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workforce predictionPredicting the future workforce landscape

Workforce Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. So said Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize winner. It isn’t an exact science – look further into the future and the less accurate our predictions become. So why bother predicting the future HR landscape? The most accurate forecasts generally come from well-informed industry insiders about very near term events. And making predictions, even small ones, about how different tomorrow’s workplace might be, can only be to your organisation’s advantage now and in the future.

As the prolonged recovery process from the global financial crisis continues and the world economy gradually and hesitantly gets back on its feet, the one certainty that all organisations must consider in order to thrive, and not just survive, is their people – what that workforce will look like and the workplace it responds to. Deloitte’s “Future HR: Trends for the Modern World”, looks at the trends likely to reshape the future world of work alongside an evaluation of the changing needs, experiences and aspirations of a constantly evolving, segmented workforce. Put these together and you begin to see what the future world of work may look like, and how it might impact on now talent and leadership development and modern career development. Deloitte suggest that the cumulative weight of a few mega trends will reshape the future world of work. Predictions include:

  • Seismic changes in, among others, demographic patterns, political change, technology, global knowledge networks and prosperity and wealth
  • China, India and Brazil becoming the world’s major exporters of qualified talent by 2030
  • The 60+ segment being the fastest growing demographic segment globally by 2050, make it clear that the future workplace will become unrecognisable compared to today.

The future workforce too will become markedly different from today. We understand how the different generations behave now in relation to their formative experiences, aspirations, attitudes towards technology and communication.  But take the fact that Generation Y are digital entrepreneurs who work “with” not “for” organisations and Generation Z are career multi-taskers who move seamlessly between organisations and pop-up businesses, and you begin to see how a radical evolution in the workforce is already starting. Throw into this mix a consideration of the four forces of workplace transformation –talent, space, place and technology – and it becomes obvious that strong organisation performance requires agility. The successful organisations of tomorrow are those that are anticipating, evaluating and then delivering on opportunities for change with speed and accuracy. But what does this mean in practice? To emerge as tomorrow’s leaders, organisations need to:

  • Optimise the performance of their people with effective workforce strategies today
  • Understand that tomorrow’s leaders will need the ability to thrive across multiple complex environments and address skills or talent gaps now
  • Appreciate that Generation Z will be flexible, freelance contractors – so flexible that retention is likely to be an even bigger issue in the future and plan accordingly

For talent development in general, it means bringing together traditional core elements – on-the-job learning, formal education and training, talent networks – with an informed understanding of changing individual experiences to create real, consistent behavior change. But as I mentioned at the start, predicting the future isn’t an exact science. In 1930 John Maynard Keynes made two big predictions. The first was that “the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is today.” He got that right – to date, real GDP per capita in the United States has grown six fold. His second prediction, that this economic boom would allow for a dramatic reduction in hours worked — “three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week” – has not come true and we’re still a long way from it. Nobody has a crystal ball and people do get it wrong. But knowing what your obstacles and opportunities might be in the future is critical. By understanding the potential impact of global workplace evolutions, changing workforce expectations and new technologies, you can work smarter and more efficiently today to create tomorrow’s workplace. As Marc Benioff says, “you must always be able to predict what’s next and then have the flexibility to evolve.” Those organisations that recognise and respond now, to the need for agility in a turbulent business environment, will be leading the charge in the future world of work.


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