How to build a future-ready workforce

Lately, I’ve noticed a hint of panic from businesses that are wondering whether their failure to adequately prepare for so-called disruptive change might see them painted into a corner, and unable to compete in future.

It’s important to prepare, and in this case that means building a ‘future-ready’ workforce. But, what does that mean, exactly? What is it that’s coming in the future that we ought to take active steps to prepare for?

It’s something I’ve begun to explore before.

In order to make these kinds of predictions, it’s useful to look at what social and technological developments are driving the changes in the way we’ll work. According to the IFTF’s Future Work Skills 2020 report, we’ll see:

  • An increasingly elderly population
  • ‘Smarter’ computers and increasing robotic automation
  • Increased data collection and analyis in decision making
  • An increased use of more slick and sophisticated communication methods, such as graphics, animation and video
  • Greater harnessing of people power through online platforms
  • Globalisation of the labour market

Far from being concerning, this could also be a list of the most exciting developments that are presently emerging from my perspective. The only thing to worry about is that if you don’t pay attention, it will be your competitors who capitalise on these trends more effectively than you do!

Given this optimistic portrait of the future, we need to think about the implications of these trends, and then implement policies and take action to engineer a workforce that will thrive in that futuristic world.

The tools at our disposal are hiring practices, workplace policies and training initiatives. The process begins with identifying the skills and traits best suited to a future workplace where these trends have been fully manifested.

Increased diversity

One broad concept that many of the trends are pointing towards is that of increased diversity in the workforce.

As an example, increased longevity and the globalisation of the labour market suggests there’ll be much greater diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, and the mix of permanent workers versus freelancers and contractors. Many more workers will be off-site, either at home or working from the other side of the world.

Adapting to those changes will require workers to have high social intelligence, and the ability not just to work effectively within a team, but also to lead and manage those teams. Cross-cultural competency, such as linguistic skills, cultural understanding and confidence with working with a diverse team will be vital. This might involve the ability to quickly identify and communicate shared points of connection, such as shared values and goals, in order to quickly build rapport.

The ability to identify and take advantage of the skills, working and thinking styles of the team in order to work together effectively will also be very important for success in the new order of things.

How to prepare

Reconsider hiring older workers – especially those with broad skillsets and evidence that they frequently take the initiative to upskill and adapt to new technologies and operational methodologies.

Getting the most out of freelancers is a topic in itself, and I’ve written previously about this growing trend, as well as how to make sure freelancers feel at home in your business and how learning how to manage freelancers is an excellent first step in building management experience.

It can be taken further, too – consider offering cultural or language training courses to your workforce to increase your workers’ exposure to, and comfort with, foreign cultures and customs. This could lead to collaboration with valuable (i.e. lower cost) offshore contractors that previously wouldn’t have been considered.

Fear of job loss due to increased automation

Rise of the robots… and pie charts 

For many, the fear is that increased automation will eliminate 99% of the job titles we know of today. The first jobs to go are likely to be the ‘busy work’ that requires little brain and even less brawn – like filing and mundane research tasks. Next in line will be manual labour. No one is certain where it’s all leading, but a willingness to upskill and ascend to the next-least lowly post will definitely be an advantage.

Robots aside, cloud-based platforms and enterprise social networking tools will enable us to streamline operations and increase productivity through crowd sourcing.

The rise of big data analytics will mean that we’ll have before us the facts and figures to inform our every decision. While there will be a need for data wranglers, for the most part, future workers will not have to become computer scientists majoring in statistics as some suggest. Rather, it will be the ability to understand and interpret charts and graphs, as well as a little statistical terminology. Being able to work with and intuit useful insights from analytics dashboards will help a lot, too.

Data analytics ties in with new media literacy, too. Data is best presented visually, but so is almost everything else. Communicating with video, graphics and animation will be a core skill in future, so workers who are competent with the software used to create and manipulate graphics-intensive presentations will be in high demand.

In addition, according to CIO, Information Security skills will be in high demand. That stands to reason considering that nowadays barely a week passes without news of yet another big data breach.

How to prepare

If your company is already using data analytics, it might be a good idea to broaden the base of those workers who are able to see, understand and use those insights. That can be through training and granting more than just the manager access to the figures. In hiring, look for candidates with familiarity with statistics or analytics (even if it’s simply Google Analytics) either through previous roles, education or even hobbies.

