Careful planning key to winning

Four SCNetwork members discuss Lisa Taylor’s future of work presentation


Jan van der Hoop: It seems we’ve hit critical mass and suddenly everyone is scrambling for a crystal ball to try to figure out this future of work “thing.”

It is real. And it is here — at least the leading edge of the wave is.

And, according to Lisa Taylor, it’ll be nothing short of a revolution — not unlike the shift from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age in scope and impact on society.

We’re already seeing the five drivers of the future of work Lisa laid out — demographics (people are living and working longer, and the talent escalator is broken); a fundamental shift that has been unfolding over the last two to three decades in how we think about career paths and who is responsible to manage them, compounded by three growing trends: the emergence of the freelance economy; the rise of platforms that do more and more of our work, and are enablers of other people’s business; and, of course, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics that will displace humans, even in some highly skilled roles.

Every revolution has casualties, winners and losers. An interesting point that resonated with me is that 35 per cent of the skills we currently possess will be unnecessary by 2025 — that’s in seven years. In today’s legal framework, changing that much of a job would be grounds for constructive dismissal.

The skills we need to develop are perhaps less clear. What is clear is that we (as individuals and as a nation) need to be better at predicting gaps, become a lot more nimble at learning and acquiring new skills, and we need a better framework for making the knowledge available on a massive scale that can’t be served through the existing framework of colleges and universities.

The objective is for us as a nation to come out on the winning side through careful planning and preparation. Lisa’s point was that revolutions follow a predictable pattern, and we would be wise to engage in a national conversation.

The question is how exactly?

Sandi Channing: A national conversation, as Jan says, is imperative, but conversations within organizations are critical as well. 

The impact of demographics along with the unexpected growth of the freelance economy, AI and robotics, changing career paths and the rise of platforms have a huge impact on all aspects of human resources. The revolution has begun and it’s happening quickly.

Led by HR, organizations need to recognize the shift required to attract and retain employees and freelancers — having cultures, environments, processes and reward packages that support and are valued by all workers, regardless of whether they are permanent or contingent. These changes will affect the way organizations recruit, onboard, reward, develop, succession plan and performance manage.

Organizational design will be complex and will need to incorporate a more flexible and team-based model, one that integrates all workers, whether part of the employed workforce or the contingent workforce. There’s a need to get comfortable with instability because flux is the new norm.

Only when organizations truly understand their future needs as a result of these “five drivers of future work” can meaningful national discussions begin. Otherwise, we enter into discussions that may or may not be relevant, or solutions that are great in theory but not in practice.

Business has been bitten too many times by public and academic policies.

Case in point, Ontario’s Bill 148 is running interference with this revolution, and employers have to do everything they can to get public policy on board. And they have to move fast.

Leaders are critical to this movement to ensure positive outcomes. It’s essential that HR takes an immediate and proactive approach to addressing the issues with C-suite support. The impact of this revolution on the world of HR, human capital management and workforce management is too great to be ignored.

Paul Pittman: Revolution is maybe a bit of a stretch — work is constantly changing and people of all stripes and ages will figure out their place in the workforce as they always have. What these prognostications fail to recognize is the robustness of the capitalist economy and the creativity of entrepreneurs.

Lisa brilliantly advised us to be suspicious of false prophets, and we in HR are prone to loving bandwagons. Our job is to provide sustainable workforces for our employers.

Each is different and we are tasked with maintaining that differentiation by, as Sandi articulated so well, figuring out how we can take advantage of “new employments.”

Big companies are not stupid, they are slow; and if they fail to see the incredible benefits of older, non-traditional, capable workers, entrepreneurs will pounce on them. They will and do anyway.

Employers cannot be solely responsible for filling income gaps for folks who have to work. They can help some, and society is expecting them to move a little more in that direction. But investors will only go as far as their ROI expectations (meaning tapping into that wisdom). 

Careers used to comprise one job because we set up mechanisms to ensure that (defined benefit pensions and health-care plans) plus employers played to the value model of the boomers. This proved unsustainable and employers had to change their work proposition — and the workforce responded and will continue to do so. People are adaptive and those that cannot will “retire”... but, as Lisa rightly points out, not all at once.

Individuals have always been responsible for their own careers. Employers just provided the grease for the skids. In fact, employers are going to have to remove some of the grease and work much harder to retain and direct how they use scarce skills in the future — but perhaps not in permanent jobs.

We fully endorse the use of proxies and use them in adapting to more analytic-based decision-making. 

This is an exciting time, with 5G, AI, robotics and blockchain — and we’ll adapt. The buggy whip maker wasn’t constructively dismissed when he showed up for work the day after the Industrial Revolution — he was retrained to make accelerator pedals.

Silvia Lulka: Lisa’s presentation was fascinating and I found myself thinking about a few things.

She mentioned the rise of platform business models, where the business is more about making connections than about a product or a service. The main examples here are Uber and Airbnb which don’t provide a service or product but rather a means for people who exchange with each other. 

Lisa also mentioned similar platforms in the HR space, connecting freelancers with potential clients, for example. This left me thinking about the possibilities for HR within the context of our organization — the same ones you mention, Sandi.

Could internal HR teams adopt a model of being connectors and enablers, connecting people, training and meaningful work in a more fluid and dynamic way? 

In doing so, could we help people navigate the transformations of work and career as our workplaces and workforces change?

I really appreciated Lisa’s focus on the people component of the future of work, versus the technology components. I have a new favourite quote about people and AI, from Sydney Harris, author and journalist:

“The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.” He died in 1986 (which likely explains the gender reference) and it makes me wonder what he would think about the “future of work” conversations we are having today?

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