Can you explain the Future of Work to a 5-year-old?

How would I define it to a 5-year-old? I would say, ‘The Future of Work will make you become better at playing good games and having even more fun.’

The Future of Work. Approximately 8 000 mentions across global digital platforms in the last three months in the English language. And counting by the minute.

Artificial Intelligence. Approximately 24 000 mentions across global digital platforms in the last three months in the English language. And counting by the minute.

Take a look at this snapshot over the last three months:

Future of Work mentions (July / Aug /Sept 2019)
Artificial Intelligence mentions (July / Aug /Sept 2019)

And the link between the two? A defining one. The Future of Work is shaped in proportionate definition by the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s most pervasive developing technology – Artificial Intelligence. In everyday language, this would translate to, “The robots are taking over our jobs.” But is that really the case?

The questions to ask are: What does the Future of Work really look like? What will my role as a human worker look like in it?

The Future of Work (FOW)

The Future of Work is the current term used to describe how the world of work is changing in the period titled the Fourth Industrial Revolution. How can you characterize the conversation around the Future of Work?

The International Labour Organisation’s Future of Work Report, guest launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this year, outlines 3 components which characterise the current determinants of the Future of Work. They are:

  1. Globalisation
  2. Demographics
  3. Technology


This phenomenon to move towards a single market economy began just after the Second World War. Recent years have shown a change in the trend in the form of De-Globalisation; A move towards Nationalism which inspires Protectionism.


While emerging economies like India and South Africa may be younger i.e. younger workforce or those who can work, more developed economies such as USA and Japan have a larger aging population. There is more pressure on the ability and availability for work.


Technology has been blamed as a serious disruptor to traditional methods and roles of working. The application of Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning and faster processing means that automation has increased significantly in the last few years especially in the Manufacturing sector.

While these 3 determinants drive the Future of Work, this area is shaped by the confluence of Information Technology and Bio-Technology as detailed in The ILO’s Future of Work Report. This means that while information technology software and processing increase the pace of output, bio-technology dramatically changes food and healthcare for humans going into the future.

My place as a Human Worker

The OECD Forum 2016 research found that 65% of children born in this generation will work in jobs that don’t yet exist.

As a Media and Communications Practitioner and Researcher, these are the components which help me understand the Future of Work and prepare for my place as a Human Worker.

These four elements are daily talking points for workers across the globe. If we are to understand their relationship and our thought attachment to them, this is how it would appear:

  • Worker: Increasingly working multiple jobs with no definitive ties to any one organization
  • Skill Level: Skilled as a Corporate Professional. Unskilled driving Manual Labour. Upskilling driven through Life-Long Learning. Traditional Qualifications under debate for hiring
  • Industry: Increased automation and more highly specialized human-centred work
  • Technology: Working alongside robots and understanding data as the currency of modern-day economics

The worker has changed its form dramatically since early 2011 with better messaging and powerful network connectivity. As devices became more intuitive over the last few years with every iteration – better processor, voice assistants, quality photographic ability, high functioning operating systems with apps to match – the ability to work remotely rose as a critical HR pattern.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report 2018 found that companies expect to “expand their use of contractors doing task-specialised work” and “engage workers in a more flexible manner”.

Artificial Intelligence

Alan Turing began work in the AI arena from 1950 onwards with the Imitation Game experiment. John McCarthy formalized the name of ‘Artificial Intelligence’ back in 1956. The AI Winter in the 1970s sought to slow down research and funding.

The last 10 years and coming into 2019 have shown how research and debate has grown around Artificial Intelligence systems with every major tech corporation establishing AI systems, centers and partnerships around the world. Google, IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are in a tough race to claim AI super capability to drive more use cases than ever before.

From healthcare, to finance, the use cases of AI are vast and power robotic process automation including deeper learning to introduce the robot alongside the human worker.

AI Africa Report – Accenture’s Romo speaks about AI

The relationship between FOW and AI

Explain the Future of Work to a 5-year-old with the concepts you’ve just explored above.

You could give them the difficult piece to read and lose them completely.

Or you could start with asking the little person to identify what they enjoy doing.

And what are all the things they would like to do to earn money?

The answers will be borne out of a creative spirit.

The creativity that is nurtured as a child is key to deep learning. Providing good clean data and data that also doesn’t make sense to test cognitive processing and ability.

Sound like a machine learning exercise? It is the same process flow. This is however the human brain of a 5-year-old that was described. For an adult worker facing the burgeoning Future of Work, how does one evolve?

Accenture calls it the Human Plus Worker. A creatively upskilled human worker with the flexibility to work across disciplines or interest areas. How then does a current day human worker, in 2019 going into 2020 and beyond, prepare to meet this historical era of living?

Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning or competency-based learning is critical. Before the advent of the Digital Nomad, the traditional formula to work for a number of years in one job with no skill improvement was acceptable.

The Future of Work demands a re-defined worker. A worker or manager that embodies Human Centered values and work ethic. Furhat Robot may be building empathetic and kind robots to deal with customer facing activities but it will never be a substitute for real human expression and emotion. These are a combination of body language signals, chemistry, facial expressions, tone of voice, style and charisma. These further extend into human reasoning and sentiment such as kindness, justice and ethics.

How does a current day worker develop these? The answer: Soft Skills Training and continuous improvement and development.

What soft skills should a Worker going into the Future of Work be looking for?

These are suggestions which would form the core of lifelong learning:

  1. Personal Branding for the Modern-Day Worker
  2. Business Writing Skills across multiple platforms
  3. Digital Platform etiquette
  4. Leading through doing
  5. Practicing Empathy
  6. Living with Gratitude

At Socially Acceptable, we are leading the Future of Work Lifelong learning campaign by providing the platforms and learning tools to develop the Human Plus worker.

Nazareen Ebrahim is a senior media, communications and technology practitioner. She is the CEO at Socially Acceptable – An African communications and training business that helps enterprises build successful online brand and sales journeys. Socially Acceptable is currently focused on training the Human Worker for the Future of Work.

Nazareen is also currently leading a new business focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI) research and knowledge preparation. Visit the AI Africa Report on Youtube.

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