The Future of the Workforce: Flexibility,

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The future workforce seeks flexibility, with businesses adopting hybrid and remote work policies and such teams managed through digital tools.

Significantly, the future workforce is a complex, fluid landscape with increasing automation and remote work that consciously includes diversity, equity, and inclusion. These attributes are essential to hiring and management practices. In building a future-ready workforce, there must also be an increased focus on employee well-being and mental health.

Therefore, automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and remote work will all influence the nature of work in the future, which presents several difficulties.

The gig economy presents a challenge that calls for ongoing education and skill development.

Notwithstanding the difficulties, there are still chances for creativity, skill improvement, and establishing adaptable and welcoming work environments. People handling these changes must also be flexible and dedicated to lifelong learning.

 

That said, how technology will impact employment opportunities, job structures, and overall work-life balance in the future is a subject of great interest to current and GenNext.  

Today, automation and AI are automating routine, repetitive tasks, leading to job displacement in specific industries.

Jobs in manufacturing, customer service, and data entry, for example, are seeing changes as automation technologies become more prevalent.

However, it is not as if jobs have vanished. While some jobs may have, the transformation has created and continues to develop new opportunities. Roles related to the development, maintenance, and oversight of AI systems, as well as those requiring creative and critical thinking, are seeing an increase in demand.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated the adoption of remote work.

Social isolation imposed by the pandemic affected many people. Those at the start of their careers, who were still acquiring soft skills such as networking, negotiating, and communicating effectively in large groups, were affected the most.

Contrary to people’s thinking that technology intrusion would end with the pandemic, it has not only continued but has become more intrusive through digital collaboration tools, video conferencing, project management platforms, and cloud-based services, shifting how teams collaborate and communicate.

Many companies have continued embracing flexible work models that allow employees to work remotely, in the office, in a hybrid mode, or a combination of both. They can be just as productive as working in their offices. There are reports, too, that a hybrid work culture allows a better work-life balance that increases job satisfaction and employee retention. Maintaining communication, fostering collaboration, and ensuring accountability are essential in a virtual environment.

 

However, remote work poses ‘well-being’ and mental health challenges that could be addressed through flexible work policies, mental health programmes, and specific initiatives aimed at promoting work-life balance. Digital tools can also address some of these challenges.

The 2020 ‘Future of Jobs Report’ of the ‘World Economic Forum’ (WEF) reveals that roughly 33% of all employers were expected to use digital tools for such purposes.

The increasing integration of technology in the workplace drives a growing demand for digital skills. Employees with proficiency in data analysis, digital literacy, and technology adaptation will find high demand. Smart assistants will be commonplace.

Generative AI, quantum computing, cognitive computing, cyber security, the Internet of Things, 5G, DevOps, Blockchain, Data Science, Cloud Computing, Robotic Process Automation, 3D Printing, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality are some of the future technologies in which proficiency would be required.

 

What would be the shape of future applications for the GenNext?

Mobile applications for social media, gaming, and banking are available. They run on smartphones or other mobile devices. Wearable Technology is another. Devices such as smartwatches and fitness trackers are worn on the body. They track fitness data, monitor health conditions, and provide notifications. Cloud computing will generate multiple jobs in future, such as online file storage, web-based email, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications.

Smart assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant use AI to provide users with information, perform tasks, and respond to voice commands.

Developing smart assistants is a vast market. Virtual reality technology allows users to experience a computer-generated environment that feels like a real-world environment. This, too, can create several jobs, including gaming, education, and training simulations.

Technology applications are widespread and are used in various industries and aspects of daily life. As technology advances, new applications continue to emerge, providing new opportunities for innovation and automation.

In these days of instant gratification, the gig economy and freelancing have gained momentum, providing individuals with opportunities to work independently or on a project basis.

The trend is driven by factors such as the shift towards remote work, a desire for flexibility in work, and a need for a little more income amid economic uncertainty. Platforms connecting freelancers with businesses have become more prevalent today.

 

However, this shift also poses challenges.

For gig workers and freelancers, there is often a lack of job security and benefits. For businesses, managing a decentralised workforce can be complex.

These are also times when disruptions are taking over our lives. This means we must increasingly value flexibility and autonomy in our careers, leading to a shift away from traditional, full-time employment models.

While all that may be true, the shift to gig work and remote work has brought attention to the importance of work-life balance. Companies are placing a greater emphasis on employee well-being, recognising the need for a healthy work environment, both physically and mentally.

 

Another aspect of the future workforce is that employers are increasingly finding that diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce pay dividends and drive innovation, increase profitability, and enhance decision-making.

This trend requires businesses to not only hire diverse talent but also create an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and heard. They must also ensure equity, providing equal opportunities and benefits to all employees, regardless of their backgrounds or identities.

While technical skills are crucial, soft skills such as adaptability, creativity, and emotional intelligence are important too.

Living a hassle-free life requires combining personal, professional, and technical skills. Time management, communication, adaptability, stress management, financial literacy, digital literacy, problem-solving, networking, health and wellness, organisation skills, and emotional intelligence will be valued. It is interesting to note that these skills are less susceptible to automation and are valuable in a rapidly changing work environment. Cultivating these skills can contribute to a more resilient and adaptable approach to life, helping us navigate challenges and pursue opportunities more quickly.

 

However, reskilling and upskilling are crucial for this to happen. Employees of future workplaces will be required to learn new skills driven by rapid digital transformation to help them adapt to an even more rapidly changing work life.

Further, the ‘Future of Jobs Report’ reports that employers may offer reskilling and upskilling to just over 70% of their employees by 2025. Since there is a significant gap between the skills required by employers and those that the workforce has, it needs to be bridged. Bridging can be addressed through training, online, and mentorship programmes. Micro-credentials and fractional credits on value-added courses/skill-based courses must come from the universities.

However, skills must be acquired from wherever they are available. Digital transformation, reskilling, and upskilling are necessary to give employees more opportunities to make career choices.

Moreover, they must focus on building purpose-driven and people-centric cultures. Organisations, too, will need to adapt and be open to change, though they have access to a much wider talent pool than ever before, with most universities conducting skill-based courses.

The future workforce needs a shift in mindset and culture of learning and inclusion, where continuous improvement, diversity, and workforce well-being are valued and rewarded. However, the future workforce is not the responsibility of only the future employers.

As Barack Obama, the former President of the USA, once said, “It’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We must also prepare tomorrow’s workforce by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.” That sums up the role of universities in preparing the future workforce.

(The author is a former Chairman of AICTE, Ashok Thakur, and Former Secretary of the Education Government of India.)

 

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