The Future of the Workforce Is Segmented

June 4, 2019

The Future of the Workforce Is Segmented

The concept of a job for life is all but dead and unlikely to ever be revived. As the old expectations began to die out, workers who found themselves between jobs looked for ways to make ends meet. Stints at day labor and temporary gigs gave the otherwise unemployed a taste of a new career model. As long as staffing agencies provided such jobs, a worker could move among short-term engagements indefinitely. In the process, their network of prospective employers would continue to grow.

Next, the advent of the internet and its wider advertising net meant that those with expertise could strike out on their own. Then came the mortgage and banking crises. Once the economy tanked, the financial benefits of slashing traditional hiring costs could not be denied. Organizations that needed talent that they did not house themselves dipped into the contractor pool and found the water was just fine. 

The Free Agent
Traditionally, short-term workers had helped meet seasonal or changing consumer demands. Contractors were used for finite projects with clear boundaries. It was easy for employers to slice up this short-term work and serve it to temporary hires. As that became more palatable to both parties, companies began to look more closely at their workflows to see which portions might be outsourced.

You will have reached out to this free-flowing talent pool already, but it’s not what you call these workers today that will matter tomorrow. Whom you select and how you source them are fast becoming the big questions. And how you handle those variables will have the greatest competitive impact in the immediate business future.

In addition, new technology holds all sorts of promise for consumers, but it may be even more significant to employers in the long run. While some workers may be supplanted by machines, the changes will likely generate new work opportunities. This has been true since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. 

The Digital Worker
Once considered a death knell to labor, automation made many workers’ lives easier even as it prompted others to find new career paths. Fear of change, however, obscured the potential gains that mechanization might bring. In fact the automation of jobs has been underway for quite some time, and the world of work has still survived. It may fall to employers to convince the workforce that computers and robots enhanced by machine learning are more beneficial than detrimental. Defining the classes of existing technology might help. The digital worker of the future may be driven by different types of “automation first thinking.”

It is imperative for businesses to reach a critical knowledge mass on this subject as quickly as possible, as the integration of digital workers into the larger employee framework will affect all businesses—those that use them, and those that don’t. Professionals in HR and procurement will find themselves hiring and managing smaller human staffs and larger digital ones.

Forward-thinking organizations are not shying away from using artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation strategically to do superior work for which machines are suited—in a way that is most efficient and cost-effective. Businesses will always need good people. But the judicious use of AI and digital employees is one aspect of the shifting balance between workers and work that will need to be not only accepted but used to its utmost advantage.

A generational shift in the workforce and changing conditions have produced workers with different values, desires, and expectations than their predecessors. 

Today’s workers came of age in a consumer-friendly atmosphere, in which they grew to expect and insist on the same responsiveness to their needs in the workplace. A recent survey revealed areas of importance to job candidates based on successful employee value propositions used by HR departments. Respondents perceived four areas of the greatest concern to those looking to find work with one company versus another: Offering more developmental opportunities, providing ongoing feedback and coaching from managers, encouraging collaboration among employees, and recognizing and rewarding high performance

Today’s “talentsumers” want to be able to appeal to a variety of employers in more than one niche. So, they seek to associate with companies that provide continuing education, training, and support for the work they are doing—real opportunities to push themselves and develop new skills and interests. 

Much of appealing to the talentsumer mentality is connected with cultural improvement. So is the endeavour of optimizing our workforces and work processes. We should be looking to revolutionize all of this now, so that we don’t fall behind the steady march of technology and changing demographics and values. A vast break with the past is here, whether we like it or not. Getting to a state of organizational readiness will help us cultivate the segmented talent and work landscape that lies just outside our windows.

The Authors: 

Bruce Morton is an international workforce design expert and the author of Redesigning the Way Work Works.