Contributed By: Judah Karkowsky
Pega, a CRM and business software company, published its perspective in late 2020 on “The Future of Work”, based on a series of subject matter experts, authors, and broad qualitative interviews. Their focus? What will be the nature of work at the tail-end of the COVID era and how has it reshaped the face of the workplace for the foreseeable future.
Beginning with the impact of the changing role of technology in the workplace, their concentration on the disruption and transformation across all workspaces portends what many have predicted for over a decade.
The promise of a rise in the gig economy, the need to be physically present in an office will dwindle, and the reliance on technology as the underpinnings of across every role, level and company is a foregone conclusion.
Just as with the advent of robust steam engines kicking off the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, the decreasing cost paired with superfluous and always-on availability and connectivity of modern technology will yield increasing demand for these solutions.
What was not anticipated during this study was the significant impact of the supply chain. When access to both raw and finished goods were impacted both by border tightening, the economies in many first-world countries began to react. Paired with the shortage of labor in all parts of this chain from manufacturing to retail sales, we have the makings of a supply-and-demand challenge that has not been experienced since the gas shortages of 1973.
The most impacted skills that challenge employee suitability have been basic digital literacy and technology adeptness of the average worker ready to enter the workforce. With the gap between qualified personnel and employer demands for these skills, we have heaviness at both the top and bottom of the typical pyramid: many workers are underemployed because they cannot demonstrate their proficiency absent a formal degree, or many potential workers are unemployed because they lack the basics needed to qualify for this role.
The “squishy” middle are a group far too few for the job openings that exist. The result is an unnatural jockeying for talent that is typically early-to-mid career and unable to demand certain incentives in the past, and an employer perspective that the modern employee has a displaced sense of entitlement.
Today, the average 28-34-year-old employee can find new work with ease if they decide the work-life balance or other similar conditions are not sufficient in their current role. Many big corporations have criticized this process as destructive in the longer term for the employee as they fail to build a career that can demonstrate skills acquisition or point to their individual impact on the company’s goals and metrics.
To fix the bottom half of the pyramid, institutions at all levels must turn their focus to the demands of the workplace in a more purposeful and explicit manner. 2-year programs should emphasize (and likely require demonstrative proof of) digital literacy and at least an intermediate proficiency in currently popular business software prior to graduation.
Traditional 4-year programs should move from introducing strictly learning-based technology tools in the humanities or a purely academic emphasis on emerging technology via computer science/data science degrees by interweaving practical and pragmatic technology learning into its curricula for every major.
To fix the top half, employers need to provide critical skills learning and development that is at a quality level far higher than the current offerings at most companies of size. Aside from improving the employee’s productivity for the company, studies have shown that employees attribute their successes to the funding employer, and this increases employee loyalty and stickiness.
Finally, for all levels, with the increasing popularity of bootcamps and focused certification courses, there is still a poorly defined or broadly nonexistent set of standardization thresholds required of entities who make such training available to the public. Therefore, employers need a system to identify who is truly qualified vs. checking the box with a piece of paper.
By renewing the focus on the needs of employers at every age and stage, institutions can again begin to fill a critical need it once held across many industries: the originator of qualified candidates for the workforce. In becoming this source, institutions will fill the indispensable role that is symbiotic with the workplace.