Catch the wave The 21st-century career

23 August 2017

The future of work is hybrid. Technology is getting smarter and reskilling and retraining need to be the main weapons in every employee’s armory. Josh Bersin talks about continuous apprenticeship, the culture of lifelong learning, and the need to overcome the fear of reinventing ourselves.

We as individuals have to really think about our careers as a series of waves, where we're catching the wave again and again and again every 5 to 10 years with a new company, a new job, a new type of profession, a new kind of work. And if we stay in the same work for a long period of time, we have to learn new tools and stay ahead because the technology around us is getting smarter and certain parts of our job keep going away.

Learn More

Subscribe to receive insights on the Future of Work

Visit the Future of Work collection

Read Deloitte Review, issue 21

Subscribe on iTunes

Listen to more podcasts


TANYA OTT: The robots are coming—be very afraid! Or the robot is coming—it’s going to make your job so much more rewarding! It’s not an “either/or,” but how you prepare may determine how you fare.

I’m Tanya Ott and this [is] the Press Room, Deloitte University Press’ podcast on the issues and ideas that matter to your business today. I want to tell you a story about a man: my dad. He grew up in a tiny little town in Northwest Iowa, the son of parents who worked for a livestock auctioneer and picked up other odd jobs on farms. From an early age, my dad was a standout student and athlete. When the time came, he went to college, laboring in a canning facility to pay his tuition. He worked hard and excelled. He was student body president, played football, and eventually went to graduate school. He then spent almost 40 years as a professional, fundraising for colleges and universities. He was good at it. Really good. And he did nothing else. A one-industry career man. In fact, he only worked for two organizations over that 40 years.

That is a bygone era, says Josh Bersin. He’s part of Deloitte Consulting LLP and he focuses on human resources…

JOSH BERSIN: And talent management and leadership and technology related to HR and now it seems to all be about automation and AI and the future of work and the future of jobs. So it's going to be fun to talk about this.

TANYA OTT: “This” is the massive transformation we’re going through right now from my dad’s version of work to something completely different.

JOSH BERSIN: About two years ago, somebody coined the phrase, “The Future of Work.” Since then we've had AI and automation and the end of jobs and articles coming out on the fact that 47 percent of jobs are going away.1 We've had all the discussions about income inequality and why is it that there's a major part of the workforce that seems to have been left behind in the march toward new careers and new jobs. And a lot of public policy topics have come up about what do we do about the disaffected workforce. I think they've all come together in public policy—organizational design and individual careers are all open to question relative to technology today. So there's many angles to this.

TANYA OTT: Yeah, we've got absolutely nothing to talk about here—I don't know how we’ll fill this podcast! 

JOSH BERSIN: (laughs)

TANYA OTT: You're looking in particular on the HR side of things in this equation and it does raise a lot of issues. What are the biggest issues that you are grappling with right now?

JOSH BERSIN: From an HR standpoint or organizational standpoint, we're about two years into the redefining of organizations as a whole. Technology has been around for a long time, but the nature of technology, the way we're all connected to each other, the smartness [and] the intelligence of the technology, the use of analytics, sensors, cognitive tools, chat bots, all that stuff that has entered the technology world, that we carry around on our phones, has changed the way we work.

Companies are finding that their organizational model, the way people are paid, how they decide who to hire, how they skill people, what their training and development programs are like in their development environment, what managers do—all of those topics are open to question. The organization of the future is emerging from the dust, or from the clouds maybe, and businesses are in the middle of that, the early stages of that. That's what's fascinating to me.

If we do this well, we're going to create better jobs, better careers, more profitable businesses as a result of this. We're in the early stages of throwing away some of the old ideas on how jobs worked and how companies worked in order to do that.

TANYA OTT: I heard an interview recently with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman who was talking to folks at Deloitte and he describes a scenario where work is disconnected from jobs, and jobs and work are disconnected from companies and that everything is going to increasingly become just platforms.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN: We have in Bethesda a cab company that owns cars and has employees who have a job. They drive those cars. They're competing now with a company called Uber, which owns no cars, which has no employees, and just provides a platform of work that brings together ride needers and ride providers.

