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Driving change through human-inspired innovation

How organizations can stay ahead of the competition

​Four of Deloitte's managing partners, Amy Chronis (Houston), Theresa Drew (Carolinas), Kevin McGovern (New England), and Rob McNeill (Philadelphia) talk about the future of work and how to stay ahead of the competition.

The future of the workforce: driving change through human-inspired innovation

The megatrends transforming today’s workplace span organizations of every size, industry, and geography. Each day, baby boomers retire by the thousands. Companies discover how connectivity creates more flexible teams. Automation frees up workers for new tasks, and artificial intelligence (AI) changes how leaders make decisions. At the same time, people are living longer, but their skills are not.

These trends are forcing organizations to take a hard look at how they operate. According to a global Deloitte survey of 1,600 C-level executives, only a quarter feel highly confident they have the right workforce composition and skills for the future. How can organizations stay ahead of the competition while also developing a workforce that’s prepared to thrive? Four of our regional managing partners who are dealing with these issues in their markets recently offered insights on potential paths forward.

Q: The Future of Work (FoW) is a broad concept. What does it mean to you and for Deloitte as an organization, as well as our clients?

Theresa: The future of work is broader than just work. It’s the future of business. If you look at a market like Charlotte with a heavy emphasis on financial services, manufacturing, retail, and healthcare, you can't focus on any of these industries without thinking about the rate of exponential technological change. It affects the future in these industries.. So, the future of work is really about the future of what businesses are going to look like and what customers are going to demand.

Rob: I agree with Theresa, and this is particularly timely. I recently attended a CEO Council for Growth meeting here in Philadelphia and we discussed what we want to tackle in this region. It’s talent: talent development, how to leverage tech talent, and how to retain talent. That's going to hit every possible sector and area from financial services to retail. If you’re not looking at technology right now and you don’t have tech talent within your operations, you're going to lose ground to your competition.

Q: One timely topic right now is artificial intelligence. Deloitte’s second "State of the AI in the enterprise" report shows that 42 percent of executives surveyed believe that adopting AI will be of “critical strategic importance” within the next two years. Can you talk a little about AI and some of the other tech trends that are reshaping the landscape of work?

Kevin: The combination of AI, machine-based learning, and other cognitive capabilities is a constant conversation. We’re fortunate here in Boston to have places like the MIT and Harvard Innovation Labs as well as a series of private-public funded accelerator partnerships focused on how to use emerging technologies. The pairing of those capabilities with people makes us more efficient. For example, doctors using robots in the operating room to make surgeries more precise. Then there’s the onset of 5G and the removal of the latency that's in the 4G system right now and how that is going to significantly change business. So, the opportunity to combine the emergence of AI, cognitive, and machine learning technologies with people doing jobs with 5G systems is going to be a game changer in a lot of ways.

Theresa: I agree, but manufacturing may be particularly challenged to bring this all together. Manufacturing in particular is having trouble attracting the younger generation to their industry. The sector is retooling and using more technology, but they still need a workforce that’s tech savvy, that can deal with more advanced plant floors and supply chains. There’s a skills gap. When we think about the future of work it’s not just how we're educating our students in high school and college, but also, how are we creating opportunity across various industries to make them more attractive to our younger talent.

Amy: Here in Houston it’s energy, resources, and industrials. We have one of the highest concentrations of engineers in the nation. The work in drilling and exploration has become more sophisticated, very advanced. Yet there are real gaps in the talent bench. As important, and to Theresa’s point, there’s a perception issue that needs to be addressed as well. We have to overcome the image that sectors like manufacturing and energy are dirty, dark and dangerous.

Q: How are companies addressing the perception issue?

Kevin: Companies have paired up with universities to create degree programs. We have some clients that have done interesting things, too, like helping their own employees earn college level certifications and degrees in emerging fields. But I don't think anybody has solved it yet in a way that’s repeatable and scalable.

Amy: To Kevin’s point, Deloitte and other firms are underwriting curriculum. Deloitte, for instance, started the master’s program in data analytics at the University of Texas at Austin. So we know that the need to have advanced education in data analytics is something that commercial enterprises can help universities see and grow.

Q: What about automation, which is doing a lot of the work once performed by humans? A recent Pew survey reveals that the public is more convinced of the downsides of job automation than the benefits. What do you see among clients when it comes to perceptions and the reality around automation?

Theresa: There truly is a fear factor within companies about whether jobs are going to ultimately be replaced by robots or whether roles are going to be diminished. I see clients looking for more efficiencies and the hope is that people are getting up-skilled and trained for different roles.

Kevin: I've met with a number of chancellors from the UMass (University of Massachusetts) system and a number of presidents or provosts of the private universities here, and they say that whether you're an engineer or technologist or humanities or medical person, more than ever you've got to have the ability to communicate. They talk about the need for lifelong learning. That's something that's come up in almost every conversation. As we remove the routine work out of jobs, it's going to become more important for individuals to deliver the right message or take the information that's being given to them by a machine or a bot, and understand how to interpret it for the audience or the customer.

Theresa: Those problem-solving and communication skills Kevin mentioned are critical. With the financial services firms in our region, many have introduced technologies like robo-advisors. Here I see opportunity to package human skills and innovation together. There is still a tremendous need for human behaviors to help get a deeper understanding of a client, and something that sometimes gets lost these days—to simply create a connection to the customer.

Q: We’ve focused a lot on technology and what automation can do, but what about a purely human factor: the role of longer lifespans? How do we address the looming issues around the aging of America’s workers?

Rob: I'll start at the other end. Millennials understand that they will have more job and career changes than when older generations began in the workforce, and as a result they approach things differently. They’ll select a location, a city, a geography first, assuming that there's ample opportunity to move throughout their career at multiple employers. That’s in contrast from my generation, when we first looked to find a job and go to wherever that job was. Successful companies work together to make sure there's viable opportunities for workers at various levels throughout the progression of a career. On the other end, in terms of aging workers, the companies that will be successful are those that can continue to tap into those workers’ experience. Maybe not as an employee. Perhaps those employees retire and then they work out some type of arrangement, perhaps a consulting or a partnership arrangement to provide insights to younger workers, in a different construct than the traditional employer-employee arrangement. I think the companies that can do those things will be successful.

Amy: We should also mention the new talent models that have evolved. With the gig economy we have so many workers who don't belong permanently to any one company. And even when they do, they don't see their career path as linear anymore. Stanford recently introduced a new model to pool talent from around the world into virtual teams for highly specialized, technical projects. These “flash teams” represent a shift that allows large-scale global companies to operate like start-ups. So all of these people who don't belong to a specific culture or enterprise will have to figure out a way to keep developing their skills through continuous learning.

Q: You’ve all touched on technology and how it’s shaping workforce of the future. Any closing thoughts on how we can best shape the jobs of the future?

Amy: It’s complex. One place to start is examining how some of the predominant technologies like AI and analytics are helping companies improve their operations. The message here isn’t that robots are replacing humans in upstream processes or downstream operations. It’s that machines are augmenting human capabilities. So I believe one way to shape jobs of the future is to build work so these digital behaviors are combined with human behaviors.

Rob: It's also a matter of patience. Organizations are already in a transition period where entire jobs and careers are being assessed and that is certain to continue. But I see hopeful signs that companies are shaping jobs of the future in the data-driven workplace. Here in Philadelphia a recent study showed the companies best positioned for the future are doing things like making sure their systems are agile, or redesigning their HR organizations. A majority of companies in this study believe their businesses are actively preparing for a technology-driven future; that momentum combined with specific actions around innovation are the things that will help companies prepare for the jobs of the future.

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.

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