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How will we work in 2030?

International Careers |

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Megatrends such as digitization, the rise of automation, and shifting demographics are disrupting the way we work, and the way companies relate to workers.

Workforce experts Jeff Hesse and Scott Olsen from PwC have spent some time envisioning four alternative future worlds of work, each named with a colour. As extreme as these examples of what work could look like in 2030 may be, they are shaped by the ways people and organisations respond to the forces of collectivism and individualism, on one axis, and integration and fragmentation on the other. The logic behind each world holds significant implications for those in charge of hiring and developing staff, suggest the authors.

The Red World

In the Red World, in which individualism and fragmentation reign, small is powerful. Technology allows tiny businesses to tap into the vast reservoirs of information, skills, and financing that were formerly available only to large organisations.

People strategy. HR no longer exists as a separate function, and entrepreneurial leaders rely on outsourced services and automation for people processes. Full-time “permanent” employment is only around 10 percent of the workforce.

Workers. Amid ferocious competition for talent, those with in-demand skills command the highest rewards (far more so than they do today).

The Blue World

In the Blue World, an individualised and integrated world, global corporations take centre stage, becoming larger, more powerful, and more influential than ever — some even have more sway than nation states.

People strategy. The science of human capital has advanced significantly to the point where the chief people officer, sometimes known as the head of people and productivity, has a sophisticated understanding of the connection between technology and performance. Top talent is fiercely fought over, like the sports stars of today.

Workers. Companies prize a small group of “super-workers”. As most people struggle for temporary work, a corporate career separates the “haves” from the “have-nots”. Workers consent to have their data, health, and performance monitored obsessively, often in real time. Those who thrive under the relentless pressure to perform will reap excellent rewards, as will in-demand contract workers with specialized skills.

The Green World

The Green World — collective and integrated — is driven by the need for a powerful social conscience. Reacting to public opinion, increasingly scarce natural resources, and stringent international regulations, companies push a strong ethical and ecological agenda.

People strategy. The CEO drives the people strategy for the organisation, because the people in the organisation, their behaviours, and their role in society have a direct link to the organisation’s success or failure. HR — renamed “People and Society” — takes on a new role as guardian of the brand, and assumes marketing, corporate social responsibility, and data analytics functions.

Workers. Employees, no less than corporations, are held to high ethical standards. Workers understand that their conduct and ethics are taken seriously and that performance is assessed against a wide range of measures, including how efficiently workers manage their travel and resources.

The Yellow World

In the Yellow World — in which collectivist impulses thrive in a fragmented world — workers and companies seek out greater meaning and relevance. Humanness is highly valued. Workers find flexibility, autonomy, and fulfilment, working for organisations with strong social and ethical records. There’s a strong desire to contribute to the common good.

People strategy. The traditional core functions of HR are held by business leaders, the collective, or taken on by new worker guilds. The concept of fair pay predominates. Conflicts between technology and automation, on the one hand, and humanness and individuality, on the other, will usually be resolved in favour of the latter.

Workers. Workers feel the strongest loyalty not to their employer, but to other people with the same skills or cause. This is the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of new worker guilds — far more powerful than today’s unions — that develop in order to protect, support, and connect independent workers, and often provide training and other benefits that have traditionally been supplied by employers. Guilds assume responsibility for members’ well-being, pensions, training, and even their university educations.

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