What the future of work means for your business

What are the workforce trends that will have the greatest impact on the future employment market?

Michael McQueen, an expert international trend forecaster, touches on the three emerging trends that he considers will have the biggest impact and offers solutions for how organisations can respond to the shifting landscape.

Widespread automation

According to McQueen, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the workplace and labour market is difficult to overstate. In fact, Price Waterhouse Coopers has suggested that as many as 375 million jobs will be displaced by 2030 because of AI. 

The safest jobs

He highlights the effects that AI will have on low, middle and highly-skilled roles, and draws on the 2017 research by MIT that found that “some of the safest jobs in the age of automation will actually require low cognitive skills but high flexibility.”

McQueen believes that jobs such as hairdressing and carpentry are “relatively safe” while those in the comparatively highly-skilled legal or accounting sectors are more likely to be at risk. “While these jobs don’t need a university education, they have a specific set of skills, a unique problem-solving component and a high variability of manual factors that just can’t be replicated in technology,” he says.  McQueen cites the example of new robots that have been developed in Japan.  They can carry out rudimentary tasks like washing hair but are not sophisticated enough to provide an actual haircut. Conversely, McQueen adds, “there is much greater scope for savvy algorithms to take on an accountant’s auditing job given how process- driven it is.”

Hollowing out of the middle
McQueen also believes that in the years to come, it is most likely that middle-tier roles in large organisations will be the first on the chopping board. “This will not just be middle management but functions that facilitate work being done - especially project management roles,” he asserts.   McQueen says this is becoming more common with the big banks and larger-scale corporations that he works with, where “customer facing roles are being retained but those with a bureaucratic focus are more often getting cut.”  He reiterates that this doesn't mean these jobs will disappear entirely but that many who have been employed in this capacity will increasingly need to explore freelance or contract modalities and work with a portfolio of organisations. 

The colossal effect of AI on every industry and area of commerce is also naturally impacting recruitment and Human Resources.   McQueen flags the recent example of Amazon's AI-powered recruitment screening algorithms and the uncovering of inherent gender bias, which he argues is indicative of how carefully we need to pursue and rely upon this new technology.

How to prepare

So, what can businesses do to respond to these unique challenges? McQueen suggests that organisations need to increase efficiencies and embed processes that are significantly faster and more streamlined than they have been in the past.  He also stresses the importance of using AI with caution and not managing out of the process qualities that are uniquely human, like empathy, creativity, intuition and judgement. “These are things technology just can’t do no matter how sophisticated it is,” he says.

The empowered candidate

According to McQueen, the big winner of this new technological revolution is, without a doubt, the consumer.  The mere fact that candidates now have more options and better access to information gives them a significant vantage point and yields them a tremendous amount of power. Unsurprisingly, they’ve quickly realised the power equation has shifted in their favour.  Armed with this knowledge, candidates will no longer settle for sub-standard experiences or weak employer brands. 

“If they identify friction points or if recruitment processes are too protracted or unclear, they will simply go elsewhere,” McQueen comments.

Importance of employer branding

McQueen implores workplaces to work harder than ever to engage consumers and offer them seamless recruitment processes.  He says, “it’s important for organisations to identify any potential areas of concern or frustration and then focus on them and address them immediately, or else risk not being a consumer of choice.”

He also adds “that the fact consumers can now do pointed research on the culture and tone of a workplace and make decisions about where they want to work, effectively puts all organisations on notice as it is no longer enough to have great employer branding.”   

How to prepare

McQueen advocates that businesses need to stay “hungry” and “humble”.  “They need to continue demonstrating how they are open to new approaches or growth areas and can’t be complacent with what has worked in the past,” he adds.

Emerging generations

McQueen believes that for at least another three to five years “the biggest generational challenge for most corporations will remain with the Millennials”.   He explains that the data on what motivates and compels Millennials is pretty clear and well-known: “they are confident, aspirational and cause-driven, and want to align themselves with organisations that have a strong sense of purpose.”

Managing Millennials

As he points out, Millennials in Australia have only experienced relative economic prosperity and consider a good job as a right not a privilege, and this has a considerable impact on the attitude they have toward organisations. “With an average length of tenure of just 2.6 years, Millennials will readily leave a role or organisation that isn’t effectively engaging them,” he says.

McQueen considers the biggest challenge for organisations engaging with Millennials is that they demand a lot more encouragement, feedback and coaching than older generations - often being described as 'high maintenance' by their Gen X and Baby Boomer managers. This is largely because “they have been raised in an era where they've been given constant praise and affirmation and therefore crave and expect it in the workplace,” he adds.  On the flipside, “what Millennials bring to the table in terms of adaptability, flexibility, innovation and tech savviness cannot be overlooked, so it is worth going to reasonable lengths to engage and retain them,” McQueen concludes.

How to prepare

He explains that while Millennials invariably present as highly-skilled and highly confident, they may be less comfortable in receiving negative feedback on performance compared to previous generations. In response, McQueen advices that workplaces need to embed a “culture of engagement” and to “coach Millennials as a group with a key focus on mental health and resilience”.