Q&A with Michael Gretczko originally published by Digital Journal | 28 July 2018
How has the workforce changed in the past five years?
The last five years have been a time of immense disruption in work, the workforce, and the workplace. Work has changed as automation has reshaped the structure of jobs and work is done in smaller more dynamic teams that form, disband, and re-form as well as the advent of crowdsourcing. The workforce has also been disrupted with the rise of remote and contingent workers, and the broader gig economy.
New skills are required to succeed and workers are needing to more dynamically transform and adapt. The workplace is also transformed with more virtual work, and digital tools and collaboration as a key feature. Even the physical space is changing dramatically with office space being transformed to support collaborative work and to provide workspaces where employees live (and want to live).
Additionally, generational changes have transformed the expectations of the workforce as new talent demands different things from their employers around the social enterprise and impact on the broader environment.
What are the key skills that businesses seek from workers these days?
In my opinion, businesses are increasingly looking for a workforce that has three key features: agility, multi-disciplinary skills, and social awareness.
These attributes are important because of how quickly the world is changing and how competition can arise from new angles. Agile workers can constantly re-tool and adapt to new technology and new work requirements, while staying focused on the broader goals of the organization.
Multi-disciplinary workers solve problems in new ways and can find patterns and connections between issues, solutions, and challenges to do the impossible. Lastly, organizations are looking for employees that can operate in a broader ecosystem of customers, the borderless workforce, suppliers, partners, and others. Workers that can understand these relationships and how to connect them for organizational value are increasingly more critical to the future.
How important are these skills for a business to remain competitive?
These skills are absolutely critical. If a business needs to let go of resources and rehire every time the market or business changes because the current workforce can’t be reskilled, then the competition will be too stiff, and the lost time and money during that turnover will be very damaging.
It may also hurt their reputation as employers, making future recruitment harder, and possibly affecting their brand and customer loyalty. Organizations that automate manufacturing plants, for example, and that do not clearly give people opportunities for reskilling and new positions, may see their brand suffer and, to some extent, may also feel pressure from the social and political environment.
Are all businesses successful in developing new skills for their digital transformation projects?
Not yet. The changing nature of work can throw unique challenges and opportunities in the way of today’s organizational leaders. And companies that fail to address these challenges may risk being left with a workforce poorly equipped to drive lasting success.
Successful organizations will need to redesign work for technology and learning.
To take effective advantage of technology, organizations will likely need to redesign work itself, moving beyond process optimization to find ways to enhance machine-human collaboration, drawing out the best of both and expanding across alternative workforces. Organizational leaders should ensure that technological possibilities are connected to both customer and employee needs during work redesign.
Additionally, organizational leaders would have to find ways to balance what is new (and the new potential of it) with the strength of what a company still has, such as their brand and values.
How important is mobility for today’s business?
Technology enables the proximity of work to expand beyond a company’s walls and balance sheets. The alternative worker is one of the fastest-growing segments of the workforce. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that between 2005 and 2015, approximately 94 percent of net new employment in the United States occurred within the alternative work arrangement—including everything from gig to freelance and off-balance sheet workers. And this number is anticipated to keep growing.
By 2020, an Intuit report predicts that nearly 40 percent of all US workers will be engaged in some sort of alternative work arrangement. Having mobile work options is therefore very important so that business is not centered around in-office work. Collaboration tools are making remote working easier than ever, allowing for coworkers to be connected even when physically far away while mobile technologies allow workers to have their “office” with them everywhere and all the time.
How about self-service, is this concept becoming more common?
We’re seeing a changing set of values from companies’ internal customers—perhaps their most important business asset—as well as requests for more innovation, flexibility, and opportunity. Digital HR has become not just a “nice to have,” but a necessity for an organization’s future growth and acceleration. And just like a consumer who has a bad experience and moves onto another brand, your employees may also seek new experiences if their expectations are not being met.
