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Perspective: 7 major trends and challenges

Seven major trends and challenges point to how the HR profession will have to adjust to the changing nature of work and the workplace.

In 2010, AHRI published a white paper on the future of work, ‘people@work/2020’. The latest contribution to this theme is ‘Evolution of Work and the Worker’, a research study the Society for Human Resources Management Foundation in the US commissioned from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Both studies cover similar drivers in the modern workforce that are shaping the conditions under which the HR profession needs to undertake its role. Putting these two studies together provides seven major trends:

1. Globalisation

Global competition is the new norm, with employers and employees seeing themselves as global players in product and HR markets. The Australian Financial Review competes every day online with the UK’s Financial Times, all because consumers are flexing their purchasing muscle. Similarly, Apple and Google are recruiting Aussie talent with the promise of an engaging career in California.

2. Demographic changes

Demographic shifts are constantly changing workforce patterns. The most prominent aspect is the ageing population, which raises two concerns: the potential loss of organisational memory and intellectual property when ageing workers retire; and the subsequent demand for post-retirement incomes/pensions, and public health and welfare services. The other demographic pattern of concern is the emergence of a new younger ‘lost generation’ – those neither in education nor employment, and for whom prospects appear quite dismal.

3. Technological changes on the employment market

The structure of the workforce is changing too. The power of IT is causing a permanent loss of jobs in the middle tier and at first-job entry level. Also experiencing hardship are those with narrow industry-specific skills that are becoming outmoded, such as automotive workers, and the future re-education burden will be heavy.

4. Technological changes on how work is undertaken

Technological innovations provide both threats and opportunities. Fewer people need to work in a central office location, and are instead able to do their jobs remotely. On the other hand, these trends are increasing workplace diversity through the growth of a multigenerational, flexibly skilled, cross-cultural workforce, which is requiring more sophisticated people management practices.

5. Education

While education responses are common solutions to demographic challenges, the traditional educational sector is becoming a workplace challenge in itself. Business practitioners are finding the divide between acquired formal professional qualifications and workplace learning needs is getting wider. Plus, the quality of tertiary and technical qualifications varies enormously across institutional providers.

6. Smart work

Smart work in the services sector is now dominating employment growth patterns. The momentum of this is being met by relative reductions for labour required in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, and the social and political resistance to this is finally crumbling.

7. Income distribution

Not all our global changes are simple net positives. Many connote serious tensions. Society’s standards for greater equity are intensifying demands for better income distribution and benefit sharing between wages and profits, and to even out regional growth disparities within Australia and internationally.

What do these challenges mean for our profession? That will be the subject of next month’s Perspective column.

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the November 2014 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Eyes to the future’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.

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Joseph Sanders
Joseph Sanders

Excellent paper which merits early response and action from decision makers,in concert,not in isolation.If we are to maintain a stable democratic society.Two of the issues raised loom large in my mind,firstly the need to grasp the reality that wealth is being created using fewer and fewer people.This is a direct challenge to wealth distribution.The notion that to enjoy a rewarding life one must be a member of the workforce is clearly untenable,or trending that way. Secondly,the widening gap between the educational experiences available and what is useful to the world of work is a priority if this transitional process is… Read more »

David Sloan
David Sloan

A really interesting summary of the trends Peter. National Seniors Australia has been working on the area of age management practices and developed an online Age Management Toolkit which can be downloaded here: The National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre’s Age Management Toolkit is designed for each employer to tailor the best age management initiatives according to an organisation’s individual strategic goals, its size and age profile. As there are many and significant differences within and between organisations, employers, employees and across various sectors, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. The toolkit comprises evidence-based information, resources, guidelines and good practice examples… Read more »

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