Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce

By Chris Milligan :

Everyone’s talking about the “future of work” and if your organisation isn’t, perhaps it’s time you joined the conversation. CSIRO’s latest report; Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce is a gold mine, laying out the mega trends set to hit the workplace in the coming decade, and what you need to know. Unlike other industry reports emerging on the topic, CSIRO delves into how these trends are going to reshape not only the way we work, but also the way we don’t. Lifestyle and work have never been more intertwined thanks to our technology making it impossible to “switch off”. Although the hundred-page report is well worth the read, it can be summarized by a single line:

“Adaptability, resilience and agility are the keys to surviving in what is becoming an increasingly digital economy.

Throughout the significant changes CSIRO outlines, there are three key undercurrents:

  • Technology. We have created a monster. The rate at which technology has erupted into our lives is best represented by the figures that mark internet usage in 2000 at 6.5% and then in 2015 at 43% of the global population. Technology has quickly become central to everything we do with the report citing that 83% of the developed world is connected online. The compounding acceleration of technology is the driving force for many of the changes we are seeing.
  • Capitalisation of technology. With new reliance on our digital world, it’s no surprise that companies seeing the fastest growth are those like Amazon, Facebook, Uber and AirBnB which rely on digital platforms and the online marketplace as their sole trading ground. These companies have streamlined the traditional business model and equipped it for greater success by racing “with the machine” instead of against it. The peer-to-peer and freelance economy takeover we have witnessed recently also speaks volumes.
  • Demographic change. The working population is ageing and as such, the rift between young and old workers is widening. This presents new issues and pushes for more awareness of things like health and wellbeing while potentially redefining entire industries.

Through more instability and disruption, these forces have created six key mega trends that are already shaping what work looks like today:

  1. The changing role of technology. Machines and computers are more capable of performing tasks faster, safer and more effectively than humans can. 44 per cent of Australian jobs have been classified as being at high risk of computerization and automation. However, as technology becomes more heavily integrated, new jobs will be created that demand greater STEM skills.
  2. Greater flexibility. Online platforms are serving as marketplaces for employment and are reshaping organisations’ operations and processes. Peer to peer markets like Freelancer and Upwork are have created accessibility to jobs that allow individuals to work on their terms. Although this phenomenon hasn’t hit Australia at full force yet, 1 in 3 working Americans are independent workers and almost 88% of freelancers would continue freelancing even if they were offered a full-time position.
  3. The era of the entrepreneur. As individuals seek greater independence and innovation opportunities than large organisations offer, there’s a movement towards creating your own ideal job. Thanks to the digital advancements, new market entrants can operate at low-costs and scale-up rapidly. This is visible in Australia’s current economic climate with small businesses accounting for 43% of employment in Australia; the largest proportion of the employment sector. According to Ernst and Young, Australia has one of the world’s top 5 entrepreneurial ecosystems for growth, meaning there has never been a better time to be your own boss.
  4. Divergent demographics. We’re seeing older generations in Australian live longer than before. Now the retirement model is destabilised and the retiring age norm has been delayed and may even cease to exist. Nearly 1 in 5 Australian’s are expected to be over 65 years old in 2035 as compared to 1 in 6 in this age bracket today. The prevalence of older generations in the workforce is placing emphasis on healthcare and lifestyle, especially when considered next to inflating figures of obesity and mental health issues. Alongside this, greater diversity has been supported in the workforce with the growing presence of women up from 43% in 2007 to 60% today. The arrival of working aged migrants has also contributed to greater cultural awareness in the workplace.
  5. The rising bar. As technology becomes more complex and tackles new challenges, greater knowledge and understanding will be required in order to work alongside the non-human workforce. As low skilled jobs are off shored to neighbouring countries, the bar for skill and education prerequisites is only getting higher. As countries like China and India increase their tertiary education capabilities, studies of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will be essential to maintain employability in Australia.
  6. Tangible intangibles. There is a definitive emphasis being placed on EQ as opposed to IQ, especially as basic jobs are handed over to machines. Service sector jobs that require social interaction skills and emotional intelligence are on the rise. As the younger, more connected and technologically advanced generations enter the workforce, there will be even greater emphasis on cultural understanding and attention to ethical issues.

With disruption being normal, businesses and individuals need to know how to maintain buoyancy and develop strategies to handle the new obstacles with ease. Preparing for the transition is larger than individual or even organisational efforts, but comes from a societal upheaval of values and systems:

  • Equipping the future faces of work for the digital world will require a greater emphasis on digital literacy and STEM skills. The education system should reflect the direction we are heading and this needs to be supported by ongoing learning opportunities within the workplace.
  • There needs to be greater attention paid to combating lack of participation in outlying demographics and the unemployed. This becomes crucial when tackling the task of re-engaging the aging workforce and harnessing skill sets to taper the retirement trend.
  • Job forecasting and handling big data in a meaningful way comes to the forefront in the new landscape with a need for companies, industries and governments to identify and predict where job loss will occur and determine the skill sets the new skill sets that will be required.
  • Eventually, majority of the workforce will operate on a peer-to-peer or freelance arrangement. Companies will be greeted by new opportunities and challenges as they restructure their business models to adapt to this. Organisations who can flatten their business model and make both internal and external borders irrelevant, will be pushed far ahead of their competitors.

Chris Milligan is changing the way the world works and supporting the new workforce. He is the voice of the independent worker and helps organisations improve the way they engage people. Follow Chris on Twitter @ContingentChris

 

 

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