It has almost become a cliché to say the world of work is changing, but we are all experiencing change across many dimensions, from political and economic uncertainty, to social and technology-driven change. While these dynamics present a clear set of challenges to which every organisation has to respond, it also offers opportunities and the chance of positive change for the long term
Work can and should be a positive force for good, for individuals, organisations, economies and society. But many of the trends we see today in productivity, in utilisation of skills, in stress and wellbeing, in engagement, in inclusion and fairness, and in ethical behaviours are not pointing in the right direction. We have a collective responsibility to address and improve these for the future and ensure technology works for us in positive ways.
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine-learning, digitisation and automation are increasingly impacting what jobs, roles and opportunities people have, and there are many economic pressures driving their wider implementation. It is critical these developments are harnessed to help improve how we work, and how we utilise our human skills and capabilities. Skills such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, empathy and ethical competence should be at the heart of good work, and sustainable and successful organisations.
It’s also going to be very important that digital skills and understanding are widely developed so people aren’t left behind or excluded. Business and education will need to work more closely to help build the kinds of core skills everyone will need. They will also need to recognise, as jobs and roles will change more frequently in the future, upskilling and reskilling people through many stages of their careers are properly supported.
This may be within organisations, but increasingly will be outside traditional organisation and job structures as people move more or make choices about working as contractors, as self-employed or work in the gig economy. These are also significant challenges for government and education policy, and need a much broader debate.
As a profession, HR should be well placed to help understand and influence these many different issues, but we must engage and step up. We need to invest in building our own capabilities, to understand the changing context, to ensure we have the evidence and insights on which we base our actions and processes, and understand better the business outcomes and value drivers that are most important.
We need to help shape positive organisational change and behaviour driven by principles as much as rules, policies and regulations.
The function of HR will evolve as more automation and AI impacts many of the core processes, not just in administrative and operational activities, but also in higher-order processes, including recruitment, performance management and development, and analytics. But as with many functions and jobs, this can enable people in HR to focus more on the higher value-adding tasks, and where there is growing need and demand.
HR support is also needed for the huge and growing number of smaller businesses or SMEs, many of which aren’t big enough to have more dedicated HR or other functional support and resources. Creating better networks of support, with the channels and means to help SMEs, is a significant issue, and figures highly in thinking about productivity and regionalisation agendas.
There truly has never been a more exciting time to be in our profession, as many of the biggest debates about the future of work have people at the centre and that’s as it should be. And although the future is perhaps as uncertain as it has ever been, as has been said, the best way to predict the future is to help create it.
By Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development