Steve Hatfield

Steve Hatfield, a principal at the consulting firm Deloitte, has devoted the last 20 years to researching workforce change. He predicted what the 'future of work' might look like on Friday at the 2019 South by Southwest convention.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Knox Pages sent reporter Grant Pepper to Austin, Texas for the 2019 South by Southwest convention. From March 8 to 12, he’ll attend conferences where industry leaders will discuss the future of healthcare, technology, downtown development and more. Each day, he’ll report back on his findings. The goal? To spark conversation about what's next, and how this region can be a part of it.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Steve Hatfield has been tracking change for 20 years.

More specifically, he’s been tracking change in the global workforce. As a principal with Deloitte, one of America’s “Big Four” accounting firms, he has devoted much of his adult life to researching what’s next. How will ‘work’ look different tomorrow than it does today?

He aimed to answer that question on Friday afternoon at South by Southwest, a 10-day idea festival in Austin, Texas that draws hundreds of thousands of attendees to the city every year.

Before Hatfield unveiled his ‘Seven New Realities’ of the future of work, he encouraged the audience not to believe the “robot apocalypse” hype. He believes that, throughout history, the media – particularly the entertainment industry – has profited off of forecasting the apocalypse. Now, he said, the industry has zeroed in on robots and artificial intelligence, painting technology as the enemy.

He believes the opposite will be true.

Through two decades of research and conversations with business leaders around the world, Hatfield theorizes technology will compliment the future human workforce, not replace it.

He predicts the emergence of artificial intelligence will help the world learn more efficiently, and also rekindle an appreciation for “the human experience.” He forecasts that people will find a newfound love for artisan trades because of the irreplaceable human intuition required to perform them.

The implementation of AI will highlight the need for human work, Hatfield said.

“Would you go to an AI machine to get your haircut?” he asks. “No.”

Hatfield also expressed optimism about the impact technology will have on employment. Through his research, he believes 50 million new tech jobs will open up worldwide by 2030.

What’s interesting, Hatfield said, is it’s hard to predict exactly what those jobs will look like. He gave some potential examples: predictive supply network analyst, talent cloud coordinator, robot teaming coordinator, digital twin engineer. There are already shortages in AI specialist positions, and the future will certainly call for more data scientists and cybersecurity specialists.

But all things considered, the landscape of future employment is largely undecided.

“New jobs will emerge, jobs we can’t even think about yet,” he said. “That’s what’s exciting, is stepping into that new world.”

As the world enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Hatfield envisions a major shift in the way people think about work. He came up with ‘Seven New Realities’ for the future of human work, which he unveiled to the crowd at SXSW.

“Together, they create a fascinating picture of where we’re headed,” Hatfield said.

1. Tech, talent, transformation

After crowdsourcing 42 global business leaders, Hatfield found that 42 percent believe AI will be “widely deployed” at their organization within 3 to 5 years. However, two-thirds of these business leaders also believe automated technology will be used to “augment” rather than “replace” the human workforce.

“A portion of what you do today will likely be automated,” Hatfield said.

Hatfield argued that automation will only be part of the puzzle. AI might be able to log and sort data, but humans will still be needed to draw conclusions and apply it.

He gave the example of an engineer: “70 percent of an engineer’s time is spent finding data (in spreadsheets),” he said. “Imagine if you could go out to lunch, and a computer has already done that for you? You take it from there.”

2. The rise of the exponential organization

The amount of data available online is growing exponentially every second, Hatfield said. Because of this, organizations will become vastly more connected and flexible as time goes on.

Organizations that are able to take advantage of these connections will position themselves for success, he said.

3. The unleashed workforce

It’s no secret, Hatfield said: the gig economy is growing.

According to his research, there are 77 million formally identified freelancers in Europe, India and the U.S. In the U.S., at least 1.6 million people earn money through online-service platforms.

This trend will continue in the future, Hatfield predicts. Companies will begin hiring freelancers to perform specific tasks, and they will eventually rely on their production.

4. Lifelong reinvention

As time goes on, Hatfield said, careers will become longer. But they will also become more fruitful – and flexible. Hatfield believes that with increased technology (and the ability to learn), the future worker will be comfortable discovering new passions in different jobs and industries throughout their career.

“We will be doing a wider variety of careers for a longer period of time,” Hatfield said.

Because of this, Hatfield believes there will be a heightened emphasis on lifelong learning. The ability to adapt will be paramount – but it will also make things more enjoyable.

“We’re not going to retire at 62,” Hatfield said. “We’re not going to want to.”

5. The nimble enterprise

Just as employees will need to be nimble, so will organizations.

Technology will create an increase in “on-demand platform workers,” Hatfield said – from 3.2 million worldwide in 2015 to 9.2 million in 2021. He added that, according to outside research, the number of people on the internet will increase from 3.5 billion (currently) to 6 to 7 billion by 2021.

Organizations that are willing to tap into the online, on-demand workforce will be better positioned for future success, he said.

6. Ethics of work & society

“There are ethical implications with all of this,” Hatfield said. This changing workforce – and the mindset behind it – will require a shift in education and company management.

Hatfield believes many U.S. schools are still built around the “old model” of going to college, working for 40 years in one industry and retiring. Students are not being taught how to develop new passions or how to be creative with their career choices, Hatfield said, which lags behind where the workforce is going.

Hatfield also posits that millennials (and the future workforce) will place a higher importance on the ‘work community.’ According to a study, millennial employees who believe their employer supports the local community are 38 percent more likely to stay at that employer for five years.

This is a change from previous generations, Hatfield said, when employees sought less of a relationship between their work and personal lives.

“Millennials believes companies are more than just employers, they’re social stewards,” Hatfield said.

7. Regulated innovation

With change comes the desire to regulate it. Hatfield believes there will be (and already are) regulation battles over concepts such as artificial intelligence and Uber. As technology grows, he said, human beings will need to find the line between innovation and over-regulation.


After summing up his ‘Seven New Realities,’ Hatfield closed his presentation with a quote from Thomas Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author:

“Today’s workers need to approach the workplace much like athletes preparing for the Olympics, with one difference. They have to prepare like someone who is training for the Olympics, but doesn’t know what sport they are going to enter.”

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.