Will your position still exist in five years?

EP outlines the questions raised by a recent PwC report

Looking to the future brings with it some big questions – what skills will be needed in five years’ time, how will jobs change and will some positions no longer exist?


recently the ten most important business skills in 2020 were collated by Top Ten Online Colleges, a company who identify the best places to receive degrees online. They argue that smart machines and systems will automate many jobs, which will in theory change the nature of skills in high demand. Social technologies are seen to play a more important role along with these six drivers of change:

  • Extreme longevity – by 2025 the number of Americans over 60 will increase by 70%.
  • Smart machines/systems – workplace automation can replace repetitive jobs.
  • New media ecology – new visual comms tools require media literacies beyond text.
  • Computational world – increases in sensors and processing will make the world a programmable system.
  • Superstructured organisations – social tools will allow work at extreme scales.
  • Globally connected world – diversity and adaptability at the centre of operations.

Future work skills of 2020:

  • Cross cultural competency – ability to operate in different cultural settings.
  • Sense making – ability to determine the significance of what is being expressed.
  • Social intelligence – ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.
  • Novel/adaptive thinking – proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rule-based.
  • Computational thinking – ability to translate data into abstract concepts.
  • Design mindset – ability to represent and develop work processes for desired outcome.
  • New media literacy – ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms and leverage these media for persuasive communication.
  • Virtual collaboration – ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence in a virtual team.
  • Trans-disciplinary – literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines.
  • Cognitive load management – ability to filter information for importance.

 “Disruptive innovations are creating new industries and business models, and destroying old ones,” says Michael Rendell, Partner at PwC in a recent report titled The future of work – A journey to 2022. Asking 10,000 people in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US for their views, the report found that 66% see the world as full of possibilities and believe they will be successful, while 53% think technological breakthroughs will transform the way people work over the next five to ten years. The research began in 2007 by PwC and the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation at Saïd Business School in Oxford University. The two came together to develop a series of scenarios for the future of people management. They looked at new technologies, data analytics and social networks and how they are all impacting on how people communicate, collaborate and work. With generations colliding, workforces becoming more diverse and people working for longer, traditional work models may soon be a thing of the past.

The world has seen many changes since the research started. Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, 2009 saw urban dwellers become a majority of the global population and the following year China overtook the US as the largest manufacturer. The number of mobile devices and connections surpassed the number of people on the planet in 2013, and this year the first $10 tablet computer came on the market. A prediction in the report argues we may see the first fully automated, robot-served hotel by 2022.

From this research a scenario with three distinct ‘Worlds’ of work was created – Blue, Green and Orange – shaped by forces such as economic shifts redistributing power, wealth, competition and opportunity. When asked what will transform how people work in the future, surveyed members stated that technology breakthroughs (53%), resource scarcity and climate change (39%) and shifts in global economic power (36%) will have the greatest impact.

The emergence of these worlds will create fresh challenges for HR. Instead of looking at skills shortages and managing people through change, by 2022 the need to create sophisticated measurement techniques to monitor performance and productivity may take over. As will addressing issues on the boundary between work and personal life starting to disappear, so companies will need to assume greater responsibility for the social welfare of their employees.

The Orange World is where technology empowers a low impact, high-tech model and networks prosper while large companies decline. Businesses will embrace the rise of the portfolio career and hire a diverse mix of people with employees having flexibility and autonomy in return for working on a short-term contractual basis. Telepresence and virtual solutions allow for remote working and extended global networks.

The Blue World sees globalisers take centre stage and consumer preferences dominate. Scale is the crucial differentiator with mega-corporates spanning the globe, constantly innovating to keep pace with demand. The deal for employees is job security and long-term service in return for employee commitment and flexibility. Blue firms will fund and source new product and process ideas to bring opportunity. While some ideas make it into core products and processes, many are sold on or licensed to create a self-funding innovation model.

The Green World is where consumers and employees force change and companies seek to develop a social conscience. Ethics and environmental credentials are a top priority and agendas align in society and business. Companies are open, trusting, collaborative learning organisations and see themselves playing an important role in supporting and developing their employees and local communities. Family-friendly hours are an opportunity to create a new employee value proposition that isn’t solely reliant on pay.


Are you ready?

The findings highlight how forward-looking teams are considering a range of scenarios for the future as part of their planning. The survey included input from almost 500 HR professionals across the world who argued they are not prepared for meeting the needs of a workforce who demand more freedom, autonomy and flexibility.

While no exploration of the future could ever be definitive, the hope is that it will help many prepare and answer queries on how developments are going to affect the talent a business needs, and how to attract and motivate employees. Whatever path is taken, it’s going to look very different in five years.