By: Kayla Bell on May 21st, 2024

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Building a Future-Ready Workforce: Trends and Strategies

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The past five years have seen an unprecedented series of shocks to the way we work. We've seen a sudden switch to remote and hybrid working—followed by an even faster return to the office. Employees have been Quiet Quitting and joining the Great Resignation, while many employers have conducted large-scale layoffs.  

And now, high-tech innovations like generative AI are creating even more uncertainty. Everyone is concerned about what artificial intelligence means for their jobs, with even 49% of CEOs saying that AI could replace them in the C-Suite.

All of these changes raise a number of questions for leaders. How should you approach your hiring strategy? Where should you invest in training and development? And how do you build a future-ready workforce?

Before we answer those questions, let’s outline the main concerns affecting your human capital strategy.

The biggest challenges in building a future-ready workforce

Every company needs to hire people with the right skills to support their strategy. Often, this involves competing with other companies for a limited supply of talent. On top of these challenges, there are some additional pressures, including:

  • Changing technology: Much of the current uncertainty involves generative AI. Currently, around 55% of companies are already using some AI tools in their workflow, but these tools are still in the emergent phase. The true impact of AI remains to be seen.
  • Changing employee expectations: The Great Resignation is still ongoing, with 58% of employees now saying that they are actively looking for new roles. Much of this is related to changing employee expectations about things like professional development, work-life balance, and remote work.
  • Business resilience: Companies have endured a number of shocks in recent years, from supply chain issues to inflation and interest rate hikes. Such events have emphasised the importance of building financial resilient companies that can weather any storm. In practice, this means that employers are reviewing their hiring practices, salary structures, and investment in professional development.
  • Organizational commitments: Businesses are also under growing pressure to meet certain targets, including DEI goals and ESG commitments. These goals can impact on human capital strategy, as the company may need to invest in diverse hiring and professional development programs.

All of this means that HR leaders and hiring managers are walking a tightrope, trying to find the perfect balance in their human capital strategy. It's hard, and harder still when the future is so uncertain. 

What is a future-ready workforce?

Right now, many teams are dealing with skills gaps in areas like Artificial Intelligence. However, many businesses aren’t even sure what skills are required. Does your company need prompt engineers? Data analysts? Or do you need people who can use an AI chatbot as part of their workflow?

Building a future-ready workforce isn’t necessarily about any one particular. Instead, it involves rethinking the way you organize your team. A team of the future will have the following qualities:

Flexibility: A mix of working patterns

Recent years have seen a growing debate about working patterns. Remote or in-office? Flexible hours or a fixed schedule? Full-time, contract, or gig workers?

The correct answer might be: all of the above. Each of these working patterns has its pros and cons. For example, in-office workers are better at collaboration, but remote working allows you to access a broader talent pool.

Being flexible with working patterns allows you to build a flexible team that can adapt to changing needs. That’s why it’s important for HR leaders to look at all possible options when building a team.

Modularity: Skills that transfer between roles

Traditionally, organizations have categorized people according to static job roles. An employee might be classified as an accountant, a software developer, or a salesperson, and that employee couldn’t move between roles without significant retraining.

The workforce of the future might require more of a skills-based approach to categorization. For example, an employee in the IT department might be skilled in data analytics. They could potentially use that skill to deliver results in another role, such as marketing or compliance.

This modular skills approach might be even more important in a world of AI. Potentially, AI could act as a kind of partner or copilot for human employees, making it easier for the person to manage sudden changes in their day-to-day processes.

Continuous learning: A day-to-day focus on development

Upskilling is one of the best ways to future-proof your current team. It’s also one of the cheapest ways to fill a skills gap—46% of companies say that upskilling delivers a clear cost saving when compared to equivalent recruitment.

But in a fast-paced world, it’s hard to know where to focus on professional development. The solution might be to move towards a continuous learning model in which employees are developing new skills every day. The simplest way to achieve this is to give employees new tasks, such as working with AI, and support them as they learn how to tackle the challenge. 

A continuous learning approach can involve a lot of support from managers and colleagues. It might also require you to bring in contractors who can lend their skills and help to educate the current team.

Humanity: An appreciation of what AI can’t do

Technology is exciting, but it’s more important than ever to focus on the human touch. After all, every other company will have access to the same AI tools as you, but none of them will have access to your people.

AI tools will, hopefully, remove some of the repetitive work that fills up much of our day-to-day routines. Instead, people will be free to think creatively, plan strategically, and communicate empathically. A future-ready team will be able to see opportunities before anyone else, and help your company navigate through unexpected challenges.

A positive culture is essential here. It’s important that your team feel valued and that they’re comfortable sharing their opinions. A supportive culture will nurture the most valuable human qualities.

5 tips for building a future-ready workforce

Now that we’ve got some idea of what lies ahead, what should you actually do next? Here are five practical tips that you can put into practice today:

1. Gather data on current roles and responsibilities

It’s essential to know who is doing what—and why. Gather data on each employee’s day-to-day activities and start mapping out what can be automated or outsourced. Identify the most crucial, value-delivering responsibilities of each role.

2. Create a culture of continuous learning

Continuous learning doesn’t need a huge up-front investment. Speak to your leaders and ask them to help set stretch goals that allow team members to develop new skills. Make sure that this is supported with necessary resources, such as mentors and access to training materials.

3. Focus on digital enablement

New technology doesn’t have to result in another wave of digital transformation. Your company can instead focus on digital enablement—using technology in a targeted way to help people deliver a specific outcome, such as reducing time spent on a particular task. If you have data on current roles, you can use this information to focus on some on current pain points.

4. Audit your organizational culture

A fast-moving, future-ready team requires a culture that’s trusting and supportive. Take some time to assess your current culture by using surveys and individual interviews. If your culture isn’t right, engage with the leadership team to drive new cultural initiatives.

5. Listen to feedback

Employees can tell you what you need to know about your current strategy. They'll offer detailed feedback on the usefulness of new software, as well as detailed insights into the customer experience. Use surveys, one-to-ones and focus groups to gather timely employee feedback.  

Which future world of work will you belong to?

Leaders face a great deal of uncertainty right now. It's hard to know exactly where to invest, where to recruit, and where to look for efficiencies. 

It's easier when you've got the right help. Helios HR can help you develop a human capital strategy that will deliver your long-term goals—no matter what the future holds. 

Book a call with a Helios HR consultant and let's talk about the future of your team

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