Preparing for tomorrow's workforce, today

Insights from a global survey of business and HR leaders

How we work, the place of work within our lives and even what we mean by work are being transformed. What are organisations doing to prepare? And where do they need to step up?

We collaborated with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, and identified the most important organisational capabilities that businesses need to consider when preparing for tomorrow’s work, workers and workplace. We surveyed over 1,200 organisations in 79 countries to find out how they are getting ready for the future and the key areas of risk they face.


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What workforce leaders must do now

Creating an engaging people experience

Despite all the talk about automation and AI, companies who want to succeed need to focus on harnessing the talents of the workers who won’t be replaced by automation anytime soon. It’s these people who’ll play a pivotal role in how organisations develop, compete, create and innovate - and who will ultimately drive success. The people experience is as much about workloads, working conditions and how management engages with and seeks to inspire workers as it is about HR-led programmes such as training. Organisations need to:

  • tackle burn-out and foster vitality
  • build social resilience
  • nurture agility and adaptability
  • support 'intrapreneurship'
  • provide autonomy
  • move beyond 'good practice'
  • be mindful about the unintended consequences

Use workforce analytics

Data analytics can give businesses a critical edge in gauging future talent needs, understanding how to create a compelling people experience and eliminate potential biases in selection, assignment and appraisal. Yet, despite the wealth of data organisations hold and the growing sophistication of the tools available, many organisations are falling short. The top-three 'at risk' areas identified in our survey relate to a lack of analytical capability. Organisations need to:

  • build analytical rigour
  • use analytics to personalise the people experience
  • de-bias people processes through analytics

Bring HR and business leaders together

HR leaders are more comfortable with their efforts to prepare the workforce of the future than their bosses. Is HR too confident? Or is it that business leaders think HR doesn't recognise the scope of workforce disruption to come and the need for HR to partner with the business? There’s a real need to get HR and business leaders on the same page to accelerate preparations for the future. Organisations need to:

  • coherently communicate initiatives aimed at improving the people experience
  • coach managers in how to implement initiatives and measure their success
  • understand how workers are informally improving their own experience - and support what works
  • encourage HR to drive thinking about the future of work - and make the work visible and inclusive

Tech-savvy HR needs to step up

HR’s ability to navigate the technology landscape is a top risk capability for organisations. But HR and other leaders don’t see it the same way: 41% of HR leaders are confident that their HR departments are up to speed in this area, but only a quarter of business leaders agree. HR needs to up its understanding of tech-driven change and its implications. Organisations need to:

  • develop and demonstrate HR's tech understanding as a key competency
  • ensure HR is skilled in data analytics to predict and monitor skill gaps
  • use HR to bring a human dimension into tech decisions 

Harness the potential of flexible talent

Ways of working and people’s relationships with organisations are becoming more fluid. The numbers of contractors, freelancers and portfolio workers are increasing. Identifying where and how to engage this flexible talent will become increasingly more important for organisations, yet few are prepared for this shift. Organisations need to do more to take advantage of the ideas and skills from the wider market - not just their traditional employee base. Organisations need to:

  • think differently about how to access talent and where the congregate
  • crowdsource ideas
  • build engagement and trust with this group of workers
  • stay ahead of changing societal expectations and make decisions based on your corporate purpose

Get your story straight

Organisations can't protect jobs that are made redundant by technology - but they do have a responsibility to their people to prepare them for the future. Organisations have a critical role to play in building a narrative that helps workers understand the future. Unease about the future will impact employee motivation, well-being and sense of self; affecting people's productivity today. Organisations need to:

  • build a clear narrative about the future of work
  • share your strategic direction if you want to take your workers with you
  • be clear about how you will support workers with reskilling or redeployment
  • be transparent about the commercial pressures you face as you support your workers

With all the talk about automation, many people are anxious about the future of work. Organisations should take the lead and own the story, by building a strong narrative that covers what the future of work means for the company and its people

Carol Stubbings, Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC UK

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