Just as consumers value a customized shopping journey, tailored to their interests and needs, employees are demanding a personalized experience with their company that is catered to the individual, giving a greater sense of purpose and value. With digital HR, things like training, company initiatives, and volunteer work, for example, can be tailored to the employees’ career path.
Cognitive technologies can help create that experience based on their own online behaviors and interactions, and guide managers to take next steps. That’s why Deloitte created ConnectMe—to enable a digital workplace to connect the workforce to what they need, when, and where they need it. ConnectMe makes it easier for employees to access and consume HR services and content, relevant to them—on any device.
How about looking into the near future, what will the future workforce look like?
We are now fully experiencing how cognitive technologies and the open talent economy are reshaping the future workforce and driving many organizations to reconsider how they design jobs, organize work, and plan for future growth. Automation, cognitive computing, and crowds are paradigm-shifting forces that will reshape the workforce now and in the near future.
Organizations are redesigning jobs to take advantage of cognitive systems and robots, and we see an opportunity to rethink work around something we call “essential human skills.” In 2017 and beyond, organizations should experiment with and implement cognitive tools, focus heavily on retraining people to use these tools, and rethink the role of people as more and more work becomes automated.
We think the key feature of the future will be how organizations successfully pair humans with unique humanistic skills alongside transformative technologies that optimize the value those humans can create for the businesses of which they are a part.
Is automation driving the need for different skill sets?
In 2018 and beyond, we expect continuing rapid adoption and maturation of AI, robotics, and automation solutions. Leading organizations are working hard to put humans in the loop—rethinking work architecture, retraining people, and rearranging the organization to leverage technology to transform business. The broader aim is not just to eliminate routine tasks and cut costs, but to create value for customers and meaningful work for people.
Research suggests that while automation can improve scale, speed, and quality, it does not do away with jobs. In fact, it might do just the opposite. As Boston University professor James Bessen has reported in his research, occupations with greater levels of computerization and technology experience higher, not lower, employment growth rates. What’s more, in many cases, the newly created jobs are more service-oriented, interpretive, and social, playing to the essential human skills of creativity, empathy, communication, and complex problem-solving.
Sales professionals, for instance, can leverage AI tools such as Salesforce, Einstein, and others so they can focus on human interaction, and health care workers can use intelligent machines to free up time to communicate with patients. Specific skills may be less important than the ability to learn quickly, adapt to new technology, and a willingness to learn, develop and grow. Agility in skill set is the key here.
Despite the surge of interest in AI and automation, respondents to this year’s Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey predict tremendous future demand for human skills, such as complex problem-solving (63 percent), cognitive abilities (55 percent), social skills (52 percent), and process skills (54 percent).
While 65 percent also predict strong demand for technical skills, research shows that the technical skills to create, install, and maintain machines account for only a small fraction of the workforce. Reinforcing this view, a recent World Economic Forum study found that the top 10 skills for the next decade include essential human skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and people management.
Will certain types of jobs disappear in the near future?
It’s not so much that entire jobs will necessarily disappear with the adoption of automation and technology, but rather more often that certain tasks or ways work is done will change and become automated, or that jobs/roles will be redefined. As I mentioned earlier, research suggests that while automation can improve scale, speed, and quality, it does not do away with jobs. HR leaders should focus on defining the difference between essential human skills, such as creative and ethical thinking, and nonessential tasks, which can be managed by machines.
This requires reframing careers, and designing new ways of working and new ways of learning—both in organizations and as individuals. Research by Deloitte in the United Kingdom finds that the future workforce will require a “balance of technical skills and more general purpose skills such as problem solving skills, creativity, social skills, and emotional intelligence.”
For those still studying, what types of skills will be most in demand?
Our research suggests that more than 30 percent of high-paying new jobs will likely be social and “essentially” human in nature. Therefore, we anticipate a movement toward a “STEMpathetic” workforce—one that comingles technical knowledge and cognitive social skills, such as connecting with other people and communicating effectively. Roles in the future will likely continue to require new types of soft skills, even in very technical-centric fields. Individuals and organizations who can master both technical and social skill sets could lead the way in the future of work.