The Workforce of the Future Must Be Agile

In the mid-20th century, thousands of women were employed as switchboard operators. Every day, they went to work, answered the phone and connected callers. For many, this was a career they hoped to maintain until retirement. However, due to technological innovations, their profession became obsolete by the end of the 20th century. Although this profession no longer exists, many modern jobs face similar challenges in our society today. A 2018 Pew Research study found that 82 percent of U.S. adults believe that by 2050, robots and computers will “definitely” or “probably” do much of the work currently done by humans. So what do we do when employees are worried about their jobs becoming irrelevant and employers are nervous about lower retention?

With the rise of automation and decrease of retention rates, corporate leaders have a unique opportunity to inspire their employees to become agile and excited about change by creating a work environment that is open to dialogue and feedback, increasing learning opportunities and anticipating marketplace disruption.

As more U.S. adults think that their jobs will be taken over by robots, employees are increasingly eager to develop skills that are transferrable and irreplaceable. This gives companies an incredible opportunity to not only form new strategic partnerships in a changing marketplace but to create a comfortable work culture that encourages employees to speak up, experiment and take risks to improve the business. The best ideas often come from entrepreneurial spirit and problem solving.

Google, for example, is famous for encouraging employees to spend 20 percent of their time solving problems to benefit the company. The strategy, although heavily criticized, has resulted in the creation of Google Maps, Gmail and Slack— technological innovations that have enriched not only Google but our society as a whole. Creating an environment that encourages open discussions and problem-solving results in helping both the company and its employees.

With the rise of the gig economy and changes in the way we perceive work, The Financial Times speculates that individuals will have five different careers over their lifetime; others argue that the number will be higher. We aren’t talking about different jobs, we are talking about completely different careers in different sectors. As someone who graduated college in the 2010s, I can confidentially say that college didn’t necessarily prepare me to such rapidly changing expectations.

Although many pride themselves on being able to quickly adapt to different situations, college classwork has not been properly preparing people for the quickly evolving reality of the workplace. A 2018 Northeastern-Gallup survey concluded that just 22 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher believe that their education prepared them “well” or “very well” to work with artificial intelligence in the workplace. Recent university graduates frequently feel that many of the skills that they learned are no longer applicable to their work. For example, those in the communications space that graduated college in the past five years often talk about how much of what they learned in school was focused on writing press releases rather than working in the digital space.

How can companies solve this problem? Offer useful trainings for your workforce. At APCO, we have a special program called APCO+ for entry-level professionals. For the first 18 months, the program participants partake in weekly trainings on a wide range of topics — everything from public relations to current events to AI. This helps young professionals discover their passions, learn widely about the business and shape their own career paths in a dynamic marketplace.

For our workforce to be successful, it is more important than ever to be ready for marketplace disruption and for employers to be open to employees driving solutions and providing them with the necessary access to learning opportunities at the workplace. Today’s innovations will impact businesses tomorrow and for many years to come. How do you prepare for that? Be ready for change, invest in your employees and be open to the ideas your staff presents.