Posted: 31st October 2019

Thanks largely to the acceleration in the adoption and diversification of technology – particularly in the fields of AI and robotics – we have well and truly entered the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

It’s an epoch that Forbes has described as “disrupting almost every industry … and creating massive change at unprecedented speed”.

This revolution at the heart of our society has brought about changes in the way we all live and work. It’s also coincided with dramatic demographic shifts that have brought about secondary revolutions in the shape and structure of the workforce.

Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2010), for example, are now entering the workforce with very different goals and ideals to even the Millennials that came just before them. Older generations are no longer entering a ‘neat’ retirement either, with many likely to continue working (in some form) well into their seventies and beyond.

The response of organisations to these changes will mean that the workplace of 2030 will be starkly different to that we are familiar with at the dawn of the 2020s.

Demographic change means firms face different demands

By 2030, when ‘Generation Alpha’ reach working age, there will be five generations working side by side. The current discourse around the challenges of managing a ‘four gen’ workforce is being replaced by conversations around what a ‘five gen’ working world will look and feel like.

Another demographic shift to look out for is the predicted increase in the number of women in senior roles. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills predicts that, within the next decade, women will make up around 60% of the growth in higher-skilled and senior-level job markets.

Naturally, these trends will mean that employers face different demands and expectations from a changing employee base to those they do now.

We’ve already seen younger entrants to the workforce driving changes as they look to work for organisations with a clear social purpose. They want to work for businesses that understand their desire to make a difference, both inside and outside of work, and allow them to better balance their professional and personal responsibilities.

This has added weight to the arguments of existing employees, from across the gender and age spectrum, for greater flexibility. We’ve seen corresponding changes in many firms’ flexible working arrangements, parental leave and related policies.

It remains to be seen, however, how firms will respond to new demands and expectations. Will they be able to rise to the challenge? Will they be flexible and agile enough?

Businesses must be as dynamic as their employees

As businesses need to be increasingly nimble to respond to the next digital developments and an ever-more uncertain external environment, it is expected that the number of long-term, permanent roles will shrink significantly. Instead, they will become centred around core or specialised skills. New and highly dynamic resourcing approaches will need to be developed in response to this.

Agile working is expected to become the norm across organisations by 2030. Instead of being made up of ‘vertically aligned’ teams with specialist functions, businesses will become more ‘horizontally integrated’. By this, we mean that they will be made up of small cross-functional teams aligned to delivering specific outcomes or given the task of responding to an identified challenge on the horizon.

Traditional hierarchical structures – together with their communications, leadership and control frameworks – will be challenged. In their place, it is expected that firms will be organised along the lines of some of the most established tech companies, such as Netflix and Spotify. Both make good use of teams combining required skills to deliver specific service lines in a relatively flat structure.

To make a business work with reduced hierarchy, it is essential that teams are enabled to be, in Spotify terminology, “loosely coupled, tightly aligned”. By being tightly aligned to the culture and strategy of the organisation, teams can be largely autonomous in their approach, solutions and output. They can work towards their goals without the need to defer to the next level in the hierarchy. However, this alignment is contingent on having a strong internal culture, congruent with a crystal-clear business purpose, vision and strategy.

To allow for more agile approaches and a reduction in permanent core, there will be a need for more multi-skilled workers with the right attributes and mindset to be able to move between roles and continue to deliver, even in a climate of uncertainty. This does not just mean a new generation coming into the workforce, but the current working generations seeking new skills and expertise to remain competitive. The value currently placed on specialist careers will be, in part, superseded by the value placed on attributes such as independence, creativity and entrepreneurialism.

How should businesses respond?

There are countless articles out there and plenty of speculation about what’s coming in the next workforce revolution, but much less information about what businesses can actually be doing now to set themselves up to succeed in the new world.

The fact of the matter is that many of the predicted changes are already well underway. Yet the issues that organisations are grappling with today are only the tip of the iceberg.

We believe the challenge for firms now is in how they respond in a joined-up, holistic way. They will need to prove they can create an employee proposition designed to evolve as the ‘people-landscape’ alters at pace.

As part of ongoing research into the future of work and the resultant pressures on people policies, recruitment and resourcing, Huntswood has come to the conclusion that looking at the challenges ahead of us through the lens of 'talent' will give your firm the clearest way forward.

Talented individuals, whether multi-skilled or those with specialisms will be in high demand. Indeed, Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chair of the World Economic Forum and respected expert on the Fourth Industrial Revolution has said, “I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production.”

Businesses should focus on creating a compelling proposition for such individuals – no matter if they come into the business on a permanent or temporary basis or via a third party.

What ‘talent’ is looking for in a workplace

Talented individuals of all generations are increasingly concerned with working for businesses that aim to make a positive impact on wider issues. They will be looking for businesses with a social and environmental mission, and those that value ‘people over profit’ (or, in other terms, ‘profit with purpose’).

Being able to clearly project and explain why your business exists, what its objectives are and what its wider contribution to society will be is going to be critical in hiring talent going forward. Remember, of course, that this must be more than just words. What your business ‘stands for’ should be core to your culture.

Being attractive to talent also means moving beyond ‘ensuring diversity’ to being truly inclusive, understanding the priorities and needs of individuals and matching them with a range of employment options.

Recruitment and hiring policies will need to cater for pockets of currently un-tapped talent that have much to add but find it hard to succeed in traditional employment structures. People with autism or related learning difficulties, for example, excel in areas of work that others may not, yet are still, sadly, overlooked for many positions. The next generation of talent-based recruiters will need to recognise the unique value that every person can bring.

Employment options should also support ‘multi-organisational’ working, allowing people the time and space to work across both commercial and charitable / voluntary sectors. Being able to do so will give some people the sense of ‘balance’ that they are seeking.

Leaders will also need to be fully equipped to manage in this new environment. A big part of this will be setting outcome-focused objectives that move the focus away from ‘hours worked’ to ‘tasks delivered’.

Finally, there is a raft of employee-tech solutions entering the market designed to combat process-related frustrations and to work with existing systems without the need for expensive re-engineering. Technology may be driving the change but also creating solutions for keeping pace with it.

Are you ready for the next revolution of work?

We are undeniably in a time of significant change, but with many issues still to be overcome. There is great pressure on businesses, with shareholders and investors insisting that businesses have a purpose beyond simple profitability. Proactively and coherently addressing the changes affecting the workplace should be considered a key contribution to this.

As we enter the 2020s, we will continue to conduct research with clients, industry experts and academics. In this critical time of change, firms need all the guidance they can get, and resourcing / recruitment partners that they can trust to be ‘on the ball’.

The workforce of 2030 will, no doubt, be more inclusive, more flexible and more driven to improve the world than ever before, but only if we start fostering it now and building the businesses that the next generation of talent will want to work in.

The future of work will arrive much faster than any of us expect. If you want to ensure your business keeps pace with the rapid pace of change, be sure to sign up to receive regular insight from Huntswood.

This is only just the beginning.

Rhiannon harfoot

Rhiannon Harfoot

Culture change consultant and Advisory Panel member


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