And I do think that [the] Uber platform model, and the way it is turning a job into work and monetizing work, the broad trend, I think that is the future of work and that will have a huge impact on the future of learning. Because if work is being extracted from jobs, and jobs and work are being extracted from companies and because we're now in a world of flows, learning has to become lifelong.

TANYA OTT: Is that your vision as well?

JOSH BERSIN: Yeah, that's a factor. I wouldn't say everything is going to go that way. I'm a little bit more of a pragmatist. I've been working for 35 years, so I've seen these kinds of things in the past. But I think there's more and more of that happening all the time and companies or businesses are platforms and we have to take advantage of the platforms or else somebody else will. And we do have careers that span many companies, primarily just because we're living longer, too.

One of the greatest benefits of science over the last 20 or 30 years is longevity. We're all living a lot longer. In fact, according to the research I was reading recently, 50 percent of Millennials will live into their hundreds.2 Whereas the average tenure of [an] S&P 500 company [on the index] is, I think, 15 years now.3 The idea that you're going to have one career and one company your whole life is silly in this environment. We as individuals have to really think about our careers as a series of waves, where we're catching the wave again and again and again every 5 to 10 years with a new company, a new job, a new type of profession, a new kind of work. And if we stay in the same work for a long period of time, we have to learn new tools and stay ahead because the technology around us is getting smarter and certain parts of our job keep going away.

One of the things that comes out of some of the research I did in studying this [was]—one of the ways to see where the job market is going is to look at what jobs have higher and increasing salaries and what jobs have lower and decreasing salaries. The jobs that are going up in value, in terms of financial rewards, are what we call hybrid jobs.4 Jobs that require human skills: empathy, listening, design, creativity, and technical skills and operational skills. More and more of the jobs of the future are going to be multifaceted and people-centric and less will be machine labor-ish kinds of work. That's true even in retail where more and more jobs are starting to get automated. That doesn't mean there aren't going to be enough jobs. They’re just going to be different and we all have to continually reskill ourselves to be ready for what's going to happen next.

TANYA OTT: There are some particular challenges to that rescaling though, because the traditional way of thinking about education is, for [about] 20 to 25 percent of the population, you go to a college or university, you get a degree, and that's your field.


TANYA OTT: Maybe you get a master's degree, but that's your field. But what you're actually looking at is the scenario where you're going to have to be a lifelong learner and retrain as technology changes, as the marketplace needs change. Talk to me a little bit about that and what the opportunities and the challenges are in that.

JOSH BERSIN: Sure. The first challenge is that we as human beings are a little bit afraid of reinventing ourselves. That’s just human nature. If you've made yourself a career as a carpenter or a salesperson or a marketing professional or a designer or an engineer or software person, whatever it is, and you become good at it, the last thing you want to do is think to yourself, “Oh my God, this job is actually becoming a commodity job. I need to learn something new because I won't be able to keep doing this.” There's a little bit of a human fear of reinvention that we have to get over. I've been working 35 years and I've had a lot of different jobs and every time I have a new job, it's a little bit scary and a little bit frightening. And it's a little bit intimidating, but I just have to jump in. We all have to get comfortable with that.

The second part of this is how do you learn and how do you reskill yourself. Even though there are dozens and dozens of places to go online and take courses and watch videos and teach yourself things, 70 to 80 percent of learning happens by doing.5 You have to actually ask your employer or your boss or your mentor or your friends for opportunities to do new things—projects where you get a chance to try new skills and become better at something that you haven't done before. The world of reskilling today is one of continuous apprenticeship, continuous mentorship—looking for thought leaders or partners or mentors or coaches that you can learn from and doing the same in reverse.

If you look at the way big companies work today, more and more of the value in big companies comes from people helping each other and experts helping their peers. What we used to call collaborative learning or social learning is a part of your life. If you want to be successful in your career or profession, you have to meet people [who] will help you as you progress. There's a formal education part, in which case some people need to go back to school. If you want to become a software engineer, you can go to coding school. If you want to become a marketing professional, you can go to schools in digital marketing. My daughter is thinking about going to school in data science, for example, but that will get you started. Then you have to find the projects to facilitate your growth.

