The Future Challenges Facing HR

Today’s workforce requires agility. Operating in VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity comes as the norm with organisations navigating this terrain on a daily basis. Businesses must get comfortable with being uncomfortable, to not only thrive, but survive.

“What’s next?” is a difficult question to answer. One thing is certain – the significance of shifting demographics in the world must be acknowledged, and will play a big part in the future of HR and learning.

By 2050, developed countries will have twice as many old people as young ones. Population is declining is many countries, particularly Eastern Europe and East Asia. Economists estimate that China’s elderly population will increase 60% by 2020, even as the working-age population decreases by nearly 35%. 54% of the young in the UK currently have a graduate degree and yet 50% of these are in jobs not requiring graduate skills.

In short, there are not enough people, and those we have are living longer. We are starting to see a job and skills mismatch at both ends of the workforce, for graduates coming in and mature workers who no longer match the role they are in.

University graduates entering a workforce over qualified feel under paid and under-utilized. They feel they are not being valued for what they can bring to the workplace.

Gen Y and beyond are socially aware and socially responsible – they want more than money from a role. Meaning and purpose is important to them, so it should be important to employers as well. Many organizations are finding it hard to make this shift.

An example can be seen in the world of manufacturing. Increased automation has significantly changed the role of the factory worker. Employees are now often left with no room to make decisions or take ownership of their role, resulting in limited meaning and purpose in their work. If they need to behave like robots, use robots! Deploy the thinking, feeling, multidimensional people into roles where they can use the skills and knowledge they have. If they don’t have the skills and knowledge required for these future roles now, help them learn and change.

Just two years from now there will be four demographic brackets in the work place; baby boomers, GenX, GenY, and GenZ. Managing or leading them in the same way is a recipe for disaster.

There is an opportunity for HR to identify what the right jobs are, and optimise the job for the person so that individuals can be meaningfully employed. The same applies at the opposite end of the employment curve – we have an ageing workforce working for longer and longer, sometimes in roles that they are no longer physically able to complete. Companies need to find ways to enable these people to keep working, perhaps in other roles or by adapting the current role. Failing to recognize this leads not only to a disengaged workforce but companies open to multiple compensation claims. An ageing workforce needs to be actively engaged in the problem through education and skills training.

“One size fits all” for learning no longer works. However, learning plays an important role in the changing demographics of the workforce.

The good news is that companies can use this shift to help them re-think learning initiatives. Peter Cheese, CEO of the UK’s CIPD, HR and Learning teams must ‘Train for Behaviors’ in every way.

It’s important to move beyond the old paradigm of learning, be specific about the behaviors needed in the business that will support strategic initiatives and the changing demographics in the workforce.

Design learning for the audience and the behavioural outcomes that the organization wants or needs. This cannot be done by simply thinking what participants need to know – but by creating real clarity for each individual as to what they can be doing differently back in the workplace. Working at an individual level is not only possible – it is essential. Everyone is unique in their experience, motivation, ability to learn and ability to implement. Design a process that reflects this.

When up skilling mature workers – remind them how to learn, help them change by holding them accountable to themselves for the changes they believe in and can nominate. For incoming generations show them ways they can contribute and create meaning through learning and diversity rather than promotion.

The future paradigm sees learning and HR at the heart of change initiatives, role development and people development. It is way beyond a hub for co-ordinating out dated systems of performance reviews and serving an administration function.

Learning is not only involved in the strategy, smart CEOs know it is the strategy for the future.

Author: Emma Weber

Emma Weber is the founder of Lever – Transfer of Learning and developer of the Turning Learning into Action™ (TLA) methodology. Emma’s firm belief and the platform on which she has built her successful global business is that the key aim of learning in the workplace is to create tangible business benefits. She established Lever to help organisations and their employees convert learning into effective action back on the job. Under her guidance, Lever now delivers TLA programs throughout 20 countries and in 12 languages.

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