Artificial Intelligence will become embedded in virtually all occupations.

The power of computing is obvious yet has been limited to being a tool of a human. Artificial Intelligence now allows computers to continuously learn — soon to surpass the ability of the human brain — and that is a game changer. Shortages of engineers and like professions that are complex and require extreme accuracy will be helped by AI. AI might be the most important thing that will help us prevent another future pandemic.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Dustin Whitney.

Dustin Whitney is the founder of the Whitney Group, a business formation and research organization. Dustin’s career has been spent growing and developing entrepreneurial companies. Current projects include the future of labor, automation, and the key cultural challenges associated with them.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

A little less than 15 years ago, I entered a leadership program. My career developed while I was young, and I became a manager at an early age. I realized I had much to learn. What began as executive training quickly became a deep and personal journey. Early goals of how to be a better manager and boss soon turned to how to be a better father, a better spouse, a better friend. This journey has allowed me incredible self-reflection and the ability to achieve things I never knew were possible. Balance and clarity are the foundation of how I approach topics.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

The next 10–15 years will bring about enormous change. Many recent studies suggest most “work” will not be performed the same way it is today. Artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics are quickly becoming effective tools. I call them tools because that’s what they are. Robots will not replace humans. Rather, they will augment and assist. Virtually all occupations can benefit from the efficiency and accuracy of computer driven processes. A lesser-known catalyst for change will impact the topic of work more than this, though. The US and most parts of the world are beginning to feel the impact of major demographic shifts that have happened in recent decades. The pandemic has accelerated these trends. Current labor shortages are not temporary, and employers will need to re-evaluate what they do and how they do it. The working age population in the US is shrinking and this will have a major impact regardless of economic conditions. Market need will drive innovative solutions and this innovation will happen faster than most expect.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Most employers are unaware of the demographic changes happening. The basic assumption of available labor needs to be reconsidered. Recruiting efforts need to be focused and more importance needs to be put on employee retention. Habits of avoiding older age employees in lieu of younger ones will be ineffective. Adapting the workplace and processes to accommodate older age employees will allow for effective leverage of experience while vacancies are filled. First mover advantage will help fortify, but eventually all employers will need to operate with fewer people.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Recent labor pressures have hit employers hard. Initial blame on government support and enhanced unemployment benefits has changed to perplexity and lack of understanding. Desperate employers are simultaneously doing what they can to hire and automate. Higher wages, hybrid schedules, and overall, more employee centric conditions are already commonplace — out of necessity. Friction will increase if the element of necessity diminishes. Employees need to understand that and be cautious of overplaying their hand. Alternative solutions will quickly come available in those occupations with opportunity to automate because of market need. Communication and working towards common goals will help reconcile the differences. Automation is eminent, though workers will continue to be needed.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

The global push to working from home came out of a necessity of isolation and desire to prevent the spread of illness. A better term to use moving forward is “remote work” which really means work that is performed outside of the traditional workplace. We have learned that whether one works from home or another location, productivity does not necessarily decline if employees are not centrally located. Technology advances have enabled this to happen. When considering the context of demographic shifts and the consequential labor shortages, “remote work” is a solution to a problem. If an employee can operate effectively 30 miles from their traditional workplace, why not tap into resources that are 300 miles away or perhaps even in a different country?

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

The pandemic has acted as a tipping point and has exposed the demographic vulnerability facing our society. There has been a fundamental change in the ratio of younger people who can work and that of older people. It’s important to note that half of all people who left the labor force during the pandemic were over the age of 55. Some may have chosen to retire earlier than anticipated, but others may have simply aged out. We’ve never seen declines in working age populations and many societal norms will need to be looked at differently. Retirement expectations will need to reconcile with the need for people to be working at older ages. Government assistance programs and tax policies will need to be reconsidered. Conversations around immigration are no longer ones of humanity, but now of economics.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

Ensuring availability of work is the foundation of a happy and productive society. We have plenty of jobs available in this country and the changing age structure of our workforce suggests a positive outlook for employment levels. Labor shortages will challenge us, yet market need is incredibly powerful and will drive innovative solutions. Capitalism is very good at producing solutions.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Whether one is an employer or an employee, we are all people and we have all gone through this time of uncertainty together. The unexpected challenges we have faced due to the pandemic has had a bit of an equilibrium effect. As a result, employers and employees alike have a common interest in mental health and wellbeing. Flexible and creative work hours, activities associated with a renewed appreciation of social interaction as well as mindfulness, and a general sense of togetherness will shape the workplace in times to come.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