Now the other challenge, frankly, that I think is out there and I don't want to blame anybody for this, but there is a lot of bias. In the old industrial world of business, you could determine somebody's skills from their experience and you could say, “I want somebody that has 10 years of experience in this job and I want to see if they've done it somewhere else before.” Well, in a world of constantly changing skills, you may not find somebody like that. You might find somebody that's done one year before or somebody that is capable of doing it, but hasn't done it that much yet.

So employers have to be less biased on the traditional criteria or traditional pedigrees of hiring and be more open to hiring people based on their capabilities and potential to succeed in the new job because some of the new jobs that are being created don't have a lot of experience yet. There are jobs for people to train robots. The data science profession is only probably four or five years old. Everybody is kind of flocking into it and you find a lot fewer people have actually done it than have talked about it. So we as employers, as hiring managers, have to be a little more open-minded, too.

Which gets me to the next point, which is that one of the things we've seen in all the research we've done on organizational engagement and brand is that if your company is not a place to learn, if you haven't built a culture of learning, if you're not willing to give people time to learn and give them the resources to learn, you'll have a harder and harder time attracting people because—particularly professionals and it's very, very true amongst Millennials—as people realize how fast the job market is changing, they want to work for a company that will give them the opportunity to learn the skills that they think will be in demand in the future.

TANYA OTT: When we're talking about education, one way of becoming educated is to work on interdepartmental teams or project-based teams where you might be able to pick up skills from someone else on the team. You talk about taking it upon yourself to retrain. I imagine there are some people who listen to that and think, “Well gosh, if I'm going to have to go back to school or learn new things every four or five years, on top of working full time, having a life with a family, and everything else…” There are a lot of people who may look at that and go, “Wow, I can't do that, I can't handle that,” or “That's really scary.”

JOSH BERSIN: Right. I agree with you. I don't think this can be done by individuals alone. I really think the burden of this reskilling, re-education, reinvention of the workforce is going to fall on companies. Employers have to build an organization that allows and facilitates people to take new jobs, learn new things, try new careers, move around from place to place.

I worked for IBM in the 1980s when at that point in time, every two years, you basically got a new job at IBM. That was the way the company was designed and it was deliberate. There were lots of learning opportunities and it was rewarded and considered to be part of your expectations and the company had made allowances for it. In exchange for that, we're going to have people of greater tenure and greater retention and a great culture and most of the companies I talked to now are telling me that one of their very high priorities is to improve and modernize career development.

Now, it used to be career development and you stay in this job for five years and then you become a level two, and then you stay in that job for four years and become a level three, and then eventually become a manager and then a director and then a vice president. If you can hang around long enough, maybe you make it to the executive ranks. That's not the way it works anymore. Now companies are realizing they have to allow people to move from project to project, job to job, function to function. Maybe they move to a new city and work on a new team and then come back. We have to build reward systems and development systems that allow that.

Companies that do this really do outperform. The example I can give is the article that came out that we co-wrote with some folks at AT&T about how AT&T has built a very dynamic career environment and culture inside the company.6The basic philosophy of AT&T is: We're going to give you every opportunity to reinvent yourself on a regular basis, but you have to do it. You have to take responsibility for it as a person, as an engineer, as a salesperson, as a customer service person, in the company. If you take responsibility for it, we will support you. If you don't, maybe you shouldn’t work here.

And the telecommunications industry, as you know, is very, very rapidly changing. It's about as disruptive as any that I've ever seen and they've thrived for 150 years. One of the biggest opportunities for career reinvention is the work that goes on inside companies to help people do this.

TANYA OTT: We've been talking a lot about career reinvention and how so much of the responsibility or the impetus of that has to come from companies themselves. But where do governmental institutions fall in that? Is there a policy aspect of that that governments need to be looking at?

JOSH BERSIN: There are a lot of reskilling programs funded by the government in different cities, particularly in locations where employers have picked up and left and new jobs are created. If you want to go to school to learn how to become a software engineer, for example, there's an organization called Opportunity at Work that will help you learn those kinds of skills. Tuition reimbursement, student loans, all of those kinds of programs are part of this continuous reinvestment.

You could probably argue that—and I don't know that statistic off the top of my head—but the United States probably needs to just spend more money on education. And we need to make it easier. The student debt burden in the United States is enormous. It's growing at twice or three times the rate of inflation.7 That is holding people back from taking the time to go back to school and reskill themselves and get a higher degree or learn a new technical skill. Those are all things the government can participate in.

