Future Workforce: What Can We Do to Prepare the Next Generation of Talent for Automation, Disruption & the Gig Economy?

by Austin Baker
HRO Partners

I have fond memories of visiting ice cream stores growing up, sitting down and enjoying a scoop.  Now I hear advertisements for frozen yogurt robot franchises that can be strategically placed on sidewalks outside of traditional retail.  I wonder if this automation will take hold and eliminate entry level retail jobs.  Recently, when I needed a custom Excel program, I logged in to a freelance site, posted the need, and got a program in my hands in about 48 hours.  This transaction represented typical freelancer, gig economy experience where I never met the programmer face-to-face, but his rating was great on the site, he delivered a quality program on time, and was reasonably priced. We all watch with curious fascination as driverless cars are piloted in several cities.  The TN Workforce Disruption Index, published by the TN Economic and Community Development Department, predicts 50% of jobs have a high probability of automation in TN.

A full two-thirds of c-suite executives believe that 40% of the Fortune 500 companies will not exist in 10 years. However, 9 in 10 said they are hopeful about the future of technology in their businesses and 6 in 10 said they are not worried about automation threatening their business. “We learned that even during these times of political and economic uncertainty and technology, American and European executives are cautiously optimistic,” said Christian Ofori-Boateng, CEO of ChristianSteven Software, which conducted the research on over 500 executives. “Some fear competition from a new market disruptor or automation, but most are hopeful about the role technology will play in their businesses moving forward.”  

I believe that many of these c-suite hopes are centered around automation and gig economy trends that they hope will be driven from within their companies.  I also believe that large companies, if not adapting quickly are more likely to be disrupted from the outside, rather than to institute their own demise or radical change initiatives. These corporate trends and executive sentiments leads me to believe that the success of communities in the next 10 years will be largely correlated to embracing and preparing for workforce shifts around the three major trends of gig economy, industry disruption, and work automation. Recent conversations with several local and state legislators as well as education leaders and policy advocates point to an unfortunate lack of awareness and strategy to help our workforce prepare for the new economy.   Most HR professionals are perplexed and concerned that employees are increasingly ill

prepared for the new jobs of today and tomorrow. Consequently, more than 16,000 jobs went unfilled in one year in one community our team surveyed. There is a disconnect.

How can we better prepare for the changes ahead?

We need to do several things as HR and industry leaders to prepare our workforce for tomorrow.  The future success of communities as well as companies is tied to our ability to adapt and enact these changes in the next 5-10 years.  The first thing we need to do is consider untapped and developing talent outside of our companies as a community resource and potential asset that industry collectively invests in and develops together.  The second thing we need to do is participate in and lead industry research to use as a basis for engagement with workforce and education leaders. The third major thing we need to do is advocate for increased industry collaboration in educational outcomes.

1. Treat untapped and developing talent as a community asset. Beyond the well-trained talent in our companies, there is an entire pool of talent in our pipeline that is developing and another that has otherwise been forgotten and untapped.  If you were to add up all of the partial completers for high school and college in your community you would be surprised at the number.  In the Greater Memphis area there are over 350,000 individuals in this category. Yet the strategies to reach and reengage them are fragmented, lack warm handoff among agencies and non-profits, and in many cases, are not anywhere close to the scale needed to serve this population.  Our statistics also show the largest under 18 percentage of population of any major metro are in the United States, so that is a large pipeline of developing talent.  This presents an almost unfathomably large opportunity for training these individuals in a shortened runway system that breaks the norms of our current education and workforce systems today.  Are you looking at your emerging and untapped talent as a “hunter/gatherer” HR professional or a newer age “farmer” and how many emerging training programs do you have ongoing relationships with as a HR professional?  Reframe talent outside of your organization as “untapped” and measure your success by your engagement with these developing groups, and you will see short and long term results that are more sustainable and community conscious.

2. Lead and participate in real time labor market industry research. Job posting channels are ever changing and one of the key changes that is happening behind the scenes is the aggregation and anonymization of labor data from various job posting sites.  This creates data sets that can be built into real time labor market reports.  There are factors that the data set has to account for, such as duplicate postings, and the providers are getting better at doing this, but there are still some employer behavioral and technology integration changes necessary.  We also need to get better as HR professionals at forecasting and gathering our future competency inventories into more meaningful and actionable data sets, and to compliment this data with relevant training information.  One recent report predicted that all future jobs would require employees with extraordinary IQ’s, which is an unsettling futurist’ view of our artificial intelligence and automation trends.  Other reports point to emotional intelligence (EQ) as the dominating factor of success.  These reports, if left incomplete and without data and industry roundtable conversations to supplement them, will not help our untapped and developing talent and the systems that support them be uninformed about viable careers and skills needed to be employable.  At the end of the day, I believe that HR needs to be the messenger and change agent that drives us forward and we need to speak with proper data behind our messages.

3. Advocate for increased industry collaboration in educational outcomes. Collaboration with our educational partners that are engaged with untapped and developing talent is the new litmus test for the future success of communities.  When we put supply and demand in the same room for structured learning, then we produce better outcomes.  HR professionals expecting talent to appear out of the black box of education will lead to increased frustration.  We need to advocate and participate in learning outside of our organizations to help it keep pace with the increasing pace of change in industry.  We are now in an outside-in HR phase where we are HR leaders inside our companies and industry and educational leaders outside of our corporate walls.  Part of this collaboration needs to include non-traditional training grounds such as incubators and partial completer programs that are disrupting and supplementing traditional training and education in an important and needed way. Our future scorecards as organizations and as educational/training providers should encourage and support this collaboration.  New and emerging talent is being trained and retrained as we speak, let’s make sure HR is a part of that, or we will all be left behind.

Austin Baker HRO Partners

About the Author

Austin Baker is the President of HRO Partners, a Human Resources Consulting and Benefit Administration and Enrollment Firm.  Austin is on the board of PeopleFirst, a Cradle to Career Talent Pipeline in Memphis, TN and the co-founder of the Memphis Institute for Leadership Education (MILE), which has brought more than 2,400 business leaders and top talent students at the University of Memphis to learn and grow together over the past 10 years.

For more information, call Baker at 1-866-822-0123, visit www.hro-partners.com, or connect with the company at www.facebook.com/hropartners, http://www.linkedin.com/in/jaustinbaker or http://twitter.com/jaustinbaker