The Future of Talent

Did you read Sunday’s Observer last week and its section on the Future of Work? Or perhaps you’re waiting for the Sunday Times this weekend and its section on the...Future of Work. Either way, something’s going on when your leisurely Sundays get taken up with the stuff I live and breathe at the Center for the Future of Work.

The world of work will soon be unrecognizable for my parents (teacher + pilot) let alone my grandparents. Go look at the UK government’s go4schools site which keys into the rich dataset that every single state school now makes available. And inside the school, each pupil’s grades are predicted within a hairs breadth based on the regular data input by teachers. Now, lesson planning is finely tailored down to each student to improve their grades. Teachers now have to master data as part of the job. And my father, the pilot, now watches drone technologies flying into war zones and wonders how long before we have the first pilotless civilian plane. The world of work is barely recognizable for my parents (I checked) and instinct tells me that the rate of change in our working lives is accelerating away.

Our kids are going to be entering a new world of work and work norms that are fast adapting to the white heat of technology, always on social media (being connected), and the rise of artificial intelligence and robots (read process automation). I feel for them, having to understand some of these new work norms emerging around the rise of the freelance economy, shared co-working spaces, industry 4.0., the focus on “mindful work “and the skills necessary to be part of “affective labor.” This uncertainty was unheard off when I entered the work force back in the mists of time—I migrated to that London like many other northerners to begin my work career, and we knew what to expect i.e. an office, dumb terminal, we even had a tea-lady with a trolley.

Will the word “job” even be relevant? What will their” jobs” look like as they jump into their driverless cars and head into...err....work? Optimists predict that the rote drudgery work that marked my entry into the world of work will disappear and replaced by newly satisfying and fulfilling roles and tasks that enrich lives. But that stint of “rote drudgery” was essential for understanding a process, figuring out how the spaghetti of an organization works, or learning to navigate the stakeholder politics safely far away from it. Perhaps new types of activities and roles will emerge, but one statistic in the Observer caught my attention: Examining the creation of new occupations by decade, they’re declining. New occupations accounted for 8.2% of news jobs in the 1980s, 4.4% in the 1990s and 0.5% in the noughties. It’s not going the right way.

There will be fewer jobs but the notion of the job will be conceived differently. The” job for life” is disappearing and the corporate ladder that supported it is changing into something dynamic, self-directed and fluid. Great if you’re in the game, self-motivated, creative, open, and you understand the “gig economy” but what concerns me is that for large swathes of workers, it means holding multiple jobs, learning to live with instability, unable to pay off student loans, land a mortgage or save for a pension (I suspect pensions will be seen as a late 20th Century quirk). The reality of working in the digital era is going to be a challenge for many yet guidance on how to survive in this new world of work is still lacking.

How companies can harness new ways of working, acquire and nurture the skills they need and maximize the value of their people (their most important asset) is the subject of a major new research project that I am running under the Center for the Future of Work and its due out early next year. I have conceived the project to examine the future of work from the perspective of talent. What does talent look like in the digital age? Where will it come from? What structures does it need to thrive? How do companies harness and engage with it? I’ve surveyed more than 500 line-of-business stakeholders across Europe and the US to understand what the future of talent means in the digital age. My initial analysis reveals a compelling set of challenges that need action today. Watch this space...