TANYA OTT: Right now, we have technical colleges and we have universities and colleges and we may have some certificate programs, but is there another scenario that bubbles up that may be new?

JOSH BERSIN: Absolutely. If you work in the education industry, you talk of a disruption all the time. There's a lot of disruption going on in education. The first is that much of the content and educational material that was locked up is now almost free. So courses, videos, professors online, programs online—it's relatively easy to get access to educational content.

The second thing that's happening is employers are beginning to realize that the degree itself isn't as important as the skills or the experiences and the capabilities. Even though there's still an enormous premium for a college degree and a master's degree, more and more employers are beginning to realize that. Even companies like Google and Facebook and the really high-growth high-tech companies are realizing that we don't have to only hire kids that have Stanford degrees in computer science or pick the pedigree that you might want. We can find terrific skills in people that went to community colleges, that maybe didn't get a college degree, but have tremendous experience based on social data that we can find out about them. The credentialism of education is changing and that's disrupting education.

The third thing that's disrupting education is something we talked about at the very beginning of the conversation. It’s the idea that the disciplines of education are computer science, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, math, physics. Those are great. You do have to have specialization in all those domains, but more and more of the future jobs are hybrid. There's a lot of experiments going on with multi-disciplinary degrees and professional certificates to teach people a whole range of skills when they go out into the workforce.

For example, there's a program at the University of Southern California where they take high school kids and they teach them engineering and software and design and a little bit of business and some little bit of skills around working in teams and they help them build little businesses and little companies during their four-year undergraduate degree. Apparently the kids that go through this, you have to be [a] pretty high-powered person to get into it, immediately get hired by some of the best employers in Southern California and the West Coast because they're in such demand. They're not engineers. They're actually hybrid [professionals]. We're going to see more multi-disciplinary careers and certificates and degrees come out of educational institutions as well.

TANYA OTT: What’s the one thing that you would advise leaders of organizations or HR folks do to prepare themselves for this work of the future?

JOSH BERSIN: The biggest thing that an HR executive or even a business leader needs to do is just accept the fact that learning is part of your business strategy. You have to create an environment where people can learn, facilitate and support it and invest in it, and make sure people are taking advantage of it because you don't know all the things that are going to happen next. I can't tell you [if some] technology is going to revolutionize this industry—it’s being invented around us. If the organization doesn't have what we call learning culture, you will find yourself falling behind.

This happens periodically, in episodic ways. Companies go through cycles where they're really, really successful and all of a sudden they're not. Like, what happened? How come our margins are low? What happened is some competitor learns something that they didn't know. Maybe it's a new way to go to market, a new products category, a new way of marketing, a new niche in the customer segments, whatever. You suddenly have to scramble to figure out what it is you don't know.

The only way to prevent that is to create a learning environment where people inside the company feel comfortable, not only in reinventing themselves, but learning about their customers and their businesses on a regular basis so that they can reinvent the business. That's not just hitting your numbers—selling, producing, executing. You need time and investment for this other part of your business and that's not just an HR problem, that's a CEO-level problem. It might mean creating incubators inside the company. It might mean allowing people to take [a] stretch and developmental assignment. It might mean doing a lot of experiments in your products and in your services and in your talent model and letting people try new things. It might mean outsourcing things and having contractors do more work in certain areas. If you're not willing to try these new things, your organization won't learn and the people in it won't learn and you'll find yourself looking at, “Oh my God, we need to do a massive transformation and get back on track.” Nobody wants to go through that.

TANYA OTT: Not if you can avoid it. Josh Bersin has more tips for avoiding future of work pain in his article, Catch the wave: The 21st century career. It’s at, where you’ll also find that interview we talked about early in this show with New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author Tom Friedman.

I’m Tanya Ott for the Press Room. Check us out on Twitter. We’re @du_press. Let us know what you think of what you heard today—and what you’d like us to talk about on upcoming shows. Again, that’s @du_press on Twitter.

This podcast is provided by Deloitte and is intended to provide general information only. This podcast is not intended to constitute advice or services of any kind. For additional information about Deloitte, go to