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Preparing for a more liquid workforce

Nahia Orduna / Share:
with IR4.0, what will become of the workforce in current terms and the future? Dreamstime

Technology is disrupting our lives. Netflix, Amazon, Uber et al have changed the way we consume entertainment, shop and move around. As a result, our way of working is also changing. The World Economic Forum predicts a displacement of 75 million jobs and the emergence of 133 million new ones by 2022. Business consultants McKinsey inform us there will be a shift from manual, physical tasks to higher cognitive, social, emotional skills.

How can organizations and individuals get ready for a level of upheaval that is almost impossible to forecast in the medium term?

Testing the waters

One way is the concept of a “liquid workforce”. This means to organise and shape teams in such a way that they are able to rapidly adapt and change depending on the environment in which they find themselves.

A highly adaptable and change-ready enterprise, enabled by technology, should have learning as a core competency, actively offering the skills in demand for projects using internal and external talent.

What it means for the workers

Companies are going to be demanding different competencies and we need to be ready to meet this demand. I visualizs the idea of the liquid workforce as an immense moving ocean. One day, we may have a great job and be enjoying a warm tropical area. However, strong currents may move us quickly from being in a stable position to new waters where our abilities are no longer as relevant and the water is freezing cold. How do we stay where we want to be? How do we swim?

The liquid employee

Nowadays, more than ever, we need to reinvent ourselves during our careers. It is challenging but essential to move from one role to a new one in a natural way. No matter your age or area of expertise, knowledge may become quickly obsolete. So how do you manage to be the right talent at the right time?

1. Understand at every moment where you are in the ocean. What is your best way to swim? The question is no longer what your current role is (for example, project manager), but which skills you have and where these can bring you. (It could be leadership, negotiation, scheduling, communication or risk management.)

2. Learn which ocean currents are coming in your area. Be up to date around what is happening in your industry. As a project manager, you may want to learn about new agile techniques and the possible evolutions of your role. Because it is always difficult to imagine the future, consultants PWC have defined four scenarios for 2030 based on fragmentation/integration and collectivism/individualism criteria. It can help to identify where you would be in a world where humans come first, or in one ruled by innovation. What would happen if sustainability and social responsibilities are the main drivers of society, or if we live a more corporate-driven scenario?

3. Set your direction. Where do you want to go? What skill gaps do you currently have? You are only going to thrive in the new future if you are a lifelong learner. Make a conscious plan on how to develop new skills that keep you competitive. To take project management as an example, you may want to take agile and Scrum (an agile methodology) trainings.

4. In a world where long-term employer-employee relationships are disappearing, considering a portfolio career is a good idea. For example, combine a part-time corporate job with freelancing or delivering classes in your area of expertise. This not only brings in multiple income streams, but also a greater sense of control and the possibility to explore different areas with your skills that can help you to thrive.

And lastly, most importantly: enjoy the swim. As job roles are fluid and changing, you have the chance to experiment and switch careers more easily. As a project manager, this could mean not only the chance to reinvent yourself in an agile role, but you can also consider new digital emerging roles that need your skills. It is an opportunity to find your purpose, test new waters and unlock your potential in a different area.

Nahia Orduna, senior manager in Analytics and Digital Integration, Vodafone. A longer version of this article appeared in the World Economic Forum.

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