Turbulent times in the employment world

At a-connect’s ‘Future of Work’ event held in Zurich last month, leading experts, business executives and independent professionals (IPs) came together to share their experiences, challenges and vision for today’s fast-changing employment world.

Across the board, it was agreed that the employment world is evolving rapidly, as the lifetime model has been broken and the global pool of freelancing professionals is now seizing the employment opportunities that have been created by new technology and global connectivity. It is also expected that for many employers, jobs will increasingly be split into ever-smaller tasks executed in a project-type manner during a work life.

The future of work is here already

At the event, Bob Johansen from the Institute for the Future forecasted that the next 10 years would be the most disruptive in the employment world, driven by the ‘digital natives’ who will step-change the demographic trends we have experienced in recent decades. The upcoming generation has grown up with ubiquitous technological connectivity through mobile phones, computers, the Internet, video games, and social media. This new multimedia attentiveness leads to “continuous partial attention,” with digital natives tending to divide their attention among multiple bits of incoming information. This tendency towards multitasking is subsequently expected to impact how the up-and-coming generation views and undertakes employment.

When considering the working world of tomorrow, exciting questions arise: what kinds of interactions will be necessary to foster the success of future decision-makers? What kind of world will digital natives create?

Clearly, the future employment world will provide more flexibility and more ways to make a living. However, it will also have fewer traditional jobs and less intrinsic job security. Johansen emphasised the need to get the “human factors” right, against the backdrop of accelerating technology. He sees a window of opportunity for developing a new generation of positive employment platforms. He subsequently believes that this will make it possible to re-imagine workforces in large corporations by coordinating individual freelancing in an increasingly mobile world.

From ‘build and buy’ to ‘borrow’

Speaking at the event, Professor Peter Capelli from Wharton highlighted the declining relevance of developing talent internally (‘build’) or recruiting from the outside (‘buy’), contrasting it with ‘borrowing’ talent just in time, reducing uncertainty, and paying a bigger premium for unique skills. He characterised this change as “non-stop”.

The personal priorities of new hires reflect the need for flexibility and lifelong learning in future employment models. This change is more challenging for large corporations that rely on the return on investment of long-term career development, where optimum value for the company is traditionally based on many years of retention. Looking to the future, their ‘talent supply chain’ will need to achieve a balance of buying, building, and borrowing.

Such a talent development approach was supported by Capelli’s insights, gathered from a survey of a-connect’s global pool of IPs. For the IPs, becoming independent is a choice, allowing for more flexible work hours and continuous access to exciting work. Compared to employees as well as traditional management consultants, IPs deliver a greater impact by drawing on their own knowledge and experience, and by developing personal relationships with their large corporate clients. This means they are well equipped to meet the needs of multiple projects in various business environments.

A breakthrough for connecting companies with global talent

The event’s panel discussion between human resource leaders from Crédit Suisse and Syngenta and a-connect IPs illustrates the difficulties of matching rapidly evolving skill and leadership requirements in large corporations with the right talent from a global cohort of freelancers. All panelists agreed on the urgency of flexible recruitment processes in which freelancing professionals are ‘borrowed’ for projects and work assignments that are fast-moving and continually changing.

Nevertheless, large corporations struggle with sourcing and selecting freelancers from the skill profiles available in the freelancing world. The panel clearly identified a growing role for enterprises like a-connect to catalyse the matchmaking between corporate needs and freelancing capabilities.

Fluid talent enabling corporate differentiation

The ‘Future of Work’ event highlighted various ways of shifting to a talent-oriented corporate model that operates with highly competitive efficiency. The flexibility of said model and its ability to rapidly adapt a company’s overall skill profile, not by hiring and firing but by borrowing exactly the talent needed for the tasks at hand, allows companies to quickly adapt strategies in a fast-changing environment. Ultimately, it’s about achieving the best possible time to market in a business world where the rewards go to the swift.