In terms of IT security, it’s a great idea to introduce policies and conduct training on best practice when it comes to the simple things all workers can do to enhance your company’s defences against cyber attack. The overwhelming majority of hacks and data breaches are initiated through social engineering, such as simply convincing an unwitting employee to hand over the keys to the operation. Getting your workforce up to speed on matters of security will definitely decrease the chances of a big headache in future.

It’s okay to change at your pace, just so long as you do

Remember, addressing such challenges isn’t just about prepping for the future. All of these trends are in motion right now, and the demand for these kinds of changes is real, even if it’s not yet noticeable.

If its done incrementally through hiring policy and a forward-thinking attitude when it comes to training and workplace policies, you should enjoy a successful transition toward a workforce with the agility to adapt to, and capitalise on, the changes as they happen.

Freelancing is the new workforce megatrend

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m passionate about the future of work. I love thinking about what it means for organisations today, and how we can all prepare for the very exciting changes that we’re likely to face over the next 5-10 years.

In thinking about the future of work, freelancers have recently captured a lot of my attention (as you may have seen last week on this blog). My recent interest has been prompted by the freelance stats published in the latest Mary Meeker Internet Trends report.

Like many people – I was surprised when I saw the numbers on just how many people are currently freelancing. But what I think is equally significant is what this growth means for the broader workforce.

Freelancing statistics

Freelancing is officially huge (and continues to grow)

In the US, 34% of the workforce is now freelancing in some capacity (that’s the equivalent of 53 million people). For millennials, that figure rises to 38% of the workforce.

There’s clearly a range of freelancing going on here – not all of these 53 million people are freelancing full time:

  • 40% are independent contractors – doing freelance, temporary or supplemental work on a project-by-project basis
  • 27% are moonlighters – doing freelance work in addition to a primary job
  • 18% are diversified workers – with multiple permanent and temporary sources of income
  • 10% are temporary workers – with temporary employment through a single employer, client, job or contract
  • 5% are business owners – who employ 1-5 people, to support a growing freelance workload

Perhaps the most powerful statistic here is the overall growth of freelancing as a proportion of the US employment market. Over the past 10 years, the number of freelancers in the US has grown by over 10 million people (that’s the equivalent of nearly 25% growth over the period).

While Australia and New Zealand might not yet be reporting these big numbers in the freelancing market, my guess is these two countries are not too far behind.

There are a number of reasons that freelancing has seen such strong growth:

  • Economic drivers.
    Some of the freelance growth is about the economy. The business environment through the GFC has forced many people to start freelancing as permanent positions have been retrenched.
  • Technology drivers.
    Through ease of finding work and better collaboration, the Internet has had a transformative effect in facilitating the freelance economy. 65% of freelancers said the Internet makes it easier to find and deliver work.
  • Lifestyle drivers.
    I think it’s a telling statistic that more than half (53%) of current freelancers began freelancing by choice not necessity. The numbers indicate that much of this choice is about flexibility – in the same survey 32% of workers under 35 indicated they believe they’ll be working mainly flexible hours in the future.

These growth drivers aren’t likely to go away any time soon – which means that ongoing growth of freelancers is set to continue. And whilst clearly not everyone is going to be a freelancer, this does mean big changes in the workforce and the way we all work.

What does the growth of freelancing mean for the future of work?

I think more freelancing is great news for everyone in the workforce. It has the potential to benefit both employers and employees, whether freelance or more permanent.

Here’s my reasoning on why freelancing has such potential to reshape the workforce (for the better):

Freelancing helps to solve the purpose problem

Freelancing is a naturally healthy way to work. You produce deliverables, and for those deliverables you get paid. There’s a clear connection between what you put in and what you get out. That connection drives purpose.

In today’s workforce, many salaried employees have lost their sense of purpose. I think a lot of this comes down to the lack of clarity around how they’re really adding value.

Freelancers have complete transparency over their value. That’s rewarding and will lead to a working population that’s on average more engaged.

Freelancing makes the trade-offs in full time work clear

For most workers today, full time work is the ‘default’ choice. This is great for many, but it does involve trade-offs. You’re accepting a wage that’s significantly lower than what you’re potentially worth, in exchange for increased security over the medium-term.

