looking at how we can reintegrate it,” said Mandeep Malik, a professor at the ­DeGroote School of Business who helped organize the competition.

The competition also provides HRwith valuable insight into what the future world of work may look like, said Malik. As a prospective business owner, this was of particular interest to Datta.

“It is about how you like to be managed and how you like to manage your people,” she said. “If you are generation Y, you are there managing the people (in 2040) so I was thinking, ‘After 30 years, how will I do and what will I need to do?’ so that caught my attention.”

These predictions are also useful for the HR industry because they are not coming from consultants or academics but right from the source, said Rosen. And it is a good opportunity for HR managers to hear what the next generation actually wants, said Malik.

“They are very pure, unfiltered ideas that have not been biased by the workplace or outlook,” he said. “They provoke a lot of thought around issues that, typically, HR managers and C-level executives do not consider — it is tremendous value added.”

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