How to build a future-ready workforce

Lately, I’ve noticed a hint of panic from businesses that are wondering whether their failure to adequately prepare for so-called disruptive change might see them painted into a corner, and unable to compete in future.

It’s important to prepare, and in this case that means building a ‘future-ready’ workforce. But, what does that mean, exactly? What is it that’s coming in the future that we ought to take active steps to prepare for?

It’s something I’ve begun to explore before.

In order to make these kinds of predictions, it’s useful to look at what social and technological developments are driving the changes in the way we’ll work. According to the IFTF’s Future Work Skills 2020 report, we’ll see:

  • An increasingly elderly population
  • ‘Smarter’ computers and increasing robotic automation
  • Increased data collection and analyis in decision making
  • An increased use of more slick and sophisticated communication methods, such as graphics, animation and video
  • Greater harnessing of people power through online platforms
  • Globalisation of the labour market

Far from being concerning, this could also be a list of the most exciting developments that are presently emerging from my perspective. The only thing to worry about is that if you don’t pay attention, it will be your competitors who capitalise on these trends more effectively than you do!

Given this optimistic portrait of the future, we need to think about the implications of these trends, and then implement policies and take action to engineer a workforce that will thrive in that futuristic world.

The tools at our disposal are hiring practices, workplace policies and training initiatives. The process begins with identifying the skills and traits best suited to a future workplace where these trends have been fully manifested.

Increased diversity

One broad concept that many of the trends are pointing towards is that of increased diversity in the workforce.

As an example, increased longevity and the globalisation of the labour market suggests there’ll be much greater diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, and the mix of permanent workers versus freelancers and contractors. Many more workers will be off-site, either at home or working from the other side of the world.

Adapting to those changes will require workers to have high social intelligence, and the ability not just to work effectively within a team, but also to lead and manage those teams. Cross-cultural competency, such as linguistic skills, cultural understanding and confidence with working with a diverse team will be vital. This might involve the ability to quickly identify and communicate shared points of connection, such as shared values and goals, in order to quickly build rapport.

The ability to identify and take advantage of the skills, working and thinking styles of the team in order to work together effectively will also be very important for success in the new order of things.

How to prepare

Reconsider hiring older workers – especially those with broad skillsets and evidence that they frequently take the initiative to upskill and adapt to new technologies and operational methodologies.

Getting the most out of freelancers is a topic in itself, and I’ve written previously about this growing trend, as well as how to make sure freelancers feel at home in your business and how learning how to manage freelancers is an excellent first step in building management experience.

It can be taken further, too – consider offering cultural or language training courses to your workforce to increase your workers’ exposure to, and comfort with, foreign cultures and customs. This could lead to collaboration with valuable (i.e. lower cost) offshore contractors that previously wouldn’t have been considered.

Fear of job loss due to increased automation

Rise of the robots… and pie charts 

For many, the fear is that increased automation will eliminate 99% of the job titles we know of today. The first jobs to go are likely to be the ‘busy work’ that requires little brain and even less brawn – like filing and mundane research tasks. Next in line will be manual labour. No one is certain where it’s all leading, but a willingness to upskill and ascend to the next-least lowly post will definitely be an advantage.

Robots aside, cloud-based platforms and enterprise social networking tools will enable us to streamline operations and increase productivity through crowd sourcing.

The rise of big data analytics will mean that we’ll have before us the facts and figures to inform our every decision. While there will be a need for data wranglers, for the most part, future workers will not have to become computer scientists majoring in statistics as some suggest. Rather, it will be the ability to understand and interpret charts and graphs, as well as a little statistical terminology. Being able to work with and intuit useful insights from analytics dashboards will help a lot, too.

Data analytics ties in with new media literacy, too. Data is best presented visually, but so is almost everything else. Communicating with video, graphics and animation will be a core skill in future, so workers who are competent with the software used to create and manipulate graphics-intensive presentations will be in high demand.

In addition, according to CIO, Information Security skills will be in high demand. That stands to reason considering that nowadays barely a week passes without news of yet another big data breach.

How to prepare

If your company is already using data analytics, it might be a good idea to broaden the base of those workers who are able to see, understand and use those insights. That can be through training and granting more than just the manager access to the figures. In hiring, look for candidates with familiarity with statistics or analytics (even if it’s simply Google Analytics) either through previous roles, education or even hobbies.

In terms of IT security, it’s a great idea to introduce policies and conduct training on best practice when it comes to the simple things all workers can do to enhance your company’s defences against cyber attack. The overwhelming majority of hacks and data breaches are initiated through social engineering, such as simply convincing an unwitting employee to hand over the keys to the operation. Getting your workforce up to speed on matters of security will definitely decrease the chances of a big headache in future.

It’s okay to change at your pace, just so long as you do

Remember, addressing such challenges isn’t just about prepping for the future. All of these trends are in motion right now, and the demand for these kinds of changes is real, even if it’s not yet noticeable.

If its done incrementally through hiring policy and a forward-thinking attitude when it comes to training and workplace policies, you should enjoy a successful transition toward a workforce with the agility to adapt to, and capitalise on, the changes as they happen.