Imagine being the HR Director at Acme Industries and attending the annual strategy meeting. The theme is ‘What will Acme look like in 2025’ and you will present ‘What skills will Acme’s employees need in 2025’.
Product Development will present on how they see Virtual Reality (VR) becoming part of the design process. Manufacturing, anticipating being seamlessly integrated with Product Design will demonstrate how 3D Printing will replace and change manual production. Marketing will share how Integrated Social Media and the automated analysis of Big Data will revolutionise identifying who, when and how Acme should be communicating with its customers and other stakeholders.
As the HR Director, you have the unenviable challenge of anticipating how such radical changes in technology and the company’s operations will translate into what skills employees should own in 2025.
I have empathy for this HR Directors situation. The question is too broad, and there are too many current possibilities and, even more, future unknowns.
Whenever I pose that same future skills question rather than specific answers such as Sense-Making, Social Intelligence, Novel and Adaptive Thinking and New-Media Literacy as suggested by the University of Phoenix Research Institute in their Future Work Skills 2020 research, I typically receive two polarised broader views:
- From optimists, I hear that technology and connectivity will continue to improve, political and socioeconomic stability will prevail, and that human ingenuity will figure out the rest and employees will be an integral part of the future.
- From pessimists, I hear about the removal of the human involvement by automation, a substantial reduction in the workforce and direct social consequences.
In a previous post I asked the question ‘How do you build a future-ready workforce?’ As the roles and the way we work changes, how can an organisation ensure the workforce will thrive?
Along with Acme Inc., Australia’s Federal Government has been asking the same questions and recently released Australia’s Future Workforce? The report shares the view that the key drivers of changes in the job landscape in future are our ageing population, technology and automation, and an increasingly globalised and fragmented workforce.
Our Professional Challenge
As human resource professionals, I believe we should be open-minded and engaged internally and externally with the changing nature of even traditional roles.
Specifically, I am referring to not pulling a role definition out of the HR documents library and requesting ‘same again please.’ Instead, I am suggesting invoking a process that seeks input from the department head as to how and why that role and its function is changing. Reviewing recruitment advertisements for similar positions can also be a valuable input to be presented to managers.
The Evolving Workplace
History presents new specialist skills that are initially sourced externally and over time brought in-house if they become mainstream. However, in part because of the pace of technological change, I believe that this transition will decrease over the next decade, and the ‘on-demand’ workforce will substantially increase.
I’ve enjoyed sharing my views about the ‘on-demand’ workforce and how your organisation can make sure you get the most out of them. Many might think of this as simply ‘freelancing’ but this is a fast, evolving, agile new version of the professional services sector.
In their paper Five Trends that are Dramatically Changing Work and the Workplace Knoll Workplace Research highlight the ‘coming shortage of knowledge workers, the continuing distribution of organisations and the availability of technologies and social collaboration tools’ will cause organisations to utilise the ‘on-demand’ workforce.
Providing ‘on-demand’ services are lucrative and rewarding personally for the individual. Therefore, I think it’s reasonable to assume this new sector will adapt before new skills become mainstream guaranteeing their availability.
A never ending cycle of transition and transformation
I would like to reassure the pessimists that on our path to 2025 you will not hear a technological big bang, rather, the quiet turning of the wheels of a cycle of transition and transformation providing the opportunity for the workforce to hone new skills.
What did an employee learn in the last year?
Employees keep a close eye on the changes in their domain. They will change employers if they perceive their career will stall without gaining new skills that are required.
An employee’s ability to increase their perceived value to an organisation and enjoy the feedback and recognition that brings has a direct relationship with job satisfaction.
Recent history provides reliable medium-term predictions
The pessimists I meet fear that people, can’t or won’t rise to the challenge of change and sit back and watch their roles be consumed by automation. In my opinion, that severely underestimates the tenacity of the human spirit to grow, learn and adapt.
Technology has been evolving since the wheel. Our skills have been developing ever since someone had to manufacture and fit that wheel.
When one occupation declines, it is replaced by another or perhaps by an enhanced variation that’s requires new skills.
To sum up…
Rather than a list of specific domain skills that will be in the greatest demand on our journey to 2025, I believe that those skills are in fact the willingness to accept and embrace change, being adaptive to new workplace structures that combine internal and external resources and a commitment to acquiring new knowledge.