5 expert predictions on the future of work (and what leaders can do to prepare)

5 predictions on the future of work

There has been a lot of discussion around the “fourth industrial revolution” and what this will mean for the workforce of the future, according to Juliet Andrews, who shares five predictions on the future of work – and what leaders can do to prepare

While there is no doubt things are set to change, there are multiple possible scenarios of what the future of work will look like. Importantly, both HR and organisational leaders need to be aware of the changing shape of today’s workforce, how technology is transforming business, and how leaders can successfully steer their businesses through these challenges.

1. Disruption in the workplace is not just about technology
Although technology disruption gets a lot of air time in discussions about the future of work, the ageing workforce and negative population growth in developed economies are among several stable factors altering the composition of the global labour market. This is combined with changing consumer behaviour, globalisation and the rise of virtual work, disrupting a range of dimensions of where and how we work as well as for how long.

2. Organisations need to champion lifelong learning
With the speed of change in work, roles, structures and technology, everyone needs to engage in modular learning to stay relevant with evolving work. Lifelong learning needs to become more than just a catchphrase.

Our institutions and formal education frameworks are slowly changing but they are unlikely to be able to change fast enough to be helpful to the immediate needs of organisations in adapting to the future of work.

So where does that leave employers in relation to learning? Our people need to be self-directed and we need to provide the environment, tools and time to learn. Organisations that do this well will be leaders in the market for critical skills.

“Lifelong learning needs to become more than just a catchphrase”

3. Use tech investments to inform your workforce plan
While the future of work is unpredictable, organisations who plan their technology investment with an aligned workforce plan will be able to provide a decent degree of practical insight for workers trying to figure out which skills will carry a premium in future, and how they should position themselves to capitalise.

Bringing these two plans together will help to highlight which divisions and roles will be impacted. With effective planning, organisations can then deduce the capabilities they have, which workers can make the transition with smarter learning and development programs, and which need to be exited from the organisation through natural attrition or redundancy. Armed with this insight, they can (in theory) transition in the most cost-effective, least disruptive way – reassign, redeploy, up-skill, natural attrition, retrenchment.

4. The rise of robots
Despite the headlines, robots, computers and software are yet to take over entire jobs, and it doesn’t appear that this outcome is just around the corner. Many fear their role will be replaced by a robot that promises faster results while reducing costs, but in reality the impact of technology on jobs is not significant across our workforce. Robotics are replacing tasks and activities – parts of jobs – requiring redesign and re-skilling.

But, (there’s always a but) there is lingering apprehension that once this initial phase of automation is in place – in which mundane tasks of little value are removed from an overworked worker’s plate – the next phase will see technology both augmenting and replacing jobs in large numbers in the future of work. This could see employers trying to bring in new capability, upskill the existing workforce and manage large scale transitions into and out of their organisations.

5. Australia’s gig economy: is the buzz justified?
The rise of the gig economy has touched many sectors and is transforming the way that people work in a number of countries. The proposed gig economy, based on the US experience overlooks fundamental structural and cultural differences in Australia’s industrial relations laws, attitude towards entrepreneurship, and exposure to the global financial crisis which forced US citizens to adopt more innovative ways of working.

“Change is upon us whether we like it or not. Winners will be those who embrace and manage it, not those who defer or resist it”

That said, the gig economy thrives on technology, it will require a re-write of IR laws and what it means to be an employee. Community expectation will ensure governments provide some level of protection for workers’ rights that may not be in place today, covering issues like the minimum wage, superannuation and the need for stability of employment.

Estimates put the size of the gig economy anywhere between 1 to 30 percent of the labour force. There is an awful lot of white space between 1 and 30 percent, but even picking a middle ground of 10 percent points to huge ramifications. With 12 million working adults in the Australian economy, you’re talking about roughly 1 million contingent workers with all the knock-on implications for superannuation savings and capacity to borrow money.

Individuals who embrace change will benefit the most
Change is upon us whether we like it or not. Winners will be those who embrace and manage it, not those who defer or resist it. In many case, individuals that get left behind in the workforce revolution will do so due to their own complacency rather than a lack of clear signals and opportunity.

What leaders can do to prepare for the workforce of the future

  • Build a shared vision of the future of your organisation, and use this to ensure alignment. The future is shaped by us it doesn’t just happen to us.
  • Integration is key. Develop an integrated technology and people roadmap for the next three years which links IT investment to workforce capacity.
  • Take employees on the journey. Engaged employees who understand the future vision and their role in it with a pathway to transition are more likely to embrace change.