The Workforce for a Digital Future

Authors: Martin Roets and Robert Churcher

The world is changing rapidly, accelerated by the emergence and adoption of new digital technologies.  Individuals’ preferences, behaviour and interactions are evolving, and the way in which organisations operate is transforming. This shift poses important questions about the skills which will be required in future, our assumptions about careers and employment, and the extent to which Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotic process automation will enhance or replace human activity. Now, more than ever, senior leaders need to think about how to anticipate and build the Workforce of the Future.

At a recent PwC Strategy& Digital Leadership Council event, we brought together 35 senior digital leaders from a wide range of organisations to share their experiences and compare how businesses are responding to these issues.

Five key themes emerged:

1. How best to blend AI and humans

A fundamental topic throughout the discussion was the importance of managing the human interface with technology. Executives need to understand the opportunities but also the challenges of leveraging exciting new technologies like AI and machine learning to deliver value for customers. The key to success lies in retaining human insight, skill, creativity and oversight, while exploiting the analytical power, personalisation, customer convenience, speed and reach that technology offers.

2. Finding the right people

In most organisations, increasingly important aspects of the businesses are enabled or even dominated by technology, and the approach and skills required to deliver and maintain those products and services is changing accordingly.  PwC’s recently released annual CEO survey highlighted that 83% of CEOs think getting the right human skills in their organisation is the key to competing in the future.  There is significant competition for new talent with the latest skills in digital, data and cyber domains, and it is encouraging that 74% of the workforce are prepared to learn new skills in order to adapt to a changing world of work.

3. Where people need to be

Whilst communication technology continues to reduce the need for proximity by allowing work to be carried out from wider locations, co-location will remain important.  Creativity and problem solving often require close collaboration, and in many cases humans still perform most effectively through face-to-face interactions. It is essential to differentiate between the tasks and roles that are suited to geographical separation (enabling cost benefits or access to a wider talent pool) and those which are best tackled together in the same location.

4. Managing culture

Many established organisations believe that they need to replicate the speed and agility of startups in order to remain competitive in a more digital world.  To engender an innovative, technology enabled culture, particularly in traditional corporations, it is helpful to identify the ‘mavericks and intrapreneurs’ from across the firm to help drive change. It is also vital to have the senior sponsors that provide support (and protection) to invest in new areas.

Ironically, in a world obsessed by ever-shorter periods of time, companies will benefit from a longer term view of identity as they transform. With more flexible career paths and more fluid organisation boundaries, people will join, leave and rejoin the workforce in a dynamic way.  Staying true to their heritage, purpose and values will help organisations maintain consistency and build on the strengths which are core to their success.

5. Planning for the future

The majority of digital leaders expect further disruption in their sectors, so it is somewhat surprising that whilst 69% of CEOs think new technology will disrupt their businesses, that leaves 31% of CEOs who don’t think technology is going to disrupt them. Perhaps they’re tech CEOs themselves, or working in an industry that seems too located in the physical world to be threatened by digital, but it seems hubristic.  Thinking about different future scenarios will enable organisations to prepare for a range of possible outcomes, as exemplified in a recent PwC report that explores “four worlds of work in 2030”.

Regardless of which future scenario you believe in, the impact of new technologies and changing work patterns is having a profound impact on organisations and it has never been more important to think about how to prepare for the workforce of the future.

For further perspectives on digital disruption, please visit our website.