· 3 min read · Features

Understanding the workforce of the future


We seem to be paranoid about how we attract, engage and retain the Millennials, Generation Z's and whatever buzz names we want for those dates of birth that come after the demise of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

I don’t think HR teams have got their head around this challenge and therefore we are probably failing in our ability to challenge and drive the thinking, insights and actions of our colleagues.

Now when we talk of the workforce of the future we immediately jump to the idea that it’s all about providing stimulating work for those Generation Z's and Millennials who are about to rock our worlds. These are people who were born in the 80s through to the early 2000s.

The workforce of the future is going to be much more of a blend of age, skills, desires and values than we ever dreamed of.Think of it as the workplace equivalent of the Sunday League football team!

There are, according to the experts, six megatrends working as forces of change. These will shape the environment in which we work, where we work, what we do and how we do it. There will be some fantastic new roles in the future.

  • Globalisation 2.0 – the shift from mature Western markets to emerging economies. Driving global opportunities and talent pools and offering fantastic choices for global collaboration.
  • The environmental crisis – raw materials are getting scarcer and we will have more uncertainty, increasing costs of travel, and less confidence in those organisations that sit on listed markets and have always been seen as stable.
  • Demographic change – populations and workforces are changing and ageing, and offering different opportunities for talent – for both buyers and sellers of skills. Yesterday’s 'geeks' are today’s superstars.
  • Individualism – greater freedom of choice or at least expectation of freedom changes loyalty and build diversity of talent pools.
  • Digitisation – we can work remotely meaning workplaces are more varied and dynamic. (But let’s beware of what I call ‘mobesity’ where mobile devices actually slow down discussions and walking. Ever been stuck behind someone who is consuming Facebook with the passion of others consuming doughnuts? That’s mobesity at its basic level!)
  • Technological convergence – technological streams in nano, bio, information and cognitive sciences are coming together.

They will all impact the what, where, how, when and why of work. Let’s return to the Sunday League football team analogy  and the types of people who will be our colleagues in the future.

I believe we will have in our work teams:

  • Talented newcomers who bring great skill, pace, enthusiasm and new ideas. They need to be mentored to build resilience and guile but very quickly rise to be stars.
  • The experienced ones. They might not want to play a full game but when they do they bring experience, can shed light on why some things work or don’t work and help bring on the talented newcomers.
  • The cynic – every team needs one or two of these. They offer challenge, reality and opportunity. Once onside they are advocates, coaches and will run and run to attain the goal.
  • The students. They join for a few weeks or months, they may stay or move on. They bring knowledge and experience from other teams and places and provide insights into differing styles and opportunities. Some stay and become key players while others are valuable alumni.
  • The bag person. They don’t play (or only when we’re really short) and do all the tasks that no-one else will do. They are the completer/finisher and make sure we get through the season.
  • The coach. They need to build engagement and make sure everyone wants to play to the best of their ability. They must ensure that the team and players are agile in mindset, skill and deliverables. They must give immediate feedback on performance, but this won’t be just down to them – they will encourage peer feedback.

Our challenge and opportunity in HR is to help our colleagues find the best team for the opportunity in hand. It is not about building a single weapon of war or believing we have the game won because we can tick boxes.

Let’s be brave, challenge concepts and bland arguments and build the teams that help our organisations address their particular opportunities within the megatrends I set out earlier. If this doesn’t excite you then perhaps it’s time you went back to working in ‘Time and Motion'...

John Evans is group HR director of FirstGroup. He was voted one of the most influential HR practitioners for the transport sector in 2014's HR Most Influential rankings