Our jobless future: skills lead the revolution of work | Deloitte Netherlands


Our jobless future: skills lead the revolution of work

For more than 100 years, jobs have been the main way that we organise work and make decisions about the workforce. Managers hire, give feedback, promote and organise their teams based on people performing jobs. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what matching work to workers is like if we cut out the notion of jobs? There’s more to this than just an interesting thought experiment: Research suggests very positive business outcomes, as discussed in this third of a four-article series.

The entire human resource function was built around functional jobs with fixed sets of responsibilities. As tasks were grouped, we created the idea of jobs as a means to an end when matching work to workers. We then introduced terms like ‘employee experience’, which presumes a worker is on a payroll. ‘Job titles’, ‘job hierarchies’ and ‘job qualifications’ all presume the same. Even government policies about work are written in terms of jobs (see Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau’s recent publication Work Without Jobs1).

The concept of jobs is so engrained that we don’t even stop to think about them as ‘artificial’ constructs. But they are just that, and they’re an outmoded way of organising work.

Why jobs don’t work anymore

Over the past few months, we’ve extensively researched the idea of a new operating model for work – one that lets go of the ‘job’ construct. Because that construct doesn’t actually define very well what we do at work. And jobs are quickly giving way to more fluid ways of working.

In a global Deloitte survey of more than 1,200 professionals, we found that 63 per cent of work being performed falls outside core job descriptions. Of the executives surveyed, 81 per cent said their work is increasingly being performed across functional boundaries. Thirty-six per cent said work is increasingly carried out by workers outside the organisation who don’t have defined jobs at all.

From jobs to skills: The new order of work

In the new operating model, which we anticipate and argue for, skills are the underlying construct. The skill-based organisation model will be a very significant shift: turning talent management on its head, reimagining every HR practice to be based more on skills than on jobs and redefining how work itself is organised.

Of course, the current talent shortage is catalysing the thinking behind such models. As organisations struggle to find suitable workers, unorthodox solutions come into play, such as prioritising skills and humanising work.

Our researched indicated that 73 per cent of executives expect talent shortages to continue over the next three years. Of those respondents, 70 per cent said they are getting creative about sourcing skills rather than just considering job experience. And 85 per cent of HR executives said they are planning, or at least considering, a redesign of how work is organised in the next three years, so that skills can be flexibly ported across work.

One could argue that this is a very theoretical concept, and one that doesn’t take into account what employees really want. However, we found that not only executives but workers themselves regard the traditional organisation of work, around jobs, as insufficient for creating create value for workers or the organisation ; only 23 per cent of the surveyed workers believe the traditional arrangement achieves that value.

Skills don’t just pay bills: The organisational benefits of a skill focus

Becoming a skill-based organisation is no easy task, but insights into the potential effects show tremendous advantages. Organisations that embed a skill-based approach are around twice as likely to place talent effectively, have a reputation as a great place to grow and develop, and retain high-performing workers.

But the results aren’t only workforce related. According to our survey, those intrepid skill-based organisations are also 63 per cent more likely to achieve strong business outcomes, such as:

  • financial targets met or exceeded
  • anticipation of change and an effective, efficient response
  • innovation
  • high levels of customer satisfaction
  • positive impact on society and communities served
  • improved processes to maximise efficiency.

Building tomorrow’s Skills-Based Organisation, why jobs aren’t working anymore

3 ways to initiate the new approach

The biggest barriers to such a shift are legacy mindsets and practices, according to the survey respondents. These demand nothing less than an overhaul of all talent practices within the organisation, as well as a shift in business mindset and core processes regarding how work is organised. So, where to start?

We see three options to choose from:

  1. Transform a particular talent practice (e.g. talent acquisition)
  2. Create a centralised ‘skills hub’, such as a similar skill language and taxonomy
  3. Start with the work itself: turn some work into projects and tasks that fall outside of jobs, and use talent marketplaces to find and assign the appropriate people

Of course, as organisations shift to a more skill-based approach, adjacent areas outside the organisation must shift with it. Today’s education systems, government policies and the labour market as a whole are still very much job focused. We expect them to shift over time – but it may be a relatively long period of time. Getting a jumpstart now on moving away from ‘jobs’ will leave an organisation primed for the new future of work.

1  Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau, Work without Jobs, How to Reboot Your Organization’s Work Operating System; The MIT Press, 2022

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