Businesses have learned many lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, one of which is that preparing your company and its workforce for the future is never easy. One thing you can be entirely confident about is that there will always be new challenges on the horizon. And as far as technology is concerned, it's safe to assume that the pace of change is unlikely to slow down in the coming years.
From a workforce planning perspective, one way to prepare your organization and your employees for the future is by making informed, evidence-based predictions about forthcoming trends.
Here are four significant concepts that will continue to be defining themes in the next few years:
Flexibility has become an increasingly significant consideration for employers and HR departments in recent years. The importance of this concept became clearer than ever in 2020, when the pandemic put enormous pressure on countless businesses and employees. Those with flexible, agile workforces were the best-placed to succeed in this environment.
Even before COVID-19, 60% of businesses anticipated growth in their use of contract labor in the coming years, according to research by North Highland and the Economist Intelligence Unit. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of firms said they were undergoing some sort of transformation, while two-thirds were having to adapt to a more volatile business environment.
In Randstad's Workforce 2025 study, 85% of employers said their commitment to an agile workforce will increase dramatically in the coming years.
Embracing flexibility can unlock a range of benefits for your business and your workforce. Strategies like increasing your use of contingent and temporary talent, for example, can give you more control over your resources and reduce the burden on your permanent staff during busy periods.
The gig economy is a key source of new forms of work that are reshaping views of the employer/employee relationship and how particular jobs can be carried out. As Randstad explores in the Flexibility@Work 2019 report, people around the world are benefiting from increasing access to models such as:
- remote working
- flexible hours
- more diverse compensation arrangements and contracts
Candidates for whom the traditional nine-to-five working day and 40-hour week were never feasible have had more opportunities to work flexibly in recent years. This accelerated in 2020, largely due to the impact of COVID-19, but even before the pandemic new and more agile approaches to work were becoming more common.
An American Express and Institutional Investor study published in April 2019 showed that 75% of businesses viewed contractors, freelancers and temporary workers as important to their employment practices in the coming years. There were nearly 28 million temporary workers in the EU alone in the third quarter of 2018.
Gallup said the growth of the gig economy places an onus on employers to take targeted measures, most notably:
- redesigning traditional jobs to include many of the benefits of independent gig work
- training managers to better relate to the temporary workforce
new ways of working
HR, like all aspects of business, is being steadily transformed by technology, with a regular supply of new systems and innovations opening up fresh approaches to work and human capital management.
The 2020 Talent Trends report from Randstad Sourceright provided an insight into the particular tools and methods that proved vital for employers during COVID-19.
The findings showed that 55% of global businesses had adopted or scaled technologies as a result of the pandemic. The most popular were:
- Video and online interviewing
- Workforce collaboration tools
- Training and development platforms
- Workplace culture, employee feedback and engagement systems
- Virtual recruitment events
These were also among the top technologies employers said they will continue using post-COVID, along with onboarding systems.
It's clear that the ability to change and adapt to new, tech-driven ways of working will prove vital to businesses' future-proofing projects in the years to come.
Artificial intelligence is a rapidly evolving space that seems to be having an influence on almost every dimension of life in the 21st century, including the world of work. As a business and an employer, you undoubtedly have a lot to gain from tracking the latest developments in this area and positioning yourself to benefit from them.
In the HR and recruitment space, AI offers huge potential to make regular hiring and talent acquisition processes much quicker and more efficient, as well as removing the risk of human error or unconscious bias.
Pymetrics, a firm supported by the Randstad Innovation Fund, is showing what can be achieved in this area by combining gamification with AI to help employers reinvent their methods of identifying, attracting and retaining talent.
AI is often mentioned in the same breath as machine learning and, perhaps most significantly of all for employers, automation. Data included in the Flexibility@Work 2019 report showed that human employment is not declining as a result of automation, and in fact, these technologies are likely to have a positive net effect on jobs.
Automation was also linked to demographic trends, with countries that have older workforces (such as Germany, Japan and South Korea) found to be more rapid adopters of automation technologies.
redefining your employer brand
Employer branding should be a key focus in your efforts to future-proof your organization and your workforce. Why? Because it's an essential part of demonstrating what you stand for as a business, what you can offer to employees, and consequently, why the talent you need should want to work for you.
At a time when skills shortages are posing a significant threat to various industries and companies of all types and sizes, it's vital that you're able to acquire key talent if you want to succeed in the future. You should therefore be constantly reviewing and revisiting your employer brand.
Challenges like COVID-19 can sometimes provide the impetus businesses need to rethink and enhance their employer brands. Our 2020 Talent Trends research showed that many companies felt their communication strategies and outplacement support during the pandemic had helped them protect or enhance their employer brand.
The report also highlighted three effective ways you can strengthen your employer brand through your talent experience:
- Embrace work flexibility
- Explore collaboration tools and techniques
- Survey your talent to understand their needs
reskilling and upskilling
Amid the digitalization of all industries and rapid evolution in consumer technologies and expectations, to be fit for the future you need specialist digital skills and tech expertise in your workforce.
Most businesses therefore have something to gain from investing in reskilling and upskilling their employees. As well as boosting the business through the development of valuable expertise, taking this approach will strengthen your employer brand and increase people's job satisfaction, since you're showing a commitment to staff development and employability.
The Randstad Workmonitor 2020 report underlined just how important it is for companies to focus on skills development. Globally, 40% of employees said they struggled to learn new skills to adapt to working during COVID-19. The proportion was particularly high in the Asia-Pacific region (52%).
However, the pandemic also provided some examples of how beneficial reskilling and redeployment can be. Scandinavian Airlines adjusted to the situation in 2020 by retraining cabin staff to work as assistant nurses, for instance.
Hard skills in areas such as the cloud, AI, data analysis and software development are essential to many modern businesses, but soft skills will prove equally valuable - if not even more important - to the future of work.
Technical abilities such as those listed above can be taught to people who have the fundamental potential and willingness to learn, but soft skills - such as creativity, collaboration, emotional intelligence and empathy - tend to be innate and are much more difficult to teach.
The ‘hard reality of soft skills’ was one of the key work trends recently highlighted by the World Economic Forum, which referred to LinkedIn research showing that 92% of employers feel soft skills matter as much as, or even more than, hard skills. Four out of five (80%) said soft skills are increasingly important to business success.
If you're ready to take on the challenge of future-proofing your workforce, you can learn more about vital activities that will help you achieve your end goal in our new guide.
The guide takes a detailed look at the importance of processes like prioritizing diversity in your workforce and using effective tools to support new ways of working.