I’m a data person. I like numbers and facts over conjecture. The pandemic has introduced a lot of noise into our data streams which means we have to work hard to understand what’s really going on. According to BLS data, the rate at which people quit their jobs did not appreciably change for the first year of the pandemic. There has been a noticeable uptick in that rate, though, which coincides directly to the rate of job openings. People tend to take pause and consider alternatives (or reevaluate) when opportunities are visible and achievable. It may be a misinterpretation to put too much emphasis on dissatisfaction of one’s work with a decision to leave one job for what appears to be a better opportunity. Job openings are at an all-time high. Headlines might suggest people are unwilling to accept some jobs because of low wages, yet it is important to add the context of simply having fewer workers. Evolution of company culture would be much more important if there was an excess of workers along with an excess of jobs, but that’s not the case. Leaders need to understand that labor is limited and should focus efforts on doing more with less.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. Labor shortages are here for good.

The size of the working age population in the US is shrinking. Declining fertility rates over the past few decades have resulted in fewer babies born. The largess and timing of baby boomers leaving the workforce has long been predicted, but the precipitous reduction of children being born has not been anticipated. This has gone largely unnoticed and will affect everything. Those occupations that tend to have older workers will be particularly hit hard. School bus drivers are in such short supply that many states have looked to the national guard to transport kids to schools. Truckers, Amazon deliveries, ride sharing companies — they all rely on the same skillset. Autonomous vehicles can’t come soon enough.

2. Immigrant workers will be very valuable.

Historic dependence by the agriculture and hospitality sectors will grow to all occupations as labor gaps become bigger problems. High immigration levels have offset lower birth rates, but immigration to the US has been declining in recent years — well before Trump policies were in effect. Those occupations that tend to have older workers and have been very challenging during the pandemic are already experiencing this. The longtime shortage of nurses in the US is now dramatically worse as a result of COVID burnout. Nurses across the world are now relocating to the US and other western societies to make up for the short fall. Competition for immigrants…what a turn of events in America.

3. Robots are coming and coming fast but will not replace humans.

Mostly implemented in manufacturing processes, robotics is now becoming increasingly more accurate and sensitive. Technological advances now allow robots to perform delicate functions like handling soft ripe fruits and even perform surgery. Robots can be very helpful and can augment human effectiveness. The shortage of doctors across the US has become so bad in recent years that NYU Medical School is now tuition free. Out of need and with the assistance of robots, surgeons can perform more operations with less likelihood of complications.

4. Artificial Intelligence will become embedded in virtually all occupations.

The power of computing is obvious yet has been limited to being a tool of a human. Artificial Intelligence now allows computers to continuously learn — soon to surpass the ability of the human brain — and that is a game changer. Shortages of engineers and like professions that are complex and require extreme accuracy will be helped by AI. AI might be the most important thing that will help us prevent another future pandemic.

5. More people will be working at older age.

There’s no hiding from the numbers. Economic function depends on workers. Baby boomers are aging, and the younger workers are fewer. Those on the older side will need to work longer in life. The construction industry is facing shortages while the average age of workers is going up. The work is physical and hard on the body. With the assistance of a technologically driven exoskeleton, this type of work can be much less physically demanding. Technology will enable experience from older workers to be helpful and allow people to work well past historical retirement ages.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“We stand on the shoulders of those that came before us” — Humility often seems absent to me in today’s society. True learning can’t happen without humility. I try to keep that in mind everyday and I have found that it has allowed me clarity and balance.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

The suggestion that we don’t have enough people in the world is often met with resistance and sometimes contempt. I try to stay away from policy advocacy. Instead, I focus on the numbers. I want to raise the level of awareness of these topics and prevent problems before they happen. Not many that I have come across share my view, but Elon Musk certainly does. He has publicly commented on the topic and has pivoted some of his business because of it. Can you get me lunch with him? Peter Diamandis and Mark Cuban are thinkers and doers that I would love to interact with.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

I welcome collaboration. People can follow me on Twitter (@dwhitneygroup) and I produce a newsletter with more in-depth analysis. Email is the best way to communicate with me ([email protected]).

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.