A new day is born, and the question is still buzzing in the mind of many: what will the future of our societies be, and how will work be organized in a post–pandemic world? Many try to provide interpretations, maybe dreaming of a world where we will enjoy joining a team meeting while looking down to the valley from an alpine chalet.
The truth is that it is difficult to predict what the future ahead holds, as the context is still evolving very fast. Will the pandemic be one of many to come or “just” a temporary shock that will disrupt the way we used to live before?
Without going down the “rabbit hole” (which seems to be quite busy at the moment), we could try to take a picture of the reality we are living in today. We will notice that some changes are already happening and are meant to stay:
- Unquestionably, to some degree, working from home is meant to stay, as this working arrangement is providing benefits to people and corporations.
- The current crisis has accelerated the shift of human interaction online, imposing corporations to digitize processes and create digital environments where we can exchange value with customers or prospects.
- Therefore, the skills to perform our jobs will need to evolve as well, not only to beat the competition but to stay relevant.
In such a context, strategic workforce planning is gaining momentum in many organizations and it is undoubtedly the best support the HR department can provide to business:
- HR can define multiple scenarios, together with Strategy and Finance, in terms of business model evolution, adoption of technology, and facilitate the strategic workforce planning discussion to come up with one single vision.
- HR needs to secure space in the business agenda for the strategic discussion about future jobs and skills, demonstrating the impact on the business results.
- HR needs to put in place practices that constantly assess the evolution of the labor market, across geographies and industries, to spot skills “in demand” and “emerging” to feed the strategic discussion with meaningful insights.
- HR needs to be more selective than ever, focusing on the 20% of jobs and skills that are delivering 80% of the business promise.
- HR needs to define a “build, buy, borrow” workforce plan to secure pivotal jobs and skills.
Why is scenario modeling important?
In a highly volatile context, HR can contribute to establishing a “safe place” where businesses can discuss multiple strategic workforce planning scenarios about the evolution of the organization, align around a common vision, and outline workforce assumptions.
Whereas in the past the ambition in planning was to be as exhaustive as possible, covering the whole value chain, in a fast changing world it is important to focus on those professional families that more than others are delivering most of the business promise.
For example, we have all learned that the pandemic has brought fundamental changes to consumer behavior, be it is the shift to digital/remote interactions with the customers or the emergence of new consumer needs.
Will this translate to a boost in terms of technology adoption, leverage data to segment customers and run focused and customized marketing campaigns, grow alternative business models through M&A or partnerships to address new segments? Assuming this is the case, shouldn’t we focus on product development, marketing, data science, IT and start investigating the key skills to leapfrog to the next few chapters of industry evolution?
Among other big trends which the current pandemic has contributed to accelerating, we can find a larger adoption of the non-permanent workforce and a deep re-think of the current geographical footprint:
- Professionals with emerging skills may opt to contract with multiple corporations as this is more rewarding than being tied to a single organization. At the same time, these professionals may be exposed to much less innovation, which is what makes these skills distinctive.
- Remote work can allow organizations to harness skills in demand without geographical limitations.
- The insourcing or nearshoring of parts of the value chain, which are critical to the continuity of our business, mitigating risks in case of new disruptions.
- Deploy temporary workforce to cope with future changes in volume.
Knowing that this list is not meant to be exhaustive, it seems clear that HR must broaden its view to other workforce types if it wants to fulfill its mission which is providing the best skills for the organization to succeed.
Why external and internal data will make the reflection more factual?
Undeniably, what makes the reflection about the future workforce less conceptual and more factual is data. This is the card HR can play to engage a credible and informed conversation with the business and outline workforce assumptions which are the foundation of actionable workforce plans.
If past workforce planning exercises relied mostly on internal data, allowing organizations to model future supply building on historical demographic data and to simulate demand evolution, today competitive intelligence solutions allow to predict “in demand” and “emerging” jobs and skills, starting from real market data.
This has been possible with the advancement of technology where machines are scraping the Internet 24/7, accessing millions of job vacancies, providing existing supply in the market, period-to-period evolution, hard-to-fill jobs and skills, and much more.
External data can be a powerful asset to feed scenario modeling, to shortlist the professional families to focus on by looking at more mature industries, to make the existing jobs and skills taxonomy future-proof, and to identify reskilling and upskilling pathways.
Riccardo Ruocco – Group Head of Workforce Strategy AXA