By the very nature of what we do at AEU LEAD, we routinely engage with business owners and senior executives on the topic of emerging trends. While the subject matter can and does encompass a great deal of latitude, most conversations inevitably involve a common theme of questions:
“How will the workplace change over the next five to ten years?”
“What can I do now to effectively prepare for the changes ahead?”
While hindsight is the only point of view that is beyond dispute, there are several perspectives we feel warrant attention. These viewpoints are shared in part based on transitions already underway. They also reflect a wide body of published opinions, some representing industry experts and others supported by a growing body of research on the topic. Nonetheless, here are a few thoughts for consideration, and hopefully, subsequent conversation.
We believe the next 10 years will be characterized as a decade of unprecedented technological transformation – perhaps more so than at any point in recent past. Whereas production equipment became highly mechanized in the early 20th century, the next transition will primarily involve automation. Very few, if any, industries will be untouched. Those that integrate emerging technologies will have a clear and distinct advantage over those that don’t. Here are five trends we think companies should pay attention to as we embark on this new era.
Those competing within any industry or space will become more formidable given the tools and resources available to them. Big data, as an example, will be used to make real-time decisions in a landscape that promises to be fierce and unforgiving. Made possible by advancements in information systems, companies will have the ability to draw correlations between consumer actions and emerging needs through predictive analytics with a high degree of confidence. As an example, whereas we may have had a sea of raw and seemingly unrelated data to sort through in the past, computer programs will have the capability to analyze, interpret and draw meaningful conclusions long before trends become apparent or even begin to take shape. Those integrating this technology will have insight into client behaviors and trends before those that don’t, allowing them to get ahead of demand curves in an economy that is going to demand innovation and reward transformation.
Some experts suggest emerging technologies will have more impact on industry than did the Internet. Technological advancements will have an immediate impact on the bottom line and require organizations to be nimble and open to change.
Labor-intensive and highly repetitive tasks are those most likely to be automated. Advancements in 3D printing – or as it’s sometimes called, additive manufacturing – are showing great promise in terms of application and use and is only in its infancy as a technology.
Akin to automation is autonomy, the next generation of emerging technologies. While automation involves operation requiring only human oversight, this technology lacks problem solving capabilities when variables are encountered outside of programmed scripts. Autonomous operation uses artificial intelligence to overcome system failures and is designed to operate independently, without the aid or assistance of a human interface.
Autonomous systems are far from perfect. The path towards automation, however, is already underway and the availability of tools and equipment built on this platform will steadily increase over the next decade. The skills required to implement and use emerging technologies will force most organizations to completely redesign learning and development platforms, as few organizations have in place the needed systems or internal support required for the transition.
The workforce of today is different in many ways than it was even 10 years ago. The experiences of represented generations provide each with values and beliefs that are often in sharp contrast to one another. As an example, the way millennials and boomers view authority and leadership is very different. Whereas boomers are generally respectful of and impressed by those in positions of authority, millennials have a far more relaxed view of them. The same sort of dichotomies exists for problem solving and communication preferences.
A challenge most blue collar organizations have and will continue to face involves the need to make transitions in work practices, so they are aligned with the expectations of an ever-evolving workforce. Whereas employees may have historically accepted rules and procedures or clearly defined expectations as satisfactory, that’s no longer the case with recent or emerging generations. Providing insight into ‘why’ a given task may require extra precaution or additional attention to detail is an itch that must be scratched for some of your younger employees. Additionally, many find great motivation and interest in helping resolve challenges – which requires outcome-oriented discussions and flexibility in strategy, something few organizations are currently prepared to offer.
The bottom line regarding skilled labor is that the associated challenges involving recruitment and retention aren’t going away anytime soon. Traditionalist and even boomers will continue to exit the workforce and Gen Z will be the next in line to take their place. The concerns noted above will only be compounded as the outlined transitions begin to pick up momentum in the very near future. The remedy has little to do with more effective management practices; it involves people-oriented leadership skills as interpersonal communication and collaboration skills will become increasingly important to the next generation of workers.
The workplace of tomorrow promises be dynamic, fluid, and riddled with complex challenges that even the most comprehensive plans may not fully address. Cultures that succeed will be those open to change and nimble in response to what will likely be constantly shifting demands. The skills required to navigate this sort of environment aren’t dependent upon authority or control over behaviors. Transitions involving change require leadership. For organizations to thrive in the foreseeable future, leadership skills must be pushed downward within in the organization to the level where it matters most – at the point of interface with the workforce and valued clients.
The front-line supervisor will be key to meeting and overcoming many challenges involving emerging trends. They are arguably the least utilized resource within management ranks today, have potentially the most impact upon pain points organizations experience, and are at the point of contact with employees and clients. That said, they are commonly the least prepared for the roles and responsibilities assigned and routinely struggle with the people side of their jobs. The consequences, while not fully recognized, have historically been costly. In the future, it could be the difference between success and failure as an organization.
To succeed in the future, organizations must have the capacity to change and to do so quickly. Direction will be set from above and stakeholders will be asked to practice the transitions needed to remain competitive within any given industry. The bridge between the two involves implementation and execution, a role for which front-line managers must be prepared to fulfill. Doing so is a function of gaining the buy-in, support, and commitment needed to reach the desired future state. Those on the front line must have the skills needed to motivate, inspire, and engage employees. Organizations providing these resources will likely distance themselves from others competing within the same space that don’t.
For many organizations, training has historically been a function of fulfilling basic regulatory requirements. Viewed by some as an obligation without tangible returns, the mechanics of implementation are commonly internalized as nothing more than a task that is checked off once complete. That model will quickly be dispelled and replaced by something far more relevant and practical to organizations as emerging trends become realities.
Some experts suggest skilled labor will be among those most impacted by emerging technologies. Potentially 50% of employees – if not more – in blue collar sectors could require reskilling or upskilling in the next five years. For the reasons previously noted, supervisors will likely be among those needing the most comprehensive development plans.
The unfortunate reality is that most organizations today simply don’t have the internal resources, staffing, or experience required to meet the learning and development needs that are quickly approaching. Solution strategies will likely involve a combination of internal resources and external partners with specialized skills and experience relevant to the specific needs of the organization.
Learning and development drives capabilities and enhances efficiencies, which is valued and appreciated by employees and felt by clients. Taking this into consideration before needs are urgently pressing ensures business objectives are fully integrated into design criteria and allows an opportunity to validate outcomes involving the learner’s experience.
Change is inevitable. It’s the only means by which we can grow and improve, yet it’s genuinely difficult for most and presents a formidable challenge when it involves many. The challenges ahead are real and will require organizations to not only to be open to change, but to embrace it. Those that can will have a clear and distinct advantage over those that can’t.
Preparing your organization for the required shifts ahead is no longer something for future discussion. The transitions driving many of the changes outlined in this article are already underway and the mechanisms for integrating them to practice are now on the horizon. Preparing for tomorrow must begin today.