Ben Pring on How Accelerating Skills Obsolescence Shapes the Future of Work

Co-director of the Center for the Future of Work and co-author of What to Do When Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, Bots and Big Data, Ben Pring is dedicated to helping organizations and individuals understand what the workplace will look like in the future.

Pring is no pessimist when it comes to how work is changing in the face of AI and automation. He believes that technology may indeed eliminate some jobs, but that it will restructure other jobs and create completely new jobs as well. We caught up with him recently to discuss on-demand talent and what to expect in the future of work.

Q | How do you see the need for specialized skills evolving in the future?

A | As machines become more intelligent, the skills that people use to make a living today will be replaced by technology. It’s happening even with white-collar workers. The question now is, “How do I upskill what I do today? How do I retrain to be able to offer more value-add?” Skills are becoming obsolete so fast now, making the need for new skills urgent for both individuals and organizations alike.

Q | How does this emerging “skills obsolescence” create challenges for organizations seeking to access the expertise they need to grow?

A | This is where the contingent talent pool is valuable for businesses, as well as for experts who can work in an on-demand way. Businesses can access the skills they need when they need them. But big businesses face a legacy challenge too: They’re increasingly realizing they’re saddled with people and skillsets which are no longer up to date or even relevant anymore. At the same time, getting the new skills in the door full time is extremely difficult. If you’re a bank in the Midwest, for instance, getting top-tier AI or data science talent into your organization is incredibly difficult. They might want to work for Google but not for your bank. Rather than trying in vain to hire those specialists full time, that Midwest bank is better off accessing the contingent workforce. That’s the wave of the future.

On the other side of the equation, people who have the specialized talent recognize that it’s probably better financially and for lifestyle reasons to pursue multiple, new opportunities, rather than commit themselves to work for one individual company. More young people, and older people as well, want that flexibility of working when and wherever they want. They don’t want to work in a cubicle farm.

Q | What are the benefits for organizations of using on-demand talent?

A | Agility is big. Technology is changing so quickly, and an organization may need skill X for the next six months. Then they might need skill Y for six months after that. Rather than hiring those specialists on a full-time basis, on-demand talent can help fill the gap when the workload is volatile and changing quickly. Organizations simply don’t know what skillsets they’re going to need in the future. The ability to be flexible and agile — that’s really the new name of the game. There’s a tension in big business at the moment: They recognize that things are changing very quickly, but they can’t make the necessary changes fast enough. They’re stuck, and that’s why on-demand talent is becoming a viable solution to enable agility.

Q | What’s the price organizations will pay for failing to replace their legacy staffing mindset with newer, more agile ways of accessing talent?

A | It’s a great question. The weights of legacy is so heavy in so many businesses that lots of executives just throw their hands up in horror and say, “Life’s too short. I can’t deal with this complicated stuff.” Business cannot completely turn everything off overnight and then build a completely new solution. It’s like walking in New York City: You see buildings that are a hundred years old right next to a building that’s two years old. The city is constantly renewing itself, and the old and the new coexist. Well, for so many big businesses, they’re not tearing down the crumbling, old tenements quickly enough to make way for the new buildings they’ll need to build for the future.

Q | What practical steps can businesses take to gain more agility with on-demand expertise?

A | One step is to implement a policy that says, “Before we make a permanent hire, let’s go out to an on-demand online marketplace and see if we can source this talent that way first. If we can’t, or if there are complications, then we’ll go the permanent hire route. Let’s try and be flexible first. Then we don’t saddle our business with talent coming in permanently that we may not even need in a year’s time.” More progressive HR people and operations people are already doing this, and we’re reaching a tipping point where this becomes standard practice.

Q | What role might digital talent platforms play in helping organizations access and leverage experts?

A | The real-time matching of supply and demand for needed services is happening over platforms in so many different business areas today. Organizations can get incredible talent very cheaply, very quickly. Platforms are emerging in the talent space. These platforms are going to become increasingly rich and efficient, where buyers (organizations) and sellers (talent) can evaluate each other transparently. There’s going to be AI integrated into the platform to make that matching more automatic. You’re going to see an optimization of people’s profiles so you can search in a more scientific way and then match capacities against a job opportunity. This is the wave of the future.

What’s most obvious after discussing the future of work with expert Ben Pring is that the pace of change will continue to accelerate for individuals and organizations alike, making “skills obsolescence” a real problem. However, it’s a problem that can be managed through upskilling at the individual level and workforce agility at the organizational level. On-demand talent — the kind of experts who keep learning the skills of tomorrow in order to add value to organizations — will be a central part of the future of work.

Are you interested in matching a business need with an on-demand expert? On Catalant’s platform, all you need to get started is a description of your business need and a computer.

About the Expert

Ben Pring leads the Center for the Future of Work. He is the co-author of the new book What To Do When Machines Do Everything and the award-winning and best-selling book Code Halos: How the Digital Lives of Things, People, and Organizations Are Changing the Rules of Business.

Featured in: Expert Insights

About the Author

Chuck Leddy
Chuck Leddy

As a content developer with a B2B focus, Chuck has worked for clients such as American Express, ADP, GE, Cintas, Office Depot, the National Center for the Middle Market, and more. He has published hundreds of articles, features, blog posts, and interviews on an array of subjects.