“For businesses to capitalize on new opportunities, they will need to put talent development and future workforce strategy front and centre to their growth. Firms can no longer be passive consumers of ready-made human capital.” ~Future of Workforce Strategy, World Economic Forum

Many people would be quick to characterize the changes happening around us as swift. Lately, I tend to believe that what has been termed as exponential change is change that has been happening around us all along; much of it is small but continuous.

What really happens is that, in the normal course of our jammed-packed daily routine, we fail to notice trends, and these trends begin to develop into drivers of change. When we finally notice, we begin to describe the pace of change as fast, unbelievable, surprising, and even exponential. But what we see is just the accumulation of what we failed to see.

Some of that “fast” change has been occurring in our workforce. We can agree that the workforce of today is not the same as the workforce of yesterday. And the workforce of the future is already/will be much different than what we see today. Much of it driven by economics and the advances in technology.

Many scholars point that we are at the edge of the 4th Industrial Revolution (see link to interesting video here to gain a glimpse at what this means). This revolution is a fusion of the digital, physical, biological, and human imagination worlds. Yes, of course then, the future of the workforce must be different.

One of the major challenges for leaders in the future is to accomplish work with a force that may not be completely organic (or even human). This trend is not new but has been occurring already for a few years. For example, scholar Peter Cappelli [2] highlighted the early stages of a shift (back in the year 2005) from the traditional lifetime employment of the workforce to one that has been characterized as contingency employment.

This same trend is confirmed 12 years later. Recent studies estimate that as much as one third of the U.S workforce is engaged in on-demand, contingency work.[3] Today, more employees hone their skills and prefer to work on their own, under contract arrangements—more than what we have seen in the past. Another study of the workforce [4] highlighted that freelancers will most likely be the majority of the workforce by 2027.

Some believe this contingency, on-demand, freelancing trend may be good for managers because it can produce an industry of skilled professionals who are focused on providing customer value to stay employable and profitable, yielding better return on innovation for companies.[5] This type of workforce pool is already exhibiting signs of being more proactive in sharpening their skills when compared with its counterpart working with traditional employers.

Another major challenge to leaders today, and will continue in the future, is that increasingly companies make more use of a wider range of automation options. This automation, to include the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, the use of sensors and other applications of the Internet of Things are some of the factors expected to lead to a decrease in demand for traditional roles. Repetitive work will be a thing of the past, and leaders will need to redistribute the human talent where it is more effective—in tasks that require abstraction and creative problem solving.[6]

All of the above offer opportunities for leaders. First is the opportunity to pay attention to the small changes around us, and secondly, respond with small improvements in our leadership and process improvement practices.

Here are two needed leadership and process improvement practices. Some of those leadership practices needed involve the proactive re-skill of workers. This means being able to transcend current workforce skills into the skills needed by the workforce of the future. And some of the process improvement practices needed are those dealing with the job structure. Is the job repetitive? Is the genius of the worker under-utilized? If the answer to both questions is yes, perhaps the job can be automated and the worker’s talent be employed elsewhere in the organization.

There’s more we can talk and write about. This short post is to get us thinking about the future, to imagine how the future(s) could be, and to get us to react to the small changes with small improvements. We will be better off this way than trying our luck at designing massive change to cope with the realities of a particular future.

Always motivated, lugo

References and notes:

[1] The Fourth Industrial Revolution. (2016, April 13). World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=12&v=khjY5LWF3tg.

[2] Losey, M., Meisinger, S., & Ulrich, D. (2005). The future of human resource management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 14.

[3] Warner, Mark R. (2017, Jul 5). The American dream is fading for millions of freelancers: Portable benefits could save it. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/40433629/the-american-dream-is-fading-for-millions-of-freelancers-portable-benefits-could-save-it.

[4] Dishman, L. (2017, Oct 16). Freelancers are planning for the future of work faster than anyone else. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://flipboard.com/@flipboard/-freelancers-are-planning-for-the-future/f-39fcbf1643%2Ffastcompany.com?_escaped_fragment_=.

[5] Canton, J. (2015). Future smart: Managing the game-changing trends that will transform your world.  Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.

[6] Kasriel, S. (2017, Aug 17). 6 ways to make sure AI creates jobs for all and not the few. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/08/ways-to-ensure-ai-robots-create-jobs-for-all.