Increased availability of freelance work makes this trade-off very clear. For those employees who choose to work in a full time job, this becomes a deliberate choice to seek security. Better alignment between employees and employers leads to healthier, more transparent workplaces.

Employees must take responsibility for their own growth and development

In an economy with more and more freelancers, every worker has to take responsibility for their own growth and development. Whether you’re freelancing or working in a corporate environment, the only person who’s completely got your development interests at heart is you. In a world dominated by freelancers, everyone is their own L&D department.

Freelancing drives better management

As I wrote in this article, successfully managing a freelancer forces any manager to learn effective performance management.

Management of independent freelancers is hard, and requires rigorous and regular performance management to succeed. A manager’s ability to get value from a freelancer depends entirely on how effective they are at setting clear expectations and delivering feedback.

The value of a manager is their freelancer network

You face a lot of uncertainty when you work with someone for the first time. Regardless of how well structured the hiring process is, there’s a lot of uncertainty that’s not resolved until you’ve actually worked together.

Due to this uncertainty, there’s big value in a manager who has worked with great freelancers previously. They have a known freelancer network that’s a known quantity – saving the organisation time and money.

Better systems and processes

Plugging talent into the organisation frequently on a task specific basis means that you need great processes. For example: if the task takes a week, but it takes a week to onboard (and three months to pay) there’s a big disincentive to using a freelance workforce.

Freelancing will force more organisational agility

Organisations using more freelancers will move faster. But this cuts both ways – leveraging a talent ‘cloud’ means the organisation can scale up faster. But there’s also less cultural infrastructure holding the organisation together over the long term. Organisations without great systems and processes have the ability to fall apart quickly as well.

As freelancing continues to grow we’re set for an exciting few years

The ongoing growth of freelancing is exciting. I think more freelancing is pushing us down the road to happier, healthier and faster moving workplaces.

Freelancing is a force for good in the working world. Overall we’re going to have more natural organisations, where more people are connected directly to the creation of value. That’s a great thing.

All organisations need to start thinking about how they’re going to make the most of the freelance revolution. For large organisations, it’s time to start experimenting with freelancers. If you do, you’ll be ensuring you’ve got the right organisational capacity to compete successfully into the future.

I’d love to hear about your freelancing experiences. Jump into the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter (@cognology).

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

What does an ageing workforce mean for performance management?

On 5 March 2015, the Australian Government released the latest, much-anticipated Intergenerational Report. The report predicts changes to Australia’s population over the next 40 years, making it an incredibly useful tool for building workplace systems that are fit for the future.

The data attracting the most attention in the report is focused on Australia’s ageing workforce. This got me thinking about the impact an older workforce will have on performance management.

We know that workplaces of the future will be highly collaborative and fast-moving. We also know that for people to develop quickly enough to keep up, we need a more ‘agile’ approach to performance management. My question is, does an older workforce support this need for Agile Performance Management?’

Agile performance management guide

A quick introduction to the Intergenerational Report

At least every five years the Government produces an Intergenerational Report to test the long-term sustainability of current policies. For Australian businesses, it’s a welcome opportunity to prepare for the future.

The report specifically looks at changes to Australia’s workforce size and age profile. The HR world can use this data to predict challenges (and opportunities) in work participation and productivity levels.

What will the Australian workforce look like in 2055?

The Australian Workforce in 2055 chart

The Intergenerational Report confirms that in 2055 Australia’s workforce will have many older workers than today (the key statistics are included in the graphic above).

As a proportion of Australia’s population, in the future there will be fewer people of traditional working age. (Relative to 1975 there will be 4.6 less working-age people to support each person over the age of 65.)

As a result, the report anticipates a 34% increase in the number of people staying in work beyond the age of 65. Put another way, by 2055 nearly one in five members of the Australian workforce will be aged over 65.

Why an older workforce makes Agile Performance Management even more critical

The report expects that the decrease in the number of available workers will be solved by older generations working for longer

We knew the population was ageing, but this data predicts a much bigger change than many of us would have expected. As a result, it’s critical that our workplaces are future-ready for a changing workforce.

