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Organisations must prepare for rapid pace of change

Changing age demographics, pensions changes and technology are all radically reshaping the workplace

The pace of change for workplaces is faster than ever before, according to the Ceridian Conference 2016’s keynote panel.

The panel was chaired by the BBC’s chief political editor Laura Kuenssberg, and featured HR director, UK and Europe at Prudential Cathy Lewis, chief HR officer at WorldPay Andy Doyle, former pensions minister and now director of policy and external comms at Royal London Steve Webb, founding partner of The Global Growth Institute Wayne Clarke, and Ceridian’s chief financial officer Lois Martin.

In her keynote speech introducing the debate, Kuenssberg said that factors such as technology, demographics, legislation and the recession “whether by accident or design are changing things and changing them very fast".

She warned that to survive businesses will need to be proactive about pre-empting such change. “Things are changing on many, many fronts,” she said. “The smart businesses aren’t just listening and watching but getting ahead of that change… looking at where the next change is going to come from.”

Key trends shaping the future world of work were identified by the panel as:

Changing age demographics

When asked what one of the biggest changes would be, GGI’s Clarke cited the multigenerational workforce. “Underlying that is what people want out of work,” he said. In response to Clarke describing a call centre that only employs those under 30 out of the belief that anyone older can’t multi-task and multi-screen as well, other panellists pointed out the short-sighted nature of such an approach.

“The reality is that here in the UK we’re an ageing population and we have to get rid of this idea that young people can cope with technology and older people can’t,” said Lewis. Martin agreed: “There are not enough workers if we were to start to discriminate on age. Technology can drive everyone to a much easier way of doing a job,” she said.

Changes to pensions legislation

Strongly contributing to these changing demographics is the need for people to work longer because of pensions changes, the panel agreed. Webb and others highlighted the emergence of a much more portfolio approach to careers as a result. “The challenge is enabling people to move to something new,” he said. “People say ‘I can’t do what I do now until I’m 68'. The answer is ‘no you can’t but you need to do something'. So how do we help people sit down and think about what they might want to do next?”

Lewis said she is not worried about younger generations' awareness of the need to save for a pension and work longer, but about those expecting the same experience as the generation just above them: “I think [young] people do have an understanding that they need to work longer, they need flexible skills, and they need to build a portfolio. But we need to help people in their 30s and 40s, and some in their 50s.”

“Given the choice between a gym membership and a pension many will go for gym membership,” Doyle added of the challenges of helping employees to save. “A lot of people say ‘I want to get on the housing ladder more than I want a pension'. So there are real choices and challenges.”

The disruptive effect of technology on job descriptions

Webb highlighted the disruptive effect ever more rapid automation of jobs will have on job descriptions in the future. “The most in-demand occupations today did not exist 20 years ago,” he pointed out, citing World Economic Forum research. He added the stat that two-thirds of primary school children will eventually do a job we’ve never heard of. Webb said the emphasis for education and training should therefore be on equipping people with the skills to continually adapt and learn.

Regarding the danger of automation leading to mass unemployment of low-skilled workers, Lewis said: “It’s definitely a major issue and increasingly so… I think the move towards alternatives to university needs to be actively encouraged, otherwise we’ll see that worrying trend increasing.”