By: Bryan Wong

Posted on 07 Sep 2015

Traditional models of work are no longer relevant.


In the future, the workforce as we recognise it today will no longer exist. Disruptive technologies, labour imbalances, changing demographics, contractors, freelancers and virtual workers are changing the very DNA of the workforce. Some roles will become obsolete and others change beyond recognition. The implications are both immediate and far reaching.

The shift in workforce demographics is already occurring as baby boomers retire and millennials fill the employment vacuum. The retirement age is increasing to 67 years of age over the next few years in Australia, Singapore, the UK and the USA as Governments scramble to address the burden of an aging population. But how proactively are business leaders factoring both the short-term and long-term implications into their workforce planning? At a company level organisations are grappling to minimise the impact of retiring baby boomers on profitability and loss of institutional and technical knowledge. Recent research we’ve conducted with HR leaders highlights the difficulty of the intergenerational shift. Millennials have different expectations and behaviours – feedback, flexibility and encouragement reign supreme. By 2020, millennials will represent 50% of the global workforce and for the first time in history new workforce entrants have a better understanding of key business tools than their more experienced colleagues.

Non-traditional work arrangements and the on-demand economy are on the rise as cloud, mobile and social technologies allow individuals to work when, where and how they like. Imagine a future where contract and freelance work becomes the norm, with people moving from task to task. It’s just around the corner, within five years it is predicted freelancers, contract and virtual workers will be over 40% of the workforce. Our discussions with our clients indicate the freelancer model is often procurement driven. This raises an interesting dilemma for HR – how to manage a non-core workforce? As well as contractor management technology tools, the ability to establish and maintain networks to identify quality talent will be crucial. Even within companies we predict a fragmentation of traditional organisational models in which people come together on a project by project basis. Work will take on a whole new meaning as workers detach from companies and professional identities centre on skill-sets.

But it won’t stop there. Imagine a future where humans are no longer needed – robots, artificial intelligence and smart technology take the place of workers. Robots are already beginning to augment and replace labour across a wide range of industries from manufacturing through to medicine. Machine-learning algorithms and speech recognition technology is impinging on roles previously though safe from automation. We interviewed Kevin Wheeler, Founder of the Future of Talent Institute about his thoughts on what this means. He said “If you’re over 40, you’ll probably make it to retirement in the traditional world. If you’re under 40 you should really assess whether you are positioned to win or lose in the new world – are you gaining the skills you need?” HR has a role to play in tailoring training and development to re-skill and right-skill employees to meet future organisational requirements.

Safe jobs will be those that require social interaction, innovation and creativity. Those that could go the way of the dinosaur include:

  1. Umpires and referees – already the television match official (TMO) is used in cricket, tennis and football as players challenge the call of the human official.
  2. Taxi driver – self-driving cars have been a standard in science fiction movies for many years. Thanks to Google, the driverless car may soon be a commonplace reality.
  3. Financial broker – online access to stock market technology and tools has reduced reliance on professional brokers. People buy and sell shares at a click of a button.
  4. Call centre operators – adoption of voice recognition software is becoming widespread.
  5. Librarian – need to find out information or statistics? We no longer need to engage the librarian, now everyone searches online from smart devices.

How prepared are you for the coming change? The time to plan is now, the future is here.

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Bryan Wong

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