The report expects that the decrease in the number of available workers will be solved by older generations working for longer. If this turns out to be correct, then Agile Performance Management will be crucial. Here’s why:

  1. Regular check-ins
    As we become more experienced, and grow older, it’s natural that we may not find enjoyment in the same things or be interested in doing the same kind of tasks. Regular check-ins between workers and managers will highlight these changes before they become problematic. As a result, workflow and task allocation can be changed accordingly. Excellent talent management is all about having the right person doing the right job at the right time.
  2. Capability development
    Being open to and acquiring new skills is crucial for older workers for two reasons:

    • The rate of technological change means that everyone needs to continually learn new skills to perform their jobs effectively. Younger generations tend to be naturally faster at picking up new skills, so developing the tech-based capabilities of older workers should be a priority to ensure their relevance in the workplace.
    • Roles are set to become broader as work becomes more collaborative. Older workers may need to develop new capabilities to make the most of this dynamic environment.
  3. Coaching and mentoring
    The experience of more mature workers is an excellent asset for any company. There’s a significant opportunity to utilise mature workers in coaching and mentoring roles to improve the knowledge and expertise of less experienced employees. Coaching doesn’t need to go in just one direction either (for example, younger workers could also coach older workers on technological skills).
  4. Frequent feedback
    Older workers may, or may not, be motivated to climb the corporate ladder, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need feedback. Regular feedback isn’t just for long-term development: it also has a major role in improving performance day-to-day. Regular feedback has also been proven to increase engagement, decrease stress levels, improve workplace relationships and optimise efficiency. (All of which translates to higher levels of job satisfaction and healthier, happier employees).

In conclusion

Our workforce is ageing. As a result, over coming decades there will be more people aged 65+ remaining in the workforce than ever before. It’s our job now to make sure these workers stay engaged, productive and happy at work. The fundamentals of Agile Performance Management (including ongoing feedback and mentoring) will be essential in ensuring older workers continue to contribute meaningfully, and at their highest level of performance.

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Talent management and the looming workforce crisis

The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room

There’s an elephant in the room. But don’t worry. The experts say it’s not going to get temperamental for 10 years or so. That’s my three sentence summary of “The Global Workforce Crisis: $10 Trillion at Risk”.

The report was just released by Boston Consulting Group (you can read the full report here). It’s full of interesting predictions for the state of the global workforce over the next 15 years. If you’re in workforce planning for a large multinational, it’s a resource to bookmark. You’ll get great value out of the workforce benchmarks for all major developed economies (hidden away in the appendix).

But let’s get back to that elephant. The picture for Australia isn’t pretty. We just don’t have enough workers. By 2030, this modelling puts the labour shortage at nearly 20% of the entire workforce! Only Germany, South Korea and Brazil are set to experience greater shortages.

Whether you believe these exact numbers or not, it’s hard to argue that we’re not facing a very real talent crunch. Our economy continues to grow faster than our population. We’re leveraged to any uptick in growth in the global economy. And we just don’t produce enough graduates across the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths professions. In the medium term, there’s a crunch coming. And it’s going to be very disruptive.

What to do?

Use this research to get in front of the C-level ASAP. It’s a fantastic opportunity to make the case for why best practice talent management is so important.

Here’s my recommendation. Print off this BCG report and find a large highlighter. Emphasise the following :

  • “If [Australia] continues on this trajectory and maintains its GDP growth of above 3.0 percent, Australia will likely experience a severe labor shortage by 2030.”
  • Then flip to the back and highlight the extent of the expected shortage in 2030.

You can see I’ve got things started for you!

Highlighting recommendations

It’s easy to connect the dots to what these numbers mean for the C-level. In this kind of environment:

  • It’s so hard to hire experienced talent, that there’s no choice but to grow great people.
  • Recruiters are calling every single week, so a lack of development quickly turns into to an exit interview.
  • Time to fill for specialised roles is astronomical, so poor retention translates to a significant P&L hit.

This is why great talent management can be such a competitive advantage for your company. In an economy that’s suffering from talent shortages equivalent to 20% of the workforce, the only companies that will thrive are those with best practice talent management.

In an economy this short on talent, best practice talent management isn’t a nice to have. It’s a requirement for being in business. Start getting your C-level to recognise this now. Because as we all know, it’s not quick or easy to build these competencies through the organisation. And by the time there’s a real crisis it’s going to be too late.

Are you concerned about the upcoming talent shortage in Australia? Jump into the comments with your thoughts and let’s start the conversation.

Photo Credit: Mike Scott (CC BY-SA 2.0)