An in-depth look at the future of employer branding with trendwatcher, Torsten Rehder

What traits do you think an employer will need to have in the future in order to be a well-known and popular employer in the employee market?

I believe the two most important traits in the future will be openness and curiosity.

Openness in particular to different ways of living, ways of working, ways of thinking and even types of employment. There's nothing worse for employees than to be told "We've always done it like that". The digital transformation of the working world is something to embrace rather than hinder. Companies can soon lose ground if they cling onto long-established tools and structures rather than constantly questioning them.

The second trait is corporate curiosity. Curious companies regard the future as an opportunity rather than a threat. When companies indicate that they are open-minded to new ideas, business models and technologies, this can make them incredibly attractive. All it takes is 1-2 innovative flagship projects, which are consistently communicated to the outside world and appeal to those employees who seek challenges and variety in their jobs. I therefore believe that innovative work is largely down to HR too. New and innovative products or services, even if they fail on the market or are not even launched, can still be used as a calling card when recruiting staff.

How will Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) affect employer branding and staff recruitment in particular in the future?

Companies that are open to new technologies become more attractive in the eyes of employees. We currently find ourselves in a phase in which many new technologies and applications are finding their way from the consumer market – and therefore via the employees – into companies. I therefore believe that any reservations lie more with the companies than the employees.

However, there are already many meaningful scenarios that use AR and VR. For example, further education and training in virtual simulations – such as evacuation training in a factory – are already very true to life and reduce costs considerably. AR systems have already proven themselves very well in the technical sales force, enabling experienced colleagues to pass on tips remotely. Conferences and team meetings can also take place virtually by VR and therefore strengthen the idea of the home office. Relaxation exercises to do from time to time can also be supported virtually and improve employees' health.

In recruitment, you can offer a virtual tour of the office using VR and give any applicant the opportunity to experience a true-to-life preview of their future working environment. Virtual interviews or initial assessment centers could be another possibility.

Both ideas are still in their early stages. I'm sure that in 5 years' time, we'll still be seeing completely different applications.

The issue of employees over the age of 50 will gain in importance in the near future. Where can you see potential opportunities and what could potential solutions look like?

I always struggle somewhat when everyone is lumped together into a single generation. In our day-to-day work, we see that identities are becoming more and more diverse and increasingly independent from a person's biological age. But I can understand what you're aiming for with your question. When employees who are of a higher employable age become unemployed, it's more difficult for them to find new permanent employment.

I believe that as a society, we basically need to modernize our attitude towards age. The fact is, we're getting older, remaining productive for longer, and able to work longer too. The current pension schemes already require us to pay in until we're 70. Our added value is also becoming increasingly independent from strenuous, physical work, and current lifestyles increasingly focus on health and self-optimization, which also pays off in old age. What's more, working women, who have perhaps had children in their early to mid-thirties, return to the labor market full-time and highly motivated at precisely that stage of life. These women then put everything they've got into their work! I believe that companies that pass up on these resources are the ones who are at fault.

In light of this, as a society, it would be grossly negligent no longer to recognize groups of people aged over 50 as fully-fledged members of our value creation. On the contrary, I even think that those companies that don't relate their diversity concept to age will suffer in the future. And neither is it the case that nobody over 50 has a clue how modern value creation works. They sometimes understand digital matters better than their colleagues under 30, because they were part of the first dot-com bubble around 20 years ago and amassed a wealth of valuable experiences in the process. Nowadays they don't chase after any old start-up making excessive promises, but analyse them with a critical, yet healthy distance.

I think that many companies have already recognized this implicit expertise and they will increasingly implement concepts such as semi-retirement, job rotation with younger and older colleagues or mentorship programs.

The industrial revolution took place around 100 years ago. Nowadays, the increasing digitization of our lives, and therefore the working world too, is revolutionizing at a staggering pace. What challenges need to be overcome and what opportunities are on offer?

First and foremost, digitization makes existing concepts more efficient. There are various studies and forecasts that predict painful changes for us due to the digital wave of automation. But I'm convinced the bottom line is that there will still be sufficient work for all of us in the future – and it will be even more enjoyable, better and more productive than it is today. For this to succeed, education and training need to be adapted to the requirements of this new working environment. This is a real challenge for policy-makers, in particular, as we already need to be initiating the necessary measures today.

Policy-makers need to focus particular attention on how the returns resulting from automation can be redistributed. On the one hand, these should benefit the people who are no longer able to close the skills gap, because unfortunately these will exist. Above all, however, a very large proportion of these automation returns must flow into education and research and development rather than remaining entirely in the companies.

And you're right in saying that it's not the first major change we've experienced in the recent past. In the past 100 years, this is already something we've experienced a few times and there will be many similarities this time around too.

The cruel thing about the present revolution, however, is that job descriptions and qualifications can change completely within a few years. A good example of this is programming languages. People who learn such a programming language and believe they have a secure job for life are sadly mistaken. In the future, life-long learning will be part for the course. The generation currently entering the labor market already understands this. This generation knows that they need to keep updating their qualifications, just like a computer program.

Although it's not necessarily about being the best programmer, or the best author, just because you can read and write. In fact, programming is the new English – the universal language upon which the global business of the future is based. And you should at least be able to understand this language. It's therefore much more crucial to demystify the digital world in order to gain a clearer understanding of developments and to use that basic understanding to determine your actions. Without it, you will find it difficult to grasp certain things and act accordingly. And that applies to both the individual employee, and companies and the organisation.