Ensuring managers of the future have the skills they need

Vladimir Vano, Group Economist at CentralNIC Group, was a keynote speaker at AMBA & BGA’s Business School Professionals Conference 2019 in Vienna, Austria. Here, he outlines his views on the changing workplace and how new skills will be required to grapple with digitisation and automation

What topics did you cover in your talk at AMBA’s conference?

I focused on how MBA programmes should prepare for the automation, robotisation and technological transformation of the workplace. How should MBA programmes change, in order to adapt to that transformation? The answer is by focusing on the following seven skills that are unlikely to be automated in the foreseeable future: 

  1. Effective communication skills
  2. Critical thinking skills and having an innovative and creative mindset
  3. Having a broad perspective and the ability to understand context
  4. Emotional competence: self-awareness and social awareness 
  5. Teaching and coaching skills; the ability to lead people
  6. Networking skills and the ability to build fruitful relationships 
  7. A moral compass: the ability to make ethical decisions and having a set of core values

How will digitisation and automation change the workplace of the future? 

We are talking about the third generation of automation. It began, in the 20th century, with the automation of repetitive, mundane manual work and tasks. In the 21st century, even decision-making processes will be replaced by the machines, algorithms and AI. From the economist’s viewpoint, digitisation and automation should free up humans to take on more fulfilling, creative tasks, leaving the repetitive, mundane and boring tasks to the machines. But the workplace of the future will be a blend of semi-autonomous, or even autonomous, machines which will interact with and work alongside humans.

How can the managers of the future ensure they have the skills needed to remain employable? 

I would say that there are five steps towards remaining employable in the future, and these are to:

  • Upgrade your level of education: take an MBA or do some executive. education; keep challenging yourself
  • Strengthen your ‘human skills’ that cannot be replicated by machines.
  • Learn to interact with, oversee and monitor the machines and algorithms that will be present in the workplace of the future. 
  • Find a niche that is too expensive to automate.
  • Learn to code; it will be one of the basic skills of the future. 

What are the ethical implications of the digital revolution? 

In the analogue world, business leaders were focused on optimisation; satisfying the needs of existing customers using the resources available to them. 

There was a limited workforce with the required skills available. However, now, you can create as many robots as you need. You can optimise your profits in line with global demand. 

Therefore, digitisation is significantly broadening business horizons and bringing ethical dilemmas to the fore. This means it will be even more important to have strong human leadership to set boundaries. In future, with the almost unlimited supply of robot workforce, we may be able to produce cheap gadgets for literally everyone on the planet – potentially putting a huge strain on the environment. Do we allow this to run unchecked, despite the consequences for the planet? That’s just one example of an ethical dilemma we will face going forwards; another is the potential dangers associated with driverless cars. 

There will be a growing need for leaders to have a moral compass – something that cannot be replicated by a machine and that should be in a manager’s core skill set.

This article previously formed part of a larger feature published in Ambition, the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

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