Thought Leaders

Preparing For The Worker Of The Future

Annee Bayeux, chief learning strategist at Degreed

Annee Bayeux, Chief Learning Strategist at Degreed looks at what workers in the future will do, learn, and expect from employers.

The future certainly holds some interesting opportunities for workers, as well as largely unknown jobs with entirely new skill sets required The exponential rise of AI has, and will, continue to disrupt all aspects of society in ways no expert can truly predict.

However, we can consider some workplace scenarios as a leading indicator of this disruption, giving us a hint of what the workers of the future will need to stay relevant. As Gandhi once said, “The future depends on what you do today,” and for workers, the effort put in now will pay off in years to come when the workplace is completely transformed.

Transformation overload

This transformation is happening on many levels, with worker expectations and the employer-employee relationship shifting towards giving individuals more autonomy, plus the technological advances that generative AI is driving. Peter Hinson’s “Never Normal” paradigm predicts a post-Covid, technology-driven world is one of constant change where the definition of “normal” no longer exists due to the velocity of change.

As a response to this increasing need for agility, more organisations are moving towards skills-first ways of upskilling, hiring, promoting, and finding internal talent. The changing mix of generations in the workplace must also be considered when preparing it for the future, with Gen Z, Millennials and — dare I say it — Gen Alpha coming with very different expectations to generations before.

Failing to meet expectations

Worryingly, research is showing that employers have much to do to meet changing employee expectations and retention is taking a hit as a result. Over a third of all employees who have been with a company for under six months plan to leave within the next year. Onboarding can make a huge impact on someone’s first impression of their employer and likelihood to stay. As long as the experience feels cohesive and personal to each new hire.

Long-lasting careers matter to workers

Indeed, new hires are less likely to believe that their career goals can be met and have conversations about their ongoing development compared to the global average. From the beginning and throughout their careers, employers need to be talking about what’s next for each individual.

Career growth is a major motivational driver for the youngest members of the workforce, Gen Z and Millennials. Almost three-quarters (74%) of Gen Z and Millennials are considering leaving their jobs because of a lack of career mobility and skill development opportunities. When I first started tracking this figure five years ago, it was almost half. Evidently, this trend is expanding.

Of course, career development may not always be linear, especially when considering the potential disruption that AI and automation pose to jobs. However, putting processes, technology, and culture in place to show individuals relevant career opportunities, such as gigs in other departments, learning, mentoring, and coaching, can help to fulfil someone’s need for continuous development. An ongoing commitment to upskilling and reskilling your workers is the surest sign that you can send about long-term career success and remaining relevant in the future.

This can reduce some worries that workers can have about automation and AI taking their roles. If this does happen, in the ideal scenario, they will be reskilled into new opportunities.

Alternative forms of work

Another changing aspect of work is the increase in gig working — some 150 million people in North America and Europe have made the switch into this less secure, yet more flexible way of working. The good thing for employers is that the gig workforce is expanding to include typically office-based jobs such as accountancy and coding.

This can give more adjustability to up and downscale depending on what an organisation needs. For workers, it gives options to fit work around other commitments such as learning, caring for family, or creating a better work/life balance.

Preparing for this will take time, because finding and retaining such talent for future needs is impossible with traditional HR and recruitment tools. Talent marketplaces have arisen as a popular solution. The other side of this is ensuring they remain skilled for future needs so they are ready to work at a moment’s notice. The learning your gig workers undertake can even influence their future project opportunities, feeding back into the data used by your talent marketplace to match them to work.

Amid uncertainty, increase your options

In an uncertain future, it’s a wise move to widen your possible talent pool as much as possible by democratising learning opportunities and considering non-permanent workers. Fluidity and responsiveness is very much the name of the game. As for workers, developing a broad set of skills, especially ones that can apply to different roles, departments, and industries, will give a degree of futureproofing. But the workers that’ll get ahead are the ones who cultivate a healthy learning habit.

Getting into a regular momentum with learning, even if its just a handful of hours every week, can set workers up for long-term success because they are constantly refreshing and deepening their skills. Plus, they’ll more than likely understand how they learn best and where to turn to for those resources. So if a disruption occurs, they’ll know exactly what to do to adapt their skills.

Learning for the future-proofed worker

Catering to a wide range of employee preferences and learning modalities is no mean feat, especially if you don’t exactly know what skills to focus on (more on that later). People learn best in different ways so the most effective learning strategies are holistic and offer more than just courses or one-day seminars.

They give the option of online learning, to open up access to workers who may not be able to travel to an on-site location. This might take the form of informal learning through books and blogs, or a formal virtual course, accreditation, or academies.

Peer or collaborative learning can also prove effective, alongside mentoring and coaching, since it introduces a social element that can improve knowledge retention and give opportunities to recall information to others. Experiential learning, such as stretch assignments or temporary redeployments, can deliver a vital practical aspect to learning that mitigates the forgetting curve (if not practiced, 90% of what you learn will be forgotten in a week).

Use data to inform your future-planning

Clearly, there are many offerings out there for employers wanting to keep their workers’ skills updated with the changing market. But how can you predict what skills your business will need in 5, 10, or even 20 years?

Skill data holds the answer. This involves gathering data on someone’s current work, their past experiences (through a CV, HR or recruiting system) and their learning. Although it isn’t a crystal ball, it’s as close as your business can get to predicting skill supply and demand, to understand what skills gaps will hinder your long-term strategy.

Comparing this to your 5 or 10-year strategy may immediately highlight some skills red flags that need immediate attention. It can inform your upskilling, hiring, and talent marketplace strategies by giving you focus skills to develop with existing workers or to find externally.

We don’t know what the next unicorn role will be or the 2024 killer app. But if employers and their workers ground themselves with a strong foundation of continuous learning, agility, and open-mindedness, they will be ready for whatever comes their way.

Annee Bayeux
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