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World Economic Forum Taps Heinz College Students for Future of Work Recommendations

By Scottie Barsotti and Michael Cunningham

The students’ “Seven Principles of Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution” will be presented at the Forum 2018 annual meeting in Davos.

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third…characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

A team of Heinz College students recently compiled insights and recommendations for firms related to digital transformation and the future of work, and their findings will be shared with global leaders at the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

The Forum meeting will convene in January around the theme of “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” The topic of a “shared future” is especially timely with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning and their predicted impact on virtually all industries. How these technologies develop will shape and define the future of work for all humankind, for better (i.e., increased productivity, more time for meaningful tasks) or for worse (i.e., massive job displacement, exacerbated inequality).

What will the future of work look like? While it’s difficult to know for sure, one thing is all but certain: automation driven by AI and machine learning will transform the types of work available to humans. Estimates vary in terms of how many jobs (or aspects of jobs) will be subject to automation, and how soon that automation will occur. But in the coming decades, the world should anticipate a disruption in the labor force that will dwarf the Industrial Revolution in scale.

In fact, thought leaders have referred to the coming changes in those terms, calling it the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or “4IR.”

Automation and the future of work will be major topics at this year’s Forum annual meeting. In preparation for the event, Forum leaders worked with a team of Heinz College students to create an assessment tool that will allow firms to gauge their organization’s 4IR readiness, as well as insights and recommendations aimed at helping leaders more fully prepare. Those recommendations range from awareness of emerging technologies and upskilling employees to larger changes in corporate culture and the creation of “Innovation Councils.”

“Research shows that as much as half of today’s work could be fully automated by 2055, and most of Generation Z’s jobs don’t even exist yet,” said Victoria Zuber, student project manager. “It’s not a one-time adjustment where a switch is flipped and suddenly a company is ready. These shifts will be decades in the making, but the response has to start now.”

Students collaborating on the World Economic Forum capstone project at a conference table

Creating a Shared Future

The student team developed a tool that will help organizations across all sectors assess their readiness to respond to the disruptive technological changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The students created a body of research and insights that they wove together to form the Seven Principles of Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Seven Principles are scheduled to be presented and deployed at the Forum’s January meeting.

“At Heinz College, we are deeply concerned with societal challenges that emerge at the intersection of people, policy, and technology,” said Ramayya Krishnan, Dean of Heinz College. “The future of work has been a major research focus for us. Technologies like Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Vehicles bring with them both the promise of greater productivity and the challenge of significant social disruption. This project has empowered our students to address that challenge first-hand with an actionable solution.”

The students’ assessment tool, a survey based on the famed Capability Maturity Model, will be shared with attendees of the annual meeting at Davos. Respondents will receive a readiness score and receive recommendations targeted to their organization’s 4IR maturity level. As an added benefit at the conference, respondents will be encouraged to attend specific Forum sessions based on their readiness score.

“The team displayed a level of creativity and analytical thought that is quite rare,” said Dominika Anna Merzenich, client-partner representing the Forum. “They excelled in producing and delivering this groundbreaking assessment tool, which we are proud to share at the World Economic Forum.”

The Capstone Project, titled “Examining the Future of Work,” was completed by Brittany Dies (MAM-GIOCA), Chinmayee Joshi (MISM), Kathryn MacAulay (MSPPM), Claire Souchet-Jacquillat (MSPPM-MBA), and Victoria Zuber (MSPPM). The project was co-advised by Dean Krishnan and Jon Nehlsen, Associate Dean of Partnerships and Communication Strategy at Heinz College. In the past, students and faculty experts have led global conversations at the Forum, in fields ranging from robotics to artificial intelligence since 2011.

“We want our students to leave Heinz College as data-driven decision makers, working for the public good,” said Nehlsen. “I can’t think of a better example of putting those learning objectives into action than helping companies understand what skills their employees will need to be active and secure in an ever-evolving labor landscape.”

Seven Principles of Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution


Organizations with a comprehensive understanding of the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution will lead the change.

Organizational Changes

As technologies disrupt businesses, companies must adopt flexible organizational structures that enable digital and augmented workforces.

Continuous Learning

Creating a culture of continuous learning cultivates a workforce with the skills needed for new phases of technology introduced by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Leadership Adaptability

To respond to the demands of change, leaders must adapt their skill sets and attitudes.

Evolving HR Strategy

Human Resources managers are at the forefront of a rapidly evolving employment landscape. They are uniquely positioned to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements and evolve existing talent management strategies. HR leaders can positively influence their organization’s human capital pace of adaptation.

Empowered Employees

True employee empowerment is shaped by internal policy adaptation and employee influence in decision making. Organizations that foster this working environment will have a competitive advantage.

Learning from the Success of Others

Leading companies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution display a commitment to their workers, increased agility, and cultural strength.

See the complete report on World Economic Forum’s website.

Related: The Block Center for Technology and Society