Five Trends Shaping the Future of Work

bob's Blog Dr. Bob Nelson

There are five major trends that will increasingly impact the workforce for all organizations: 1) The Growing Shortage of Skilled Workers, 2) The Rise of the Millennials, 3)The  Increase of Contingent Workers, 4) The Evolving Role of Virtual Employees, and 5) The Globalization of the Labor Market.

With unemployment still hovering around 9-10%, it is hard to grasp the concept of an impending skilled labor shortage.  However, this is exactly what is unfolding and will continue to unfold in the decades ahead.   The evidence for this is based on the current demographic trends, which indicate a declining birth rate in industrialized countries, combined with an aging population that is heading into retirement.  This will be the most significant human resource trend over the next few decades:  “Not a labor shortage, but a skilled labor shortage.”

The Rise of the Millennials is a significant part of the shift in demographics.  Those born between 1980 and 2000 will soon make up the largest segment of the U.S. workforce in both number and attitude, reshaping the workplace for all workers.  This generation of 90 million prospective workers thinks and is motivated differently from previous generations.  They expect work to be part of their lives, not to define who they are, yet they also expect meaning in their job from Day 1 and are not interested in “paying their dues.”  This group is shifting work expectations from “career ladder to career lattice.”

The recovery from the “great recession” has led to a significant Increase in Contingent Workers.   In fact, the temporary employment segment has generated more jobs than any other segment since the recession has technically ended.   Businesses have been hesitant to hire back full time employees due to the uncertainty and volatility in the economy.   Many believe this change to be permanent in nature versus just part of the economic cycle.   There are currently 10 million contingent workers, greater than union membership.   There are also now 22 million companies that do not have a payroll.  This group’s work expectations are shifting from “lifetime employment to lifetime employability.”

The Evolving Role of Virtual Employees is also noteworthy.   42% of all organizations currently provide some type of flex time or option for telecommuting, job sharing, or alternate work schedules, yet we haven’t yet mastered how to make technology replace the social bonds in the workplace.  Often the more connected we are at work through technology, the more alienated we tend to be in our jobs and less connected we often feel with others. “Work is increasingly becoming a state of mind more than a place to be.” 

Finally, the Globalization of the Labor Market markets continues to take place.  The geographical bonds between producer and consumer are gone and work and jobs are increasingly transferable around the globe.  Companies will increasingly need to decide what their core competitive advantage is and for those things others firms can do better to “move the work or move the worker.”
Human Resource leadership needs to better lead the charge in helping their organizations prepare for these significant workplace trends by bringing proactive in making the case for action now and bringing solutions to the organization before the workplace trends become overwhelming.  “A function shift from transactional to transitional to transformational.”

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