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The Changing Nature of Work: Implications for Talent Development Executives

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In 2013, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) was commissioned by the SHRM Foundation to help launch a multi-phase program to identify and analyze critical global trends likely to affect the workplace over the next five to 10 years. The resulting report, What's Next: Future Global HR Trends, released earlier this year, details the changing nature of work and the worker around the globe. 

To conduct the study EIU surveyed 500+ global CEOs and C-Suite executives (60 percent outside the United States) and 100+ top HR executives from Fortune 500 companies. EIU also gathered input from the SHRM Foundation Thought Leadership Committee, SHRM Research Advisory Council (RAC), HR Academic Research Centers, and EIU and SHRM Foundation Research Teams. Finally, EIU held two expert peer panels in New York and Washington, D.C., which discussed and analyzed possible themes and research needs.

Here’s a look at key findings that will have major implications for talent development executives in the coming years. 

Burgeoning workplace diversity requires sophisticated managerial response 

Diversity is on the rise throughout the organizational world, not just along gender, generational, and cultural lines, but in working arrangements with employees. Longer life spans are likely to result in employees staying in the workplace until a later age. Meanwhile, expert opinion and workplace surveys continue to show that Millennials, the cohort of employees who have entered the workplace in recent years, are restless and difficult to retain. 

Also, women are poised to enter the workplace in the developing world in vast numbers, posing disparate challenges for companies that have to date failed to find a way to utilize female potential fully. And a substantial proportion of these women will form a part of a growing army of temporary and part-time workers, many of whom are not physically present in the workplace.

This surge in workplace diversity will necessitate a multi-layered, carefully thought out, managerial approach as companies strive to get the most out of their people in a highly competitive environment. 

Disconnect between educational standards and organizational demand 

Educational authorities are battling to remold their systems according to the needs of the modern economy. The expansion in tertiary education in the developing world is rapid. China and India alone will account for 40 percent of young people with a tertiary education in all G20 and OECD countries by the year 2020. However, doubts persist about the quality of graduates. 


Technical and engineering skills, and the soft skills that facilitate integration into the workforce, are both deemed in short supply. Major companies are turning to rigorous internal training systems to bridge the gap between education and the demands of the modern workplace. Governments, meanwhile, are moving to relax immigration requirements for the highly skilled. 

Technology transforms workforce composition and culture 

The proliferation of communication technology is slowly diminishing the proportion of employees who work from a central company location. Remote working is on the rise, particularly in the developing world, enabling companies to access a deeper pool of available labor. Technology also allows companies to maintain contact with clients in distant lands, permitting the global expansion they crave.

However, the technology-dependent cross-border teams that now permeate major companies throw up wholly new and complex managerial challenges, such as how to exploit cultural differences for maximum economic advantage, while avoiding potential discord and conflict.

Inequality on the rise as technology decimates the mid-skilled tier

Technological advances have also automated many routine tasks formerly performed by mid-skilled workers. At the same time, companies bemoan a shortage of highly skilled workers in certain positions, such as technical workers and the senior executives entrusted with corporate decision-making. With automation of jobs set to expand further as technology advances, and a persistent skills deficit for specialized jobs, inequality is likely to increase, raising widespread concerns about social and political stability.

To learn more, access the full report at http://futurehrtrends.eiu.com.

Editor’s note: Details of the key findings are quoted from the Executive Summary for What's Next: Future Global HR Trends.


About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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