The Workforce of the Future

Convergence of disruption

It is nearly 5 years since the World Economic Forum published its report on the Future of Jobs when they proclaimed that we were at the beginning of a fourth industrial revolution. The report forecast that technology, alongside wider demographic trends and societal developments, would fundamentally disrupt the working world over the coming years. This change would see some jobs lost, whilst new ones would be created, and the future world of work would necessitate a new mix of skills. Five years on, these disruptive trends have converged with the COVID-19 pandemic. Most countries have workplace closures and restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the virus. In response, organisations shifted at pace to enable remote working even where it was not considered possible, changing the working channels of nearly 40% of workers in the OECD. The convergence of these two disruptive forces has created a 2020 that no-one had expected, as the pandemic has forced a rapid adoption of technologies and acceleration of transformation.
Workforce of the future

The next destination

The latest report on the Future of Jobs casts its eye to 2025 as it considers how these disruptive forces will shape the next five years. Some of its key global findings are:

  • Job creation will outstrip job destruction: Though the disruptive trends of the fourth industrial revolution will continue to make roles redundant through increasing use of automation, far more new roles are expected to emerge and create a net gain in jobs by 2025.
  • Skills gaps will endure: Remote working is set to expend with 84% of employers looking to digitise processes at pace. The majority of online white-collar workers are already experiencing this new world of working, with concerns around productivity and wellbeing being raised. Organisations are increasingly looking at digital solutions to rebalance the scales and create a greater sense of community.
  • Changing training: By 2025, 40% of the required core skills are expected to change and a half of employees are expected to reskill. There are rapidly growing trends in the provision and uptake of online learning; the employed are placing greater emphasis on personal development and the unemployed are gravitating towards learning digital skills. Around two-thirds of employers expect to gain a return on investment within a year for their learning and development interventions.

What does this look like for us?

The top global business adaptions to the pandemic have been accelerating the digitisation of work processes and the promotion of remote working, matching the UK trend. Over two-thirds of businesses in the UK are accelerating the digitisation of learning and development, 57% are accelerating automation and nearly half are accelerating upskilling and reskilling of their workforce. These responses are trending consistently higher than the global average and compare favourably with the OECD. The top five skills in high demand in the UK continue the trend of previous years:

  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Creativity, originality and initiative
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Critical thinking and analysis

This is similar to other advanced economies which have a significant service sector and heavy reliance on knowledge workers. The agility of workers to respond and adapt to new ways of working in the pandemic had likely driven active learning and learning strategies to the fore in this year.

Whilst such skills are in high demand, and driving organisational demand for data analysts, machine learning specialists and big data specialists, a number of roles have been identified as increasingly redundant in the UK as we move towards 2025:

  • Data Entry Clerks Accounting,
  • Bookkeeping and Payroll Clerks
  • Administrative and Executive Secretaries
  • Accountants and Auditors
  • General and Operations Managers
Many of these reflect the trends towards the automation of data-centric and rules-based tasks. The increasing redundancy of management roles, though a surprise to many, is indicative of two developments in recent years. The first is the improved integrations of systems and processes, through the use of technologies, that enable better decision-making. This has enabled empowerments at a local level, whilst retaining governance and direction from the centre, and diluted the role of middle-management roles. The second development is the increased use of technology to manage and people to lead, which is driving many middle managers towards development of more appropriate skills.

“We find ourselves at a defining moment: the decisions and choices we make today will determine the course of entire generations’ lives and livelihoods.”

Klaus Schwab and Saadia Zahida

Future workforce barriers

With so much disruption, it is vital that businesses look to undertake meaningful steps and prepare for the future workforce:

Focus on learning

  • The average half-life of a learned skill is five years, meaning that what we know today will have lost half its value by 2025. Indeed, for many technologies this half-life can be closer to 2-3 years. The people and organisations that focus on learning will be able to adapt faster than those who do not. Foster a culture that celebrates development across all capability areas, no matter how large or small.

Hone the acquisition of capability

  • The rate of disruption means we need to think about capabilities, rather than roles. Consider carefully the capabilities you will need in the future and the most appropriate sources, be it permanent employees, contingent workers, broader partnerships or automation. Where you are looking to bring in workers, make those capabilities the core of your selection decisions and ensure they are accurately assessed.

Think different

  • Success in the next five years will necessitate greater creativity, innovation, analysis and problem-solving as we tackle many disruptive forces. Achieving this rests upon having the greatest possible diversity of thought and voice within our organisations as we face these challenges. It is vital, therefore, that we look to select our capabilities from the broadest range possible and empower those who bring difference to our business.

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Written by Adam Gibson

Chartered FCIPD FCMI, Strategic Workforce Planning Leader

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