There are three important trends that HR needs to focus on in the future of work, according to a recent report: the increased importance of soft skills, purposeful work in the gig economy, and the role of artificial intelligence.
Australia’s workplaces are undergoing many changes as they prepare for the future of work, and most of them driven by rapidly developing digital technologies that are simultaneously removing traditional jobs while creating new ones.
The speed of such change is accelerating with significant advances in artificial intelligence applications and machine learning, according to the Future of Work report, which found that these trends are closely tied to the rise of the fourth industrial revolution – Industry 4.0.
“At the heart of keeping pace with such changes is HR, which is charged with talent identification, hiring and management in this new world,” said John Belchamber, chief development officer for the OrgDev Institute, which conducted the report.
“These changes are shifting the expectations, choices and decisions that potential employees can, and are, making about where and how they work.”
The Future of Work report, which is based on insights from HR leaders and other senior executives, found that companies are actively exploring hiring an AI-equipped and ready workforce.
“There’s much to consider when it comes to how humans can remain relevant in a world where AI has the potential to swallow jobs and whole industries,” said Belchamber.
The rise of soft skills in a digital age
With automation paving the way for routine technical tasks to be surrendered to robots, soft skills will become crucial for employers and managers in the future of work.
HR departments will become increasingly reliant on employees who have critical thinking and the capability to deal with complex problems, the report said.
According to research by Deloitte Australia, the number of soft skill-intensive jobs will grow 2.5 times faster than other roles.
“At the heart of keeping pace with such changes is HR, which is charged with talent identification, hiring and management in this new world”
Furthermore, the research predicts that soft skill-intensive jobs will make up almost two-thirds of the workforce by 2030, and Belchamber said this has important implications in the future of work for employees and the HR teams managing them.
“A key question ODi sees is how organisations, the education system and other bodies will prepare people with the skills needed to be prepared for the demands of the workplace in the future,” he said.
“The education system still has a focus on STEM, and while some forward-thinking schools are increasingly bringing things like emotional intelligence, resilience and leadership skills into the school experience as early as primary school, we are still operating in a model preparing people for roles that won’t exist.
“We’ve been hearing that as AI takes over, it can find out all the information, but it doesn’t know is what to do with it.
“AI can find the data but how does it bring in the human skills to say, ‘okay, that’s what happened in the past; what’s the impact of this in the future?’”
Purpose is the new currency
Within the rise of the gig economy, a new kind of currency has emerged: finding positive job meaning, or purpose, in the daily roles of employees – and the report said this is a trend HR needs to embrace or face being left behind.
Executives across all sectors confirmed that the gig economy is far more than just a future of work trend and has become an ingrained part of their workforce.
As a result, executives spoke of a significant “power switch” between employer and employee, with the gig economy generating a workforce that has become increasingly selective about the work they take on with the ‘criteria’ heavily weighted towards having ‘purpose’.
“With the gig economy growing at an exponential rate, driven by the power of the digital age, the workforce is set to undergo major transformations,” said Belchamber.
“This phenomenon offers remarkable opportunities for both employees and employers – provided the correct systems are put in place.
“AI can ensure not only the longevity of the HR industry but also its prosperity”
“While there’s bound to be pushback from this mass work culture change, it’s never been more imperative for HR to remain ahead of the curve.
According to LinkedIn research, a candidate will trust a company’s employees three times more than the company itself in providing credible information on what it’s like to work there.
“Offer flexibility and meaningfulness and, in return, there’s maximised employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity,” said Belchamber.
Maintaining a positive employer brand is critical to a business, their current and potential employees, he added.
Artificial intelligence can no longer be ignored
In designing new organisational strategies or planning workforce strategies, the report said that it is imperative that artificial intelligence (AI) be at the forefront of the discussion in preparing for the future of work.
“HR leaders can no longer ignore the trends or play a ‘wait and see’ game,” said Belchamber.
“AI is now a real-world force, which is playing an ever-expanding and dynamic role in all of our daily lives.”
Belchamber predicted that AI will not replace the need for HR management, but it will significantly change the nature of how HR department leaders must adapt and communicate with their fellow staff.
In order to remain relevant in this AI-enabled workplace, HR must thoroughly understand the implications of the technological changes at work and set a priority to adopt such technology into the workforce now, to be ready for the future of work.
“AI can ensure not only the longevity of the HR industry but also its prosperity,” he said.
“Many in the HR profession would argue that the primary goal of talent management is to move beyond the day-to-day activities and earn that executive ‘seat at the table’, providing a voice on the strategy of the business.
“Currently, HR is caught in a continuous tug-of-war between mundane, repetitive tasks, like reviewing resumes and screening applicants, while needing to engage and interact with candidates and employees.”
AI has the capability to end this tug-of-war, according to Belchamber, who said it can contribute to HR’s voice in an organisation, not only by taking many of the time consuming, arduous tasks associated with planning, acquisition and management, but also by providing consistent processes and strategies on the ground level.