future-of-work

New research on workplace trends emphasises the need for boards to spend more time with human resource executives to understand if their organisation is prepared for faster labour-market change in the next 5-10 years.

Findings from a recent Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand survey, “The Future of Work”, reinforce the need for boards to consider human resources from a risk-management perspective, as labour-market unpredictability rises.

The report was based on a survey of more than 1,400 Australian workers in late 2015, conducted by Deloitte Access Economics. It is among the largest surveys of its kind of early-career, mid-career and developed-career employees.

The findings are stark. Two-thirds of respondents with less than five years’ experience (early-career employees) expect their job will not exist or will fundamentally change within 15 years. Many will have to reskill, retrain or change jobs.

Three in five respondents who expect to change jobs in the next 10 years, expect to move to a different industry or role or both. Workers, it seems, will be increasingly willing to move across industries, making it harder for organisations to retain key talent.

Young employees mostly expect an average tenure of five years or less with any given employer through their career, according to the survey.

And about one in five surveyed expect to be workplace “generalists” with a broad skill set rather than deep skills in one or two areas.

Moreover, digital disruption will reduce the shelf-life of university degrees. Just over half of employees with less than five years’ experience already see their qualifications as not being “very much” relevant to their work.

How boards should respond

From a governance perspective, directors should ask the following questions:

  • Does the organisation have a strategy to combat higher turnover of staff, particularly among younger employees, in the next five years?

  • Will our employees’ skills remain relevant as more tasks are automated, and technology and traditional white-collar job functions are increasingly blended?

  • Is the organisation sufficiently adaptable to deal with labour-market transformations in the next 10 years that are impossible to predict today?

  • What is the organisation’s learning and development strategy as the world faces a looming step-change in machine-to-machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation?

  • What are the potential risks to the organisation from a sharp rise in staff turnover and growing skills gap if the organisation’s talents and capabilities lag behind advances in technology?

  • What are the opportunities from workplace transformation?

  • Is there sufficient alignment between the organisation’s strategy and its people, capabilities and culture over short-, medium- and long-term horizons?

  • Does the organisation have the right human resources skills in the executive team and on the board to deal with an increasingly complex labour market?

Technology’s disruptive effect on workplace skills could be the biggest risk some organisations face – and potentially cripple those that cannot keep up with workplace change.

Oxford University academics Carl Frey and Michael Osborne predicted in their seminal 2013 paper, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?” that almost half of all jobs in the United States were at risk of being displaced by technology.

If these and other predictions are even half correct, boards would be wise to consider how the future of work will affect the future of their organisation.