The article below is considered part three of a five-part series white paper on trends changing the nature of work, our workforce, and our economy. You can view part one here or download the full white paper below to get all trends at once. The third trend in our five-part series is Millennials Ascendant: As Baby Boomers Exit and Gen Z Enters the Labor Market.
Five Trends Changing the Nature of Work
The world is changing again – and it is simultaneously driving several trends changing the nature of work, our workforce, and our economy. These five trends are:
- The increasing (exponential) speed of industry convergence
- The shift toward more independent and contingent workforces
- The exit of baby boomers and entrance of Gen Z into the labor market
- The shift toward human-centered work design driven by Industry 4.0 automation, and
- A push toward remote and flexible work coming from globalization (and global pandemics)
Taken together, these trends speak to a working environment quite different from any time in our past, and one which only some companies are preparing themselves for today.
Baby Boomers Exit and Gen Z enters the Labor Market
“Millennials make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. population, 30 percent of the voting-age population, and almost two-fifths of the working-age population.” Combined with Gen Zs, they makeup 59% of the working-age population and, by 2025, will be 75% of the workforce. “Millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation in the nation’s history. But the next generation – Generation Z – is even more diverse.” “From self-development, remote working, work-life balance, and the driving force behind the freelancing model, millennials’ influence on business culture is well underway but has not been mainstream. Enter COVID-19; accelerating this shift to the millennial workforce model and mirroring the 2030 Workforce of the Future predictions.” As of 2021, millennials would be approximately 25-40, while the oldest of Gen Zs are just beginning to enter the workforce.
Across several surveys, millennials report being socially conscious and expect businesses to be so. They prioritize work-life balance issues and are willing to demand such of employers or freelance to obtain it. They are tech-savvy, especially in social media, having grown in a world they can hardly imagine without the internet or smartphones. They constantly multitask and have must less loyalty to employers than previous generations.
“Generation Z or “Zoomers” were born between 1997 and 2022. Most have never known a world before Sept. 11, and as ‘digital natives,” have never known one without the internet or smartphones. “Generation Z will soon surpass millennials as the most populous generation on earth, with more than one-third of the world’s population counting themselves as Gen Zs. In the U.S., Gen Z constitutes more than a quarter of the population and, by 2020, will be the most diverse generation in the nation’s history…. Generation Z values salary less than every other generation: If given the choice of accepting a better-paying but boring job versus work that was more interesting but did not pay as well, Gen Z was fairly evenly split over the choice…. We think Gen Z will be able to demand greater personalization in how they move along their career journey.”
What does this all mean for employers? It means a stunning shift in the power dynamic. As millennials and Gen Zs become the dominant portion of the labor force — demanding social consciousness, diversity, transparency, work-life balance, meaningful work, and personal growth – and having a lack of trust in authority and the tech-savvy willingness to leave at the drop of a hat – employers find themselves in the traditionally unusual position of having to fight to keep employees. Launchpad Venture Group’s Catherine Popper believes “that for millennials, for whom corporate values are a preeminent concern, ‘tenure, longevity, and loyalty are a thing of the past. That generation will vote with their feet. If they do not like what they are seeing, they’ll leave.’ In fact, our [MIT] research shows that many workers consider themselves to be “free agents” rather than “loyal employees,” even when they are permanent employees.”
In the traditional labor model, wealthy employers acted as if employees were privileged to work in their large, prestigious organization. The attitude of many millennials and Gen Z is precisely the opposite. “For the first time in a generation, workers are gaining the upper hand.” To them, it is a privilege that they choose to help your organization be successful. They could just as easily pick someone else. Or freelance. This power shift has forced organizations to focus on employee engagement, flexible workforce strategies, genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts (including customers and suppliers), and social consciousness in these organizations’ core mission and values. So how are companies responding?
Becoming a Great Place to Develop a Career
As the reality of exponential industry convergence, three career lives, and often greater rewards for jumping employers than staying with one starts to sink in – many are beginning to think about investing in people and relationships more than companies. Competition to attract and retain talent is challenging in a world without employees’ loyalty. More than 50% of [Deloitte’s 2019] Global Human Capital Trends Survey respondents reported that they thought their employees would have an easier time finding a new job with a new employer than within their current organization.”
With voluntary separations becoming more common and expensive, recognizing employees’ value and providing them meaningful growth opportunities is one of the best strategies for retaining top talent.
Traditionally, employers’ attitudes towards employees have been akin to marriage – there was an expectation of lifelong fidelity, where leaving was seen as disloyalty or betrayal. Now, suppose separation is all but inevitable, either through voluntary separation or the company’s end. In that case, the value of the relationship (not the employment contract) endures. Companies need to become much more comfortable with the notion that in the future labor market, today’s employees may be tomorrow’s clients, contractors, alliance partners, recruiters, job references, government regulators, etc. Work happens beyond company walls – it is as an ecosystem. One of the best ways to attract and retain talent, develop trust and enduring relationships, and retain employees as long as possible is to develop them selflessly.
Passion Architects: The Evolving Role of Learning From Content to Culture
Over the past half-decade, the role of learning functions has been evolving dramatically. A quick look at the learning trends highlighted each year in the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report underscores this nicely.
“Learning: Real-time, all the time” – discusses longer careers and falling half-life of skills, encouraging Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) to become catalysts that inspire career reinvention while introducing new ‘always-on’ content curators like Udemy, Edcast, and Degreed.
“From careers to experiences” – is devoted to culture, career development experiences, and cross-disciplinary skills. “One significant enabler of a 21st-century career is an organizational focus on building a culture of learning. According to research, companies that practice a growth mindset, create “designed growth,” stretch assignments, and openly discuss mistakes to promote learning are three times more profitable and have up to four times better retention than those that do not.”
“Learning in the flow of life” – learning ranked as the top challenge. That year’s report cited the need for learning teams to adopt more AGILE and work-integrated processes and discussed the rise of real-time, personalized Learning Experience Platforms.
“Investing in resilience for uncertain futures” – focused on building resilience through capability development, engaging learners in solving unseen problems, and supporting learning in the flow of work.
“Unleashing worker potential” – reflected on lessons from COVID-19 focused on worker agency and choice through talent or opportunity marketplaces.
So, what does the future of learning hold for 2022? In today’s fast-paced and more virtual work environments, there is simply no time to publish content or quickly craft learning experiences. Workers are increasingly empowered to drive their learning experiences through curated learning journeys, opportunity marketplaces, and self-directed career choices. Learning teams are being asked to create and cultivate an organizational learning culture where these self-empowered workers and work teams can thrive.
Learning teams are being asked to create a sense of engagement, community, and belonging in virtual learning cohorts where learning is not an event but a social learning community. They are being asked to find ways to develop professionals in the flow of work without the need for formal documentation and registration. And they are being asked to act as “talent agents” that help inspire career reinvention by guiding workers through open talent marketplaces and development staffing opportunities. For millennials and Gen Zs, who have grown up in virtual communities on Snapchat, Instagram, and Tik Tok – creating virtual communities and culture is entirely consistent with their virtual lives. But to many Gen X and baby boom executives, this is still all very new and distant from the competency models, course development, and LMS systems, which have been their mainstay for some time.
Indeed, the corporate world has found relatively few ways to fully leverage social media and virtual communities to improve productivity or employee development to date. But COVID-19 showed us some extraordinary feats of reinvention and creativity when workers were given the agency to follow their passions. This is where learning professionals find themselves “passion architects,” trying to align people’s sense of purpose with areas the organization needs to grow and thrive and helping workers transform their employee experience journeys.
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