By Ellen Kwan, Analyst
3 Unexpected Insights on Dynamic Workforce Planning
At the end of last year, Future of Work Research Consortium delegates came together for HSM’s Dynamic Workforce Planning Masterclass, which was full of insights, activities and cross-industry collaboration. Through conversations and live polling with consortium members, we have gained some new perspectives on Dynamic Workforce Planning. As it is often the case, learning was a two-way street at the Masterclass – we have also walked away with unexpected perspectives on Dynamic Workforce Planning.
Upskill and Reskill for Social Mobility
“Automation presents an interesting counterintuition in shifting people whose skills are in decline into higher paying jobs.”
While the advent of the digital revolution presents an opportunity to overcome challenges in social mobility, the same opportunities could instead be barriers to those without existing digital skills.
As noted by the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2018-19 report, “being born privileged in Britain means that you are likely to remain privileged. Being born disadvantaged, however, means that you may have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure that your children are not stuck in the same trap”. The UK’s social mobility has been reported to have remained “virtually stagnant” since 2014. This phenomenon can, in part, be attributed to the “virtuous cycle of work training and pay rises” available to high-skilled workers. While almost a third of employees in managerial and professional occupations took part in training over the past three months, only 18% in routine and manual jobs had the same opportunity. According to Dr. Lunchinskaya from the Institute for Employment Research, these findings show a vicious cycle of learning “whereby those with low or no qualifications are much less likely to access education and training after leaving school than those with high qualification.” As a result, the low-skilled are unable to upskill to meet the needs of the digital future, continuously preserving low-skilled employees at lower paid roles.
Automation presents organisations and governments with the opportunity to shape how their workforce and social landscape looks. When CEOs were asked to list the most important measures of success in 2019, the number one measure was “impact on society, including income inequality and diversity.” Rather than upskilling or reskilling employees to similar roles which would be future-proofed, organisations could play a key role in displaced employees’ social mobility by identifying roles with the most skill and task adjacencies that offer higher pay. Therefore, as automation and digitisation become an increasingly prevalent phenomenon across different types of work, organisations can either become active shapers of the social landscape, or lose part of their workforce to the increasing digital divide.
Reframe the Language of the Future
“The way we speak about the future can bring joy to encourage people to embrace those ideas of the future.”
What immediately comes to mind when you hear terms like “automation”, “Artificial Intelligence”, or “human-machine collaboration”? With thoughts of Skynet and Elon Musk’s warnings on humankind’s future enslavement to machines, it comes as no surprise that over 65% of Americans fear automation.
Consider Daniel Kahneman’s research on thinking fast and slow. While thinking fast (system 1 thinking) relies on first impressions and ‘gut-reactions’ to make decisions, thinking slow (system 2) relies on reflection and logical analysis. Our tendency to make gut-reactions first can be attributed to the fact that when we have capacity for rational information processing, we have little authority to use that information for making decisions. In the deeper part of our brain where system 1 thinking takes place (the Vagus nerve), we have no rational processing capacity, but more authority in using system 1 to make decisions. Therefore, when employees are told that technological change is coming, system 1 could already be operating before employees can consider benefits of the change. Instead, fast thinking relies on heuristics and mental biases to create conclusions about the technological change – fear and anxiety.
An example of a mental bias that fast thinking falls victim to is availability heuristic. The availability heuristic leads people to assume that information that is readily available is valid. A study in 2010 found that people who watch violent media gave higher estimates of crime in the real world than those not exposed to violent media. In the context of automation and digitisation, the barrage of media reports on job losses from automation, film adaptations of robotic overlords taking over humanity, and stories or anecdotes about others whose jobs have been displaced can cause employees to overestimate the threat of automation.
While thinking fast can lead us to conclusions of doom and gloom around automation in the future of work, organisations and leaders can work to shift emotions of fear into excitement. Research has found that certain fearful situations can activate the reward centre in the brain under specific conditions. Klucken (2009) recommends creating situations for predictable fear, rather than unanticipated fear. When we can anticipate the fearful situation, humans are able to activate the limbic system, allowing us to feel alert and excited without concern over actual threats.
In summary, when framing language of the future, leaders should ensure that their message fulfils the following three requirements:
- Widespread and readily available in a number of different formats for employees (e.g. videos, learning journeys, blog posts)
- Positive and focused on potential gains for employees
- Transparent about next steps and implications on employees’ roles
Renaissance of Work
“Let’s start calling the future of work ‘The Renaissance of Work.’”
As technological ingenuity has grown exponentially prevalent in the workplace, we now need to put a human focus back into work. With technology’s growing potential, leaders are now starting to see the role that humans can play alongside technology. From creating new jobs to manage and regulate technology (e.g. AI ethics engineers) to shifting focus from technical skills to uniquely human skills (e.g. creativity), the human focus is beginning to catch up to the digital boom.
Moving beyond human-machine collaboration, organisations will need to employ social ingenuity to truly thrive in the future of work. Demographic and societal changes, such as longer working lives and shifting family dynamics, requires organisations to reinvent the way we think about work and its role in identity and life. Organisations must begin thinking about what it means to put humans at the centre, understanding what the future landscape of work may look like, and identifying avenues to enable humans to thrive, rather than to be held a victim of the future landscape.
An example of social ingenuity needed now is the concept of retirement. Traditionally, people are recruited into an entry-level position after completing their full-time education. Throughout their careers, they climb up the promotional ladder, making occasional jumps across organisations. This eventually stops as people reach their late 50s or early 60s, as they prepare for retirement. However, as longevity increases, so does people’s desire to lengthen their working lives. While governments play a key role in mandating official retirement age, organisations play an active part in how retirement can be implemented. Too often, employees are offered a binary choice between full-time work or retirement. By doing so, organisations fail to tap into the crystalline intelligence typically held in experienced employees, which refers to the tacit knowledge of how to perform tasks. The renaissance of work calls for a mindset shift in how retirement is perceived, whether it continues to remain as a binary choice, or a flexible combination of work embedded within retirement. If the future of retirement does call for flexibility, what would it look like? These are questions that organisations should begin considering to leverage the skills and potential offered by retiring employees.
By redefining the concept of retirement, organisations can utilise the full potential of their workforce. In turn, employees can also craft the retirement lifestyle that best suits them according to their financial, emotional, and social needs.
As we reach the Renaissance of Work, leaders must put humans back at the forefront of work. Taking a human-focused lens moves beyond thinking about skills or jobs, but considers how to leverage changing human needs to craft a mutually beneficial future of work.
If you would like to find out more about Dynamic Workforce Planning, or how you can join Prof. Lynda Gratton’s Future of Work Research Consortium, get in touch with Anna.
 Kahneman, Daniel, 1934- author. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York :Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
 Riddle, Karen (2010). “Always on My Mind: Exploring How Frequent, Recent, and Vivid Television Portrayals Are Used in the Formation of Social Reality Judgments”. Media Psychology. 13 (2): 155–179.
 Klucken, T. et al 2009. “Contingency Learning in Human Fear Conditioning Involves the Ventral Striatum.” Human Brain Mapping 30:3636–3644