5 ways HR teams can future-proof the workforce for the digital revolution

Charlotte Nicol
Last updated on 3rd August 2020
3 min read

Question: will the rise of machines wipe out everyone’s job?

Answer: no.

Jobs may evolve with new technology. It’s possible some roles may no longer exist, but many new ones will be created, too.

In fact, there will be 133 million new roles created, claim Swiss think tank, World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF says advances in technology will free up employees for new duties, with predictions that we’ll see more data analysts, software developers and social media specialists, as well as roles based on ‘distinctively human traits’ such as customer service and teachers.

Right now, no one can foresee exactly which job roles and skillsets are going will continue to be required, which ones will fall by the wayside, and what the jobs of tomorrow will look like. So, for companies looking to future-proof their workforce, it’s a bit of a minefield.

However, if there’s anyone best-placed to navigate the C-suite smoothly through this bumpy terrain, it’s HR and People leaders.

Here are some key considerations that HR and People teams can be taking the lead on and discussing with senior management to start considering future-proofing the workforce for the digital revolution.

1. Understand the soft skills of the future

In a digital world, soft skills will need to become increasingly human. Creativity will become one of the top three skills workers will need in 2020, along with critical thinking and complex problem solving.

Robots may increase productivity and automate admin and straightforward tasks, but they can’t be as creative as humans. The organization of the future will require more flexibility and teams that can easily combine their expertise.

In fact, the top skills required by businesses are ones that can’t be fulfilled by technology directly: creativity, people management, emotional intelligence, negotiation and judgment.

2. Identify your digital ‘hard’ skill requirements

It’s a little trickier to identify the exact hard skills your business might require in the next few years, given that the speed of technological advancement means we don’t know what all the jobs of tomorrow are going to be.

However, there are a range of digital skills such as mobile expertise, data analytics, social media selling, multi-platform UX design, and network and information security that will become an essential part of the business toolkit – and not just for technical roles.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about combining multiple technologies to create smarter interactions, so having a workforce equipped with the knowledge and knowhow to use a range of digital applications, along with the confidence to quickly adapt to a new application is key for success.

3. Reassure your workforce that robots and humans can work in harmony

Many workers may fear change, and with the hype that surrounds technologies like AI and machine learning, it can create a sense of fear among the workforce that their time is numbered as the advent of robot workers is not far off.

Creating and sharing the company’s future-proofing digital strategy will be key to allaying such fears. Explaining how ‘human’ soft skills such as creativity and critical thinking are going to be essential to business success, should be part of the communication that HR and People teams help disseminate across the business.

4. Establish a strategy for the changing employee landscape

In parallel to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the workforce composition is also changing. Never before has the workforce consisted of five different generations.

By 2020, millennials will make up 35% of the global workforce, while generation Z will make up 24%. Both these generations have different expectations around work and careers compared with previous generations. People will also be working for longer. It’s predicted that retirement will be a thing of the past, with people over 65 choosing to continue working because they want to.

Establishing a strategy for managing a five-generation-wide workforce within the digital revolution will pay dividends. Will you need a slightly different approach to upskill and develop the different generations? Can you buddy-up a gen-Z with a baby boomer to learn new skills from each other?

Look at what your company’s core requirements are going to be and see how best you can blend the different experience levels and skillsets to meet your future digital needs.

5. Implement a culture of lifelong learning

The one constant everyone agrees on is that the workforce of tomorrow are going to need to become lifelong learners.

Businesses that offer continual development and upskilling opportunities as the digital transformation erupts, will be highly sought-after places to work.

The cost of hiring new employees versus developing existing staff and paying them more for their expanded skill set is always higher, so it’s better to focus on upskilling the current workforce.

Jennifer Wu, Vice-President of talent and operations at LEWIS Asia Pacific, believes it is HR’s role to “facilitate a learning mindset within the organisation” among employees.

Speaking to Human Resources Online, Wu says it’s vital to ensure that lifelong learning is presented in an accessible and engaging way to stimulate employee participation and uptake.

Thrive not survive

HR and People teams have the opportunity to prepare organizations and employees to be ready for the future, building the right capabilities, with the use of human talents – whilst supported by technology.

Starting conversations now with management and across departments will ensure transparency and help to alleviate any fears about human roles being displaced by robots.

Yes, the mix of roles and responsibilities will change, but key human strengths, traits and qualities will be required to ensure businesses thrive during the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What’s on the minds of 500+ HR leaders in fast-growth organizations? Download our research ‘Becoming a People Company’ to find out.


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HR Strategy Modern Workforces