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Five key drivers shaping the world of work

John Marshall
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The world of work has undergone massive changes in the last decade. People have gone from having a job for life to frequent industry hopping and freelancing. Jobs that were once manual have been transformed by computers and automation and the way we do both complex and simple tasks has dramatically changed. Contributor John Marshall, Regional Head of Professional Staffing for North America, UK and Ireland at the Adecco Group.

From technology to regulation and economic forces, there are a myriad of factors coming together to further change the way we live and work. Whilst many millennials may have numerous careers and employers throughout their lives, upcoming generations could, in fact, juggle multiple jobs at the same time. In order to thrive in this ever-evolving environment, both businesses and individuals will need to be prepared to learn and adapt to the changing requirements of our future economy.

Unsurprisingly, technology has and will continue to have a huge impact on the workplace. For example we’ve estimated that tasks done by robots will rise from 10% across manufacturing industries to about 25% by 2025. So, what does this mean for us and the number of jobs available? Our recent Humans vs Robots report found that 65% of employees believe that overall, technology has increased the number of jobs available to them and that it will continue to do so. The advent of the internet is a good example of this. Whilst it destroyed 500,000 jobs in France between 1996 and 2011, McKinsey found that the internet actually created 2.4 jobs for every one it destroyed.

Reassuringly, this is in contrast to the commonly held fear that automation will destroy jobs and lead to widespread unemployment. In fact, our research suggests that increases in automation could actually create opportunities for more flexible and fulfilling work, as employees will be freed from the more routine, manual aspects of labour. As new jobs are created and existing roles change, businesses need to be ready to re-train, organise and recruit the necessary talent to ensure humans and robots can work together harmoniously. As automation will create more room for flexible roles, they will also need to investigate new ways of working that will enable more flexibility for employees.

Social shifts
This increase in flexible working will have significant social ramifications. As the traditional 9-5 is replaced by a more flexible model, lines between full time employees and freelancers will be blurred. To get the most out of the workforce in this environment, businesses will need to ensure that all employees, whether contingent or full-time, have access to development opportunities. Finding new and effective ways of creating a company culture, when not all employees work together on a daily basis, will also be important. As we move away from the traditional career trajectory towards a model where employees frequently change jobs and careers, and often work for longer, encouraging lifelong learning and ensuring that they are upskilling regularly will be key for businesses. Focus should also be placed on helping develop ‘soft skills’, such as collaboration and problem solving, which will be needed more than ever as automation removes the more repetitive, manual side of work.

The interconnected economy
Technology is also the driving force behind the interconnected economy, another key factor changing the labour market. As companies use data to deliver products and services that meet customer demands, new business models and revenue streams are being created. This can already be seen with companies such as AirBnB and Uber. To meet the demands of these new types of organisations, whose innovative business models require new skill sets, workers themselves will also have to take responsibility for acquiring new skills and be willing to adapt or even change their job roles and descriptions. For employers, understanding the skills required for this evolving environment, and being able to effectively retain and attract the relevant talent, will be crucial in order to thrive.

Changing demographics
As younger generations, with different attitudes to work, enter the workforce, businesses will also have to be flexible with how they engage with these new employees. Broadly speaking, younger generations believe work should be self-fulfilling and meaningful as well as facilitating collaboration in networks instead of traditional hierarchy. Older generations, however, are more used to clearly defined hierarchies and a rigid, less flexible workplace culture. Consequently, employers will have to take up more flexible policies that can be adapted depending on the individual employee needs.

A challenging regulatory environment
As technology and demographics alter the workplace, governments will need to find new and innovative ways of regulating the labour market. Many existing policies and regulations are aimed at what is perceived to be ‘traditional’ forms of labour, ignoring the unique needs and different ways of working that are gaining ground. However, with the Matthew Taylor Review in the UK, efforts are being made to ensure that labour laws reflect the new look job market. So-called flexicurity measures, where flexibility in the labour market is combined with social security and active labour market policy, as pioneered by the Danish government could also blossom. Initiatives like these can help achieve a better balance between a business’ economic need for flexibility and their obligation to support employees, regardless of the duration of their labour contracts. Technology, demographic changes, sociological trends, the economy and regulatory developments are all altering the workplace. They are also impacting which skills are needed and which careers are in demand. Businesses and workers alike will need to adapt to these changes by investing in long-term learning, technology and encouraging more collaborative working models.