Notes on the New Normal #6 – Back to the future of work - World Employment Confederation bool(false)

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Notes on the New Normal #6 – Back to the future of work

BLOG – The focus for the global HR services sector may have been on immediate pandemic-related challenges over recent months, but the latest round industry insight and external events have been infused with a more forward-focused vibe. We’re going back to the future of work! So, where can the global HR services sector add the most value and make the most impact?

Published on 11th December 2020

“I never think of the future; It comes soon enough”. I think Albert Einstein said that. It was certainly a globally renowned thought-leader.… might have been Bettina. The focus for the global HR services sector may have been on immediate pandemic-related challenges over recent months, but the latest round of industry insights and external events have been infused with a more forward-focused vibe. We’re going back to the future of work!

So what’s been going down? Speaking on a recent International Labour Organisation (ILO) webinar Allen Blue, co-founder of LinkedIn, made a strong case for “ensuring that technology tailwinds result in new opportunities being spread across wider society”. The accelerated adoption of automation and AI on the back of COVID-19 is something Professor David Autor, Associate Head MIT Department of Economics, has labelled as ‘automation-forcing’. Meanwhile, over in the UK (in a brief Brexit-meltdown interlude) the parliamentary group on the Future of Work was in full swing. Giving evidence to the latest session, Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director of the World Economic Forums’ Centre for New Economy and Society, flagged four priority areas: “We need a long-term focus on education policy, social protection and regulatory frameworks that reflect the 21st century world of work; the immediate priority is retraining and reskilling”.

Driving inclusion, transitions and reskilling and the impact of technology on business models, have also featured prominently in our latest round of interviews with WEC members as part of the ongoing Alliance Taskforce project. These conversations have also acted as a reminder that national federations and WEC corporate members have driven future-focused thought-leadership programmes for a number of years. But, the future of work is a busy place; thinks tanks, academics, global consultancies, business organisations, policy makers, NGOs and international institutions are all in the groove and jostling for position. It’s as hectic as the dance-floor at a World Employment Conference gala evening (we’ll get back there someday!). So it’s a good time to take a breath and reflect on where the global HR services sector can add the most value and make the most impact. Here are some of the specific areas flagged by national federations, industry leaders and by external organisations:

  • Unique data – The ability of HR services providers and national federations to generate timely and practical data to inform government actions has been an important feature during the crisis. This will also play a pivotal role in influencing public policy, public opinion and business practices linked to the future of work and emerging workforce challenges.
  • Trust and vision – Automation and AI were hot topics pre-pandemic; the speed of change could accelerate in the new normal. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that 83% of workers across the world are worried about job loss due to automation, with nearly two in three feel the pace of technological change is too fast. We need to ensure that these concerns are understood and addressed. Painting a vision for a future of work that inspires hope and trust rather than concern and fear must be a shared goal.
  • Cutting through the ‘wall of sound’ – With so many organisations and individuals driving activities around the future of work, national federations and WEC corporate members have a key curation and filtering role to play; they can help businesses and policy makers make sense of the ‘wall of sound’. The HR services sector can provide a practical, ground-level analysis to inform some of the high-level policy debates.
  • Peer-to-peer exchanges – No one has definitive answers on what the future holds and on what potential developments might mean for jobs and the world of work. So, there is real benefit to be gained from the peer-to-peer exchanges and through the access to experts that the national federations and the wider industry can facilitate. The sector can continue to stir the great melting-pot of ideas and innovations in areas like harnessing technology, new working patterns, evolving employee expectations and future skills needs.
  • Identifying what works – ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’ This often-used quote is an apt summary of a further way that the HR services sector can add value to the future-focused debate: by trialing new approaches and drawing conclusions in terms of what works and can be replicated and scaled up.

ILO Director General Guy Ryder concluded the latest ILO Talks webinar on the future of work with a punchy four-word wrap-up: “Agency, inclusion, equality and sustainability”. There is certainly buy-in for ensuring that no-one is left behind, that opportunities are spread more fairly and that environmental responsibilities are met. The first of Mr Ryder’s four-word flourish is one that will resonate with the global HR services sector. Agency is about entity – as in employment agency or staffing agency – but it is also powerful word that signals intent and proactive mindset. This was a point RCSA CEO and WEC Vice-President Charles Cameron waxed lyrical about on our recent World Views on the World of Work podcast. In Guy Ryder’s recent remarks, ‘having agency’ was about seizing the initiative and creating the kind of future we want to live and work in. The global HR services sector is up for that! Taking a lead on the future of work will be an integral part of the great repositioning.

This post is part of a series where we explore the key themes that emerged from the conversations with national federations and corporate leaders within the Alliance Task Force. The series is signed by Tom Hadley, an external advocacy and campaigns consultant and former Director of Policy & Campaigns at the REC, the professional body for the UK’s recruitment and employment industry. He is currently leading the World Employment Confederation’s ‘Alliance Task-force’ project.

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