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West Michigan Dataconomy: The future of work with Industry 4.0

The future of work is changing, and while no one can definitively lay claim to its landscape, businesses are already strategizing in anticipation of the imminent disruption. While much of what’s to come is still unknown, we can be relatively confident the future of work will be characterized by rapid technological adoption driven by high-speed mobile internet, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and cloud technology.

It’s estimated that by 2022, productivity will exceed 2015 numbers by 30% as a direct result of technological advancements. Leading reports suggest these increases will be attributed to the use of automation, causing businesses to formulate augmentation strategies and rethink their approach to talent.

This West Michigan Dataconomy blog will take a closer look at findings from both The Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum and Digitalization, and the American Workforce Report from Brookings to identify how they might impact West Michigan businesses.


Businesses that leverage automation to complement and enhance workers’ capabilities are implementing what’s known as an ‘augmentation strategy,’ which presents unique opportunities to both employees and businesses.

Augmentation strategies leave routine and repetitive tasks to machines. This allows employees to more frequently engage their ‘human skills,’ such as critical thinking, creativity, and complex problem solving. As a result, businesses are given a means to reduce labor costs, increase value, and add efficiency to their processes and organizations.


Despite fears to the contrary, increasing adoption of augmentation strategies does not directly translate into a labor force reduction according to these reports. Across all industries, it is predicted that the share of new professions will increase from 16-27% by 2022. Conversely, an estimated 21-31% reduction in roles dedicated to redundant tasks is also expected.

These projections indicate a net positive job gain, but also bring to light the current insufficiency of skills necessary for the fast-approaching new era of work. In the World Economic Forum's recent report, over a quarter of businesses surveyed anticipate that automation will lead to the creation of new roles within their organizations.

Some of these emerging, in-demand roles include data analysts, data scientists, ecommerce, social media specialists, and machine learning specialists. To fill these new positions with qualified candidates, businesses, individuals, and community stakeholders will need to come together to tackle the ever-present skills gap issue.


To contextualize further, in 2018 an average of 71% of total task hours across 12 industries were performed by humans, while only 29% were done by machines. By 2022 those percentages are expected to shift to 58% and 42%, respectively.

To remain competitive and relevant, businesses and individuals will need to embrace a culture of lifelong learning. By 2022, it’s anticipated more half of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling. Of those individuals, nearly one-third are expected to need additional training of up to six months, and approximately one-fifth will require additional training for at least a year. Competition for skilled talent will become increasingly costly.

The scarcity of talent equipped for these changes will make reskilling even more imperative for businesses to engage in. As availability declines, the competition for skilled professionals will become increasingly costly.


The impending future of work means:

  • Companies will need to rethink their strategies around talent

  • Individuals will need to become accustomed to continually changing skillset requirements

  • Educators will need to be in tune with those requirements to properly prepare individuals for success in the labor market.

Ensuring these changes move our workforce and businesses in a positive direction will require ongoing partnerships between community stakeholders to undertake the challenge of reskilling and upskilling the current workforce, as well as addressing upgrades to current education policy.

Most importantly, individuals will need to be responsible for undertaking their professional development in this new labor market.

This blog originally appeared on as part of the West Michigan Dataconomy series.


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