The future of work is an exciting concept, based on predictions about everything from artificial intelligence (AI) to robotics. While no one can predict exactly what it will look like, we know technology will play a large role in shaking up the way we do business. In just a few years, the skills that will be needed to perform our work will be vastly different as a direct result of those rapidly emerging advancements. It also means people will need to learn how to adapt to working in collaboration with smarter technology. But while advancements in tech have the power to increase our efficiency, they also raise a unique challenge in the workplace. How prepared are your current employees for the future of work and the new skills they'll need to succeed once it arrives? And, if the answer follows the common trend facing many companies of being not very prepared, what can you do to help future proof your workplace?
What does the future of work look like?
The World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group reported on some possible outlooks for the workplace of the future. These include factors such as the increasingly expanding global workplace, large scale automation of employee tasks, a larger share of the workforce transitioning to remote roles and entrepreneurial endeavors, and an increased number of high-skill areas moving into high-skilled jobs. At the same time, employees are expected to work in agile work environments and be adaptable, while many roles require reskilling through modern learning channels.
It’s a future in which humans will take on increasingly fast-paced roles that often involve overseeing computerized and robotic functions, while needing to be adaptable to accelerating technology changes. Employees will also be challenged to work with colleagues and customers around the world using virtual meeting and communication tools, while remaining in touch with the culture of the organization.
How to prepare current employees for the future
While it’s expected that your company will hire a few new employees over the next decade, you cannot replace your entire workforce. Why? For one, it would be foolish to throw away all the valuable skills that your current employees have learned over time. Secondly, is it is extremely expensive to replace employees, especially those who are loyal to your company. Lastly, many of the employees that you have right now might have already demonstrated the capacity to work in new and changing environments, a factor that will be increasingly important as the future of work comes our way. These are the employees who are fast learners and can lead others through changes within your team, so take advantage of this factor and treat your current employees as the valuable resource they are.
The success of your organization requires thinking ahead and coming up with ways to prepare your current employees for the future of work. Some ways to do this can include:
1) Evaluate employee skills/lacking skills
In order to get ready for the future, it’s important to have a clear idea of what skills your employees have now vs. what they will need soon. Take an inventory of all the skills your employees possess, including those they don't have an opportunity to use at work. Send out a survey or create skills assessments to determine where those lines are. Pay careful attention to the skills they are lacking for your industry, as that will help you prioritize the most important tasks or skills to provide training around.
2) Design learning opportunities
Once you have a grasp of your employee skill sets and any gaps that exist, it's a good idea to start looking at ways to train employees for the skills they're going to need to be successful in the near future. This can be difficult to determine, especially if there are updates to software or changes in the work environment such as the addition of robotics or AI systems. A good rule of thumb is to instill a careful review of the skills needed for each new job type as they are created or filled with new hires. Then determine what's the best way to deliver the learning material - through online training modules that are on-demand as employees need them or hands-on training through a capable instructor. Ongoing learning is the secret to preparing and maintaining a highly-skilled and adaptable workforce.
3) Recruit for the future
At least a portion of your current workforce will be gone in the next 5 to 10 years so think about succession planning now. Studies have shown that most new hires will leave within 2 years, not to mention with 5 generations working together in the workforce, eventually waves of them will start retiring. Knowing those realities of modern business, it pays to think about how you'll fill your ranks moving forward. You'll likely want to focus on recruiting employees who have the skill sets that you need for future roles. Pay particular attention to those employees who have already worked in agile work environments or who have experience working with new technology such as augmented reality and AI. Employees with demonstrated soft skills and quick learning potential will also be in increasing demand.
4) Re-skill and transfer skills
Along with offering training for all employees, consider that the employees that are loyal to your company are going to need plenty of re-skilling. So too, employees who will be retiring will have valuable skills to pass on to the next generation. Even in an increasingly global atmosphere where technology is required for every aspect of work, soft skills such as communication, time management, and professionalism will always be needed in the workforce. Future leaders will depend on learning from your current leaders, so use a mentoring program to transfer these skills effectively.
There's no crystal ball
While it’s impossible to know every aspect of what the future of work will look like in your industry, the above tips can at least prepare your employees for staying skilled and maintaining a productive business. The important thing to remember is that while it can be helpful to have a plan, there will no doubt be new tech, jobs, and skills required for future success that might not have even been invented yet. We're living in a rapidly changing world and as such, the nature of work will continue to evolve as well. Business leaders can take the time to plan for a future in which training and learning will take center stage but no one knows exactly what the world of work will look like. So in the absence of those clear cut answers, businesses can focus on getting their workforce ready to face an uncertain future. That means teaching current employees about soft skills, praising curiosity and innovation, and growing company cultures that are resilient and have a strong foundation of learning and development. We might not know exactly what the jobs of the future will look like, but we know at least a few of the traits our future workforce will need. Normalizing those tendencies now will help future proof your business so that when the future of work arrives, your employees will be ready for it.