What will the Future of Work Look Like: A Conversation with Frank Connolly, Director of Communications and Research at MindEdge Learning

Frank Connolly, Director of Communications and Research at MindEdge recently joined us in a recent conversation to discuss the key highlights and takeaways from MindEdge’s third Future of Work survey.

Frank is an award-winning columnist and editor in alternative media, he later spent more than 20 years as a political consultant and pollster, advising candidates for President, U.S. Senator, Governor, and other offices.

Catch the highlights from the TecHR QnA here:


Hi Frank!
Welcome to TecHRseries!
Please could you share a little about the top highlights and key takeaways from MindEdge’s third annual Future of Work 2020 survey?

Our survey findings show that advanced technology, robotics, and AI are rapidly transforming the American workplace: in just the past year, more than one-third of American workers report that advanced technology has been introduced into their place of work. But employees who work alongside advanced technology have some deeply conflicting attitudes on this issue. For instance, 76 percent of workers feel that automation has made their jobs easier, yet 57 percent still feel that robots are bad for American workers. These conflicting attitudes suggest that many workers have not yet completely figured out how they feel about AI in the workplace. At the same time, they have very clear opinions on one important point: 88 percent of workers say that continuous learning is the best way to prepare for the technology-focused future.

Read More: 10 HR Tech Tools that Can Help you Boost your Talent Acquisition Process

Could you throw some light on yours/ the industry’s view on how automation is increasingly taking the lead in numerous workplaces today – what will the impact of AI be on the global workforce in the years to come?

Well, the obvious fact is that automation is here to stay, and it’s going to cause some job displacement. A lot of workers may not be willing to admit that to themselves just yet; in fact, the majority of workers (53 percent) in our survey say they are not at all concerned about being replaced by robots or advanced automation. That may be a bit too optimistic, to be honest. The flip side is that workers understand there will always be a need for “human skills,” regardless of new workforce technologies. Ultimately, soft skills –- like critical thinking, creativity, and complex problem-solving –- are what most clearly differentiate human workers from robots. Workers who want to future-proof their careers, to reduce the chances that they’ll be displaced by robots and advanced technology, need to develop those skills. That’s where continuous learning comes in.

Because of this, employees are coming to the realization that they can’t afford to wait for the moment robots become a part of their employee networks; they need to prepare today.

The survey reported robotics and advanced automation are “bad for American workers.” Can you share your thoughts on this?

As I noted earlier, 57 percent of survey respondents feel that robots are bad for American workers. And, in a very significant finding, there’s virtually no difference of opinion on this question between those who work at companies that have recently automated (57 percent), and those who don’t (59 percent).

We didn’t ask them to elaborate on why they feel that way, but the major point seems evident. Several workers have seen automation take over part of their jobs; 44 percent of the respondents say that’s happened to them. And, even though most workers say they’re not concerned about losing their jobs to technology, a lot of them are definitely looking over their shoulders, and they’re not necessarily happy with what they see coming.

Despite this, we believe advanced automation doesn’t need to be seen in such a negative light. As organizations continue to adapt to new technologies, both business leaders and employees will find that preparing for robot colleagues now can help build a resilient, tech-savvy workforce — whether those workers are sitting next to human co-workers or working online with bots. This ultimately helps businesses capitalize on advanced technology as a differentiator in the future of work, while continuing to value the unique skills of human workers.

Even though a large section of the workforce feels that automation and robotics have made their everyday work easier, why is a considerable chunk still skeptical of the developments? How valid are their concerns? Is technology taking over their jobs a real concern?

The conflicting attitudes on automation suggest that workers have not fully come to terms with the rise of technology in the workplace. While 65 percent of workers say that AI and robots have freed up time to take on aspects of their jobs they enjoy, they’re hesitant to welcome advanced technology with open arms. A majority (55 percent) disagree with the idea that robots are better workers than humans, and a six-point plurality (47 percent to 41 percent) disagree with the notion that technology will wind up creating more jobs than it displaces. So there’s clearly an undercurrent of concern.

Read More: Role of 5G in Workplace Collaboration

How will the role of HR leaders change in the years to come? What’s your personal take on the future of work and what it would look like?

In the future, HR will need to focus heavily on training and upskilling current employees. Creating a culture that openly supports continuous learning in the face of automation can ensure that employees get the tools they need to feel confident in their positions. Particularly, our research found that on-site and online training programs are the most effective when navigating into the new decade of “Robomageddon.”

How do you suggest organizations and employees upskill themselves to be future-ready so that automation compliments their efforts?

Continuous learning views education as a lifelong commitment, and our survey shows that employees view it as the most effective way to future-proof their careers against the encroachment of automation. Sharpening industry skills such as computer programming, web design, and critical thinking is essential when working alongside advanced technology. What’s the best way to deliver that training? The survey respondents express a clear preference for on-site training programs and online programs. They’re not so enthusiastic about off-site training, or attending outside conferences or seminars.

What’s your favorite HR/Leadership quote? If you had to share 3 tips for organizational development, what would those be?

 I’m not sure Walt Whitman spent a lot of time thinking about either HR issues or technology – but he knew a lot about human nature and he’s one of my favorite poets, so I’d like to quote him. Whitman wrote that, “Character and personal force are the only investments that are worth anything.” I think that’s a pleasant, 19th-century way of saying that businesses – and society in general – need to invest in people, because people are our greatest asset!

Read More: Employee Burnout Can Be Fatal – for Employees and Companies Alike

Write in to psen@itechseries.com to learn more about our exclusive editorial packages and programs.