Navigating the future of work, for both employers and employees, has become a critical concern for businesses. A recent study conducted by Ceridian and Hanover Research will help industry leaders to strategize the various challenges and forces of change in the next decade.

“A combination of cultural and societal shifts is propelling organizations towards seismic and uncertain change, with technology as a central driving force,” said Ceridian’s Chief People and Culture Officer Lisa Sterling. “The perceived disruption is causing companies to proceed with caution instead of seizing the future by the reins.”

The ultimate goal of the study is to quell some of the pressing issues shaking the confidence of US decision makers on how to address the inevitable changes in the workforce that new technology will bring. The report showed that 69% of US executive-level decision makers are “very concerned” with the health of their industry over the next two years.

The biggest challenge of the 999 director-level and above professionals surveyed (71% from the US and 29% from Canada), whose companies have more than 1,000 employees, is the “rapid technological development and a shortage of skilled talent or a ‘skills gap.'” The respondents span across industries, including retail, finance, manufacturing, and healthcare verticals.

There’s no denial that tech will play a major role in future work and 50% of companies anticipate a growth in workforce to adopt the new tech. Of those surveyed, 53% plan to adopt cognitive technologies in the next two years, such as AI, machine learning, and natural language processing. So it’s not surprising that 80% of companies agree they will need more employees with tech skills.

SEE: Artificial intelligence: Trends, obstacles, and potential wins (Tech Pro Research)

Skills, and the lack thereof and the acquiring thereof are foremost in companies’ concern, and only 19% believe they are currently facing a significant skills gap, and more than 57% believe they’ll face one in the next two years. The majority (72%) identify re-skilling their existing workforce as a “high or essential priority” to combat the inevitable skills gap. To assuage this, companies plan to re-skill employees through subsidizing courses delivered outside the workplace (63%), through information social learning forums (62%), mentoring (62%) and job-shadowing programs (50%).

“Automation, machine learning, and AI have already impacted HR in a significant way, and as business leaders look to address the skills gap with urgency, the role of tech will be paramount in all areas,” Sterling said. “It’s already well known that 65% of children now entering primary school will hold jobs that don’t currently exist. We’re talking about change on a massive scale.”

When it comes to re-skilling the current workforce, the survey shows organizations are examining multiple solutions to maximize impact,” Sterling said. “The top two strategies are providing subsidies for courses and certifications outside of the workplace, and informal learning opportunities. Organizations are also using mentoring and job shadowing programs, and self-directed learning to a lesser degree. Interestingly, the top two methods weren’t the ones with which respondents were most satisfied. Respondents said they were most satisfied with the results of mentoring programs (86%) and job shadowing/hands-on learning (85%).”

Sterling added, “Developing talent to its fullest potential extends well beyond the walls of the workplace, and the onus is partly on employers to help prepare future workers from a younger age. As companies look ahead to their needs and requirements for future work, collaboration with post-secondary, vocational, and technical schools to produce these skills is paramount.”

And the change includes a vastly different looking workforce than it does in present day, “from work arrangements to skills required, 74% said re-skilling their existing workforce was top priority,” Sterling said. “We also know that most college courses haven’t updated their courses to include the technical skills that 80% of decision-makers said employees will need. Classifying employees by generations actually reinforces negative stereotypes. Many business leaders chose to tackle these generational differences by investing in diversity and inclusion programming, but Sterling says there are other strategies that may be more or equally effective that organizations should pay attention to. She says creating an inclusive culture goes far beyond addressing generational differences.

“While we can create mitigation plans or ideate how to close skill gaps, we can’t create more people who are at an age or stage of life where they are entering the workforce. What we can do is emphasize the creation of education, experience, and exposure opportunities to help close the skills gaps,” said Sterling. “Partnerships with organizations and educational entities could be a key driver in addressing skills gaps before they occur. It requires a significant rethinking by HR.”

Sterling added, “We have an untapped market opportunity to build partnerships with high schools and universities. If leveraged, we can provide education that assists future workers in determining potential career paths and the necessary skills to success, and provide insight into our organizational needs. If you’re not leveraging these institutions, you’re missing a key element of a successful talent identification and acquisition strategy.”

The future: robot team working in the office, but it will still be human powered, too.
Kinwun, Getty Images/iStockphoto