The future of work is now. Not in 20 years. Not even in 10. We are, right now, living, breathing and working in a new and exciting era of evolving work. But what does this mean for employees, employers and workplaces?

We spoke with Future of Work strategist Cindy Lenferna de la Motte, Future of Work Strategist and Head of Customer and Community at Harvest Digital Planning, to learn more about the macro and micro trends affecting the workforce and workplace. In this two-part series, we explore the skills needed for the future of work and why businesses need to adapt their workplace strategy and design now for a successful future. Let’s dive in.

What’s happening right now?

Lack of skilled workers, talent wars, and a multi-generational workforce

On a national level, Australia is lagging in workplace and workforce strategy. Although the way we work is changing, with no national reskilling or upskilling plan and a severe skills shortage, there is growing fear around the workforce of the future and what that means for Australians. Countries like Norway, New Zealand, Sweden and Singapore are all having national conversations about the future of work, ensuring their populations are aware and prepared for disruption, but also cognisant of a future where they are still very much a part of the workforce. Unfortunately, in Australia, we see no such overarching dialogue taking place.

Cindy says, “Australia is currently in the grips of a war for talent, has insufficient digital capability and is also seeing more generations concurrently in the workforce than ever before (2001 saw 15 percent of the workforce made up of 64–75 year olds compared to 25 per cent in 2017).” 

“With a lack of skilled workers (Australia will be short of 600,000 skilled workers by 2030) and 3 million jobs which require tech capability, employers are in hot competition for the talent out there. The other flow-on effect is older workers staying in the workforce longer to plug the skills gap and also to afford to live out a longer lifespan.” 

None of these trends exists within a vacuum and as the world becomes ever more connected, the risk of disruption increases. From the climate crisis to technology leaps, changes are happening at warp speed. And with such speed comes the heightened risk of catching people unawares and driving fear within the workplace. 

Unsurprisingly, it is vital for businesses to be aware of the shifts occurring and to build agility and adaptability into their workplace strategies. And the time to do this is now.

The key changes and evolutions we’re seeing

Organisational design

Starting initially in tech companies like Facebook and Slack, there is a trend in workplaces towards a flatter company structure, with less hierarchy and decentralised decision-making. This customer-focused model is not isolated to tech though—manufacturing company Haier in China has removed middle management completely from their 80,000-strong workforce. Instead, they have broken into smaller teams with the focus firmly on serving the customer. 

Attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent looks different

With record low levels of job engagement—only 14% of Australian employees say they are engaged in their work—there is a huge opportunity for employers to improve the ways they both attract and retain talent. 

Skilled employees are now in a position of power to choose where they work. And more often than not, they are selecting organisations that are purpose-driven and loaded with employee benefits, such as health and wellbeing initiatives, flexible working arrangements and workplaces specifically designed for efficiency, productivity and employee wellness.

In fact, 67 percent of millennials expect employers to have purpose and their jobs to have a positive societal impact. They want more than a vision or purpose statement up on the wall, and they aren’t afraid to turn down an offer from an organisation whose vision differs from their own. 

Thanks to advancing technology and a rise in remote working, location is also becoming less important, with more and more Australians working for organisations abroad. This increases the job opportunities available to talented individuals, and Australian businesses who are not evolving risk losing out to contemporary global companies.

Hiring on mastery and talent, not degrees

Where the old way of working saw people hired on the back of degrees, skills and experience, the new way sees recruiters looking for talent, mastery, and aligned vision and purpose. In fact, some multinational professional services companies like PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Ernst and Young no longer require job candidates to hold university degrees.

Cindy notes that some recruiters are now even excluding the requirement for an MBA on their resume, ensuring they are not constraining talented candidates from more diverse backgrounds from applying. 

Why businesses, government and higher education need to take note

Living in a prosperous, democratic country is something we all aspire to, however to ensure effective and progressive policy and legislation, our government departments need to be attracting and retaining top talent. To do so, Cindy suggests they need to improve their employee value proposition (aka purpose) and overhaul their recruitment practices to be faster and more aligned to market norms. They will also have to heavily invest in upskilling and reskilling programs, with a strong focus on digital literacy and technical skills. Like any other organisation, the government will need to evolve to keep up with the rapid pace of change we’re seeing in the workplace. 

However, it’s not just the Australian government that needs to keep up. Cindy says that Australia’s higher education sector is also slow on the uptake. For instance, there is not enough trans-disciplinary teaching happening in traditional degrees such as law and medicine. University courses are not evolving at the same pace that the jobs of lawyers and doctors are being disrupted by automation and AI, placing significant pressure on employability prospects for graduates.

The speed of change is unforgiving, and 51 per cent of organisations do not adequately understand the magnitude of changes that are happening. So while we don’t know precisely how, we do know disruption will affect ALL jobs. Whether automated or augmented, transformed or transferred, the workforce is changing swiftly. With this also comes infinite possibility as jobs are created in AI, cyber, data insights and more. Businesses which focus on reskilling, opportunity, agility and adaptability are the ones which will enter the future without hesitation about disruption, and with a sharp competitive edge. As Facebook says, “The quick shall inherit the earth.”

So what does this mean for me and my workplace?

Now you have a working knowledge of the future of work and what this means for business, make sure you check out Part Two of this series, where we delve into the ways you can implement this knowledge in your workplace design strategy and future-proof your workplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unquestionably expedited the future of work and the future of workplace design is unfolding right now. With so much knowledge accessible, we wanted to collect the most critical future of work information in a single place for you to access easily. Read our ultimate guide to the future of work here.

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