Talent Focus

The Future Of Work…

There has been a plethora of papers published over recent years in relation to what work may look like in the future. Many of these are in response to the growth of automation, machine learning and AI.  It is fair to say, however, that any reports published before 2020 are now out of date as how we work and why we work have changed considerably due to the impact of Covid-19.

What I think most people can agree on, is that the days of working in one company for 30 years, getting your gold watch and enjoying a well-funded retirement are mostly behind us.

I have been in recruitment for 20 years and I noticed a real step change after the 2008 financial crisis. There seemed to be a realisation that if you couldn’t spend your whole working life in institutions like banks then where could you? Candidates started talking much more about jobs rather than careers and increased numbers became interims – stating that they had become less concerned with the uncertainty of their next contract as they would have very little protection in a permanent role anyway for their first 2 years (with the exception of discrimination).

Fast forward to 2021 and jobs rather than careers is increasingly becoming tasks rather than jobs as the pandemic has turbo charged changes to how organisations and employees think and operate.  The general direction of travel appears to be much more skills based focussed with employers seeking specific skills for the work that is needs to be undertaken and individuals increasingly looking to best monetise the skills they possess.

The challenge, however, is there is the ever increasing skills gap. The World Economic Forum estimated in their Future of Jobs report released late 2020 that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms. That is a significant amount of new skills that will be needed over the next 5 years.  The report suggested that the top 5 decreasing roles over this time frame would be:

1 Data Entry Clerks 2 Administrative and Executive Secretaries 3 Accounting, Bookkeeping and Payroll Clerks 4 Accountants and Auditors 5 Assembly and Factory Workers

Over the same period the top 5 increasing roles are likely to be:

1 Data Analysts and Scientists 2 AI and Machine Learning Specialists 3 Big Data Specialists 4 Digital Marketing and Strategy Specialists 5 Process Automation Specialists

On average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of up to six months and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.

In a recent survey, by recruitment company Monster, 87% of employers say they struggle to fill positions as a result of skills gap. This is particularly acute for finance and technology sectors. When it comes to CV’s – Candidates want to showcase their values but clients want to see their skills (companies listed about 33% more skills on job adverts in 2020 than they did in 2017).

We have had numerous infection points in the past where skills needed to change – industrial revolution, the advent of the internet etc but it appears that over time our ability to bridge these gaps, to educate and train people for new roles has diminished. In the same Monster survey, 62% of respondents said it was the employer’s responsibility to provide the required training and 48% said it was the candidate’s responsibility.

So what will the future of work look like? For permanent employees there will be a cultural and practical shift – Work From Home will become Work From Anywhere as staff continue to want flexible working arrangements as their No 1 priority (No 2 and 3 interestingly appear to be salary protection and healthcare).

Employees will increasingly want to feel valued and to work for leadership teams that behave well (young people are 22 times more likely to join an organisation that aligns with their values and purpose).

Employer brand will become a key focus and the use of recruitment marketing technology will increase to engage with potential talent over an extended period prior to their hire

For permanent employees, progression within a company will become less linear. Just as ‘hiring in’ skills for particular tasks will become more prevalent so will maximising the skills in an organisations existing staff. Circa 80% of employees want to change role but only around 50% want to move companies, so companies will tap into this. Technology will make it easier to engage with internal talent and identify skills (including skills that employees are not already utilising – a recent ADP survey found only 35% of employees believe they are utilising all their skills). This means companies will spend more time looking at moving talent between departments and providing any necessary training to bridge skills via Learning Management Systems and in person training.

There will also be a rise in portfolio careers as the notion of climbing the corporate ladder further declines. You know when something is gathering momentum when there are more and more ways to describe it…what started as the phrase the Gig Economy has now expanded to Work As A Service, On Demand Talent, Human Cloud and Freedom Workers!

Individuals can utilise evolving technology to work remotely on multiple projects at times and (travel restrictions aside) places that suit the individual and enable them to work to their own schedule and terms.

This move towards an Extended workforce will also be driven by employers. Most advice, regarding managing remote teams, is that Managers should focus on the outcomes by setting tasks and allowing staff to achieve these tasks in their own time. Once you start breaking down roles into a series of tasks and the demise of the office nucleus then the concept of employing full time employees becomes less appealing.

Renting skills / Work As A Service helps reduce one of an organisations largest fixed costs which is its staff and move it more to a variable cost. Workforce planning, therefore, becomes WorkTask planning – not about traditional headcount but matching jobs with skills and resources.

Talent Marketplace platforms like Fiverr and Upwork allow employers to commission people to undertake these tasks in hours rather than the weeks or months it takes to hire someone permanently.

The changes in the way we work are not without their challenges. As more people work remotely and Talent Marketplace platforms allow you to pitch for skills focussed projects anywhere in the world, employers can employ or rent someone globally…so no need to pay London rates or even UK rates when you can engage someone in a region where the salary expectations are significantly lower. For many tasks we could see a race to the bottom but regions will also compete to attract individual talent rather than trying to entice companies to relocate there (some states in US are already offering financial incentives to relocators).

With a smaller directly employed workforce, who spend less time in an office, how will companies develop their future managers or account directors? With a reduction of permanent salaries as portfolio careers grow how will individuals achieve things normally associated with this stability such as securing a mortgage?

But the greatest challenge, as we Work From Anywhere and become increasingly commoditised, working for multiple organisations on multiple projects, is the loss of company culture and feeling part of a community as we juggle kids and cats at our kitchen table.

This will be a massive challenge for the HR profession as it moves from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees and extended workforce.

Luke Rodwell, Director Talent Focus Executive Search and Consulting