To date we have looked at four significant areas of Workforce Dynamics that will have a major impact on companies whose very survival depends on a stable and efficient workforce to achieve profitability. The first four areas we examined were workforce fluidity, Generation Y, employee perks and older workers. This month we will look at three key areas that have a great deal of overlap and interdependence; technology, globalization and skills gap.
No employer needs to be told that the emergence of technology is having an impact on the workplace. Although it would come as a total shock to your children it wasn’t all that long ago that email and the internet did not exist. Today most businesses are dependent on that relatively new technology to perform the most basic tasks. Just look around any office when the computer systems are down to witness employees who can barely function without their computers for even a few minutes. This is an amazing impact for a technology that did not even exist when most of the workforce began their careers.
The implications of technology reach far beyond just email and the internet. The explosion of high tech is a double edged sword for employers and employees. For employees it increasingly means they can physically work anywhere and stay connected to the workplace. But this new freedom to roam changes all the rules of the traditional business office. Everything from how to measure productivity to labor law issues arise when employees no longer need to be physically present in an office to accomplish work tasks. As new workers enter the workplace the old rules requiring 8 to 5 office face time will no longer make sense to a generation that cannot remember not being able to communicate instantly with the entire world. Just watch the ease with which teenagers send text messages and you will see how rapidly new technology becomes integrated into our most basic daily activities.
The speed with which information flows can also be overwhelming to employees. Inbox fatigue can quickly set in when communication is instantaneous. Employers and clients may develop unrealistic expectations of how much work a single individual can accomplish in a reasonable work day. Quality may be sacrificed for quantity resulting in employee burnout, stress related illness and high turnover. As new technologies emerge companies must not only pay for the hardware and software to keep pace, they must also constantly train and retrain workers to keep up.
Employers trying to stay competitive with a lean workforce utilizing high tech solutions can find themselves coping with employees who feel isolated, alienated and overwhelmed by the very technology that was expected to solve problems not create new ones.
People and technology will need to be integrated in ways that offer employees the tools to make work more productive while maintaining a healthy work and life balance. Emerging software technologies will bring ever more sophisticated web based intranet and project management applications to the market. These new applications will enable employees to bring the scattered pieces of clients, projects and resources together for faster and more effective collaboration. The ability to manage email, fax, phone and mobile messaging with one integrated message system will soon be the norm. Recent developments such as the popular iPhone show the market already exists for the next generation of communication devices.
Technology has made dramatic changes in the workplace and more than ever before that workplace is global. Technology has not only given us the tools we need to communicate locally. We can now find anything we want anywhere in the world with the click of a few keystrokes. This means not only new market opportunities for many businesses but also the need to think and act with a global view. It may seem challenging to manage your own office team working collaboratively on a project. That challenge is exponentially multiplied if the team is scattered throughout the world. Factor in different time zones, different cultures, different languages and different laws and regulatory environments and you have a completely new respect for multi-national corporations. The Society for Human Resource Management, The 2007-2008 Workplace Trends List states it this way,
Domestic is global and global is domestic.
The global business model will increasingly impact every employee and business, even those who only see themselves as local. Outsourcing and off shoring have become household words and the shrinking world isn’t going to return to pre-technology business norms.
Business will need a leadership seat at the education table to help plan and implement the training students will need to enter the workforce prepared to face the challenges of a different workplace than their grandparents or parents could foresee. Even jobs that were traditionally low tech have been touched by the technology revolution. Just ask a cross country truck driver about the high tech communications and navigation systems they employ to stay competitive.
A Princeton Brookings journal article on Economic and Labor Market Trends points to an ever increasing demand for high-skilled workers but points out that even traditionally lower skilled positions will require a higher level of technical skill than in previous generations. The US Department of Labor publication “America’s dynamic workforce: 2007” has this to say, “Today, and increasingly in the future, a solid education foundation, including completion of post-secondary courses or degrees is needed to compete successfully in the job market.”
Another real social impact will be the increasing gap between the wages of the shrinking pool of educated and highly skilled workers as compared to those who lack skills and education. According to the US Census Bureau, one of the largest and fastest-growing groups of young people in the United States are dropouts, rising to almost one out of three Americans in their mid 20’s. This trend must be reversed because it cannot deliver the trained and motivated workforce necessary to compete in the global marketplace.
YPP will bring business owners and executives together on May 9 to further explore and discuss the changing dynamics of today’s workforce and ways that businesses can adapt to maintain competitiveness.