The future of work (and life in general) is not what it used to be. Nor is the future what many of us were told it would be.
This is true for every company and every person. But it seems even more relevant for those of us involved in human resources.
Human resources professionals find themselves working harder and running faster. It’s no wonder why because they are really running two races simultaneously. First of all many are trying to close the gap between the needs of the past and demands of the present. Progress has been slow due to the diminutive endorsement given it by management and the failure of HR to adapt and respond fast enough. Concurrently many are attempting to respond to a very different looking future. Whether it is recruiting candidates, complying with new regulations, or managing what is now a 5-generational workforce (Yes – the oldest Gen Z is graduating college this year!), the workplace and business environment are in a constant state of flux. Policies, tools, and strategies that seemed to work well yesterday have almost no effect and relevance today.
Depending upon your attitude, all this change is either daunting or exciting. It sets a cascade of emotions in place that leads a person to believe in economic apocalypse or entrepreneur-driven optimism. It’s your choice how you respond to these changes. But regardless of which option you choose, the following mega-trends will shape your workplace, your workforce, and your outlook in the coming months.
With that I offer my list of disruptive mega trends for 2015. Using the proverbial forest and trees idiom, here’s a view of the forest:
#1 – Average is over. Tom Friedman hit the proverbial nail on the head with this one: “In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius…Average is over.”
#2 Change is happening faster. Change has always made some jobs obsolete but created new jobs, new products, and new services. But this time it’s different. It’s happening at an unprecedented rate. What once took several decades and even a century or more to play out, now evolves in a few years. With each advance in globalization and the technology revolution, the best jobs will require workers to have more skills and different education to make them merely average.
#3 Productivity and worker’s pay gap widens. It’s inevitable. Technology and global competition will continue to force companies to compete by increasing productivity. This will continue to push the demand for skilled workers higher. For this skilled worker group, wages will rise significantly. But let’s be clear. Wage stagnation will continue for most average skilled and under-skilled workers – just like as it has since 1973. The writing has been on the wall for over 40 years. Yes, that’s correct – for over 40 years. Wage stagnation compared to productivity gains has essentially been ignored. While focused on an impressive productivity increase of 74 percent, the hourly wages of middle-wage workers were stagnant, rising just 6 percent-less than 0.2 percent per year (Economic Policy Institute). And most of that increase is thanks to a brief burst in wages during the late 1990s. The wages of low-wage workers fared even worse, falling 5 percent. Those trends will continue for at least the near future.
#4 Non-degree credentials will begin to replace traditional educational requirements for jobs. Traditional college education has missed the boat. The attempt to put everything into a 2-year or 4-year framework has left businesses struggling to fill jobs and students gasping under the weight of debt. While the academic and government bureaucrats propose ways to make traditional education more affordable (and effective), the “micro college” will begin to emerge. As Michelle Weise so eloquently described in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The call for more education compensates for the imprecise signaling power of a college degree.”
creates a need for new skills and more training. Every time a business automates a process, upgrades software, or purchases new equipment, workers need to learn new skills and retire some old ones. Whether the skills are for more basic jobs like data entry and driving a truck or advanced skills for virtual reality, specialized 3D scanning, 3D printing, mobile apps, Internet of Things, flying drones, or reputation management, the need for tech-savvy fast-to-adapt talent pools is growing. It’s growing quickly. And the supply is dwindling – or at the very least not growing fast enough.