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The Future of Work is Now. Do Your Employees Have the Right Skills?

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 09/20/2018

The Future of Work is Now. Do Your Employees Have the Right Skills?
A new digital revolution is creating opportunities for companies and HR departments right now. The question is, how do you take advantage of it? Get a look into the future of work from this exciting session at the 2018 HR Technology Conference and Expo.

Table of Contents

Can you sense it? We’re at the beginning of a fourth industrial revolution. The first had to do with mechanization due to water and steam power, the second was the advent of mass production and the electrical grid, the third was brought on by computers, automation, and networks. Today, it’s the rise of data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

This revolution is creating opportunities for companies and HR departments right now. The question is, how do you take advantage of it? How is data going to impact the work you do and the ways people throughout your organization work together?

In the past, companies typically identified a problem then searched for fixes, rather than look ahead to what will be needed next. Knowing what’s next, and acting on it, is where this new revolution is taking us, according to HR Tech Conference presenters, Jeff Miller, Ph.D., AVP, learning & organizational effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand, and Parminder Jassar, Ph.D., director of Work + Learn Futures Lab, Institute for the Future.

The future of work in the digital age

According to Jeff and Parminder, the differences regarding talent in this new industrial revolution are that consumer expectations have entered the workforce, competition for skills and experiences is intense, jobs are being refined or eliminated, and “career walls” are the new career ladder.

Push or pull types of learning are in the past. Now we’re in the predictive phase and delivering content to people based on what they may need from what they’ve looked at before.

In this new world, competition for jobs will continue to be intense, especially with the increase in job hopping and boomerang employees, who return to a company after having left previously — on good terms, one assumes.

Jobs are also being eliminated or are shifting. For example, someone who would be considered in charge of training a few years ago is now more likely to be considered the head of learning at their company, as employees gain more control over what they want and need to learn.

HR is less transactional and more people focused

How we manage people at work in the next five years will be fundamentally different than what we’ve done in the past, according to Jeff.

HR departments are moving from primarily dealing with financial metrics to looking at how people work together. The typical one size fits all approach isn’t as effective anymore, and HR will need to begin providing critical, personal experiences to prepare people to work effectively, even before their first day at work. A lot of these advances will drive our ability to teach the new skills that will power this new revolution.

“If we don’t invest in employees, they’re going to go find that somewhere else.” — Jeff Miller, Ph.D.

So, how can you best engage your workforce? Consider their opportunity to create an impact. Are you creating an environment at work where people have the ability to generate and act on their ideas? This is a key to employee engagement in the new industrial revolution.

Skills have become the new digital currency in the economy of work

The Institute for the Future, where Parminder is a director, was created by the same people who built the advanced research projects agency network (ARPANET), the precursor to the internet. As ARPANET foreshadowed the internet, Parminder says there are signals we can see today that we can harness to make the future we want for ourselves.

She highlighted three “driving shifts” that are signaling changes in workforce management.

1. A shift from knowledge gathering (degrees, credentials) to performance management. First signal: 1999, which evolved into Later examples include web tools such as Trip Advisor and Yelp.

2. A growing population of working learners. They will not sacrifice work experience for learning, and also won’t sacrifice learning experience for work. They prefer actively learning and applying what they learn, not being spoon fed.

3. Working and learning are coming together and collapsing into life in general. Workers are moving away from allocating specific hours to certain tasks. The 9 to 5 workday is becoming obsolete.

Follow the future fit circuit

So what does it take to succeed in this new HR environment? Parminder introduced a five-part “Future Fit Circuit” that you and your employees can follow to help prepare yourselves for the future of work.

1. Make yourself known with the art and science of reputation management. Build your own personal brand for your own personal economy. Take control of your data. Some signals of this shift include YouTube stars who combine their personal brand with work, GitHub, LinkedIn, and Wix.

2. Befriend the machines to master human-machine collaboration. This requires, for example, digital fluency and an understanding of artificial intelligence, or AI IQ.

“The workforce of the future isn’t just human. Know when to trust and test technology.” — Parminder Jassar, Ph.D.

3. Build your tribe in the many worlds of peer production. Signals of this include pop-up communities, multi-currency networks (for example, EduBlocks, which are units of learning), and futures by design, where everyone has a hand in designing their own experience.

4. Make sense of “loopy” complex systems. Some signals for this include big stories that help make the complex simple, futures thinking, and change making, where we connect the dots in unexpected ways and turn it into action.

Futures thinking will not belong solely to think tanks as it primarily does today, it’ll belong to everyone. We’re moving toward an internet of actions. Signals include the first language processing unit, which was introduced in 1962: IBM Shoebox. It had a vocabulary of 16 words. Today, there’s “Alexa, play shoegaze music.” Digital technology is now supplementing human action to get things done.

5. Keep it going by building resistance in extreme environments. This includes sharing risks and assets, focusing on ethical clarity, and raising your emotional quotient (EQ).

Risks we may share in the future include discerning truth from disinformation or propaganda, addiction and the dopamine economy (ex. the opiate crisis), economic and asset inequalities, machine ethics and algorithmic biases, the surveillance state, data control and monetization, implicit trust and user understanding, and criminal actors.

What’s next for this workplace revolution?

“This is one of the most unique and exciting times to be in HR that I think has ever existed. … The time is right for HR people to provide new and different experiences.” — Jeff Miller, Ph.D.

So, after all this, how can you know if your HR department is ready for the future of work? Consider the following:

How important is learning within your organization?

Is your organization set up for success in developing the skills needed for the future? For example, soft skills development and teaching people how to bring change.

Do you have the skills needed to compete in the workplace of the future, regardless of your position in HR, and are you spending time learning yourself?

As you prepare to lead the way in this new industrial revolution, remember this final thought, “Skills connect what we know to what we can do. Experience is the most effective tool to determine whether skills are working or not.” — Parminder Jassar, Ph.D.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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