CIPD debate:The future trends that will shape work

The world’s is evolving and changing faster than work can keep up, warns the CIPD as it launches debate on the future trends that will shape work and working lives. This should come as little suprise given the pace that technology is evolving. A number of “Megatrends” over the last century have changed the world of work beyond recognition, according to a new report. However, the question remains whether businesses are sufficiently aware of, or prepared for, the future trends that will shape the way we work and the performance of our organisations and economies in the next decade.

“Megatrends: The trends shaping work and working lives” is this week published by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, as it launches a debate on the “megatrends” that are likely to shape the world of work, the workforce and the culture and organisation of workplaces in the near future.

The report highlights key changes that have shaped work in recent times, including:

  • De-industrialisation: In just half a century from 1961, the proportion of the workforce employed in manufacturing fell from 36% to 8%, while the proportion employed in services rose from 49% to 81%;
  • Demographic change: In just 21 years from 1992, the proportion of the employed workforce aged 50 and over has risen from 21% to 29%, while the proportion aged under 25 has fallen from 18% to 12%;
  • Educational attainment: In just 18 years from 1993, the proportion of 16-64 year olds with a degree compared to those with no qualifications almost completely reversed, from 11% with a degree compared to 26% with no qualifications in 1993 to 24% and 11% respectively in 2011;
  • Decline of collectivism: In just 33 years, union membership halved from 13 million in 1979 to less than 6.5 million in 2012;
  • Dramatic shifts in organisation size: In just 12 years, from 1998 to 2010, the proportion of private sector employment accounted for by firms with more than 250 employees fell from 49% to 40%, while the proportion employed in the smallest firms (with one to four employees) doubled from 11% to 22%.

Looking to the future, the report identifies four new “megatrends” that could have similarly dramatic impacts on the world of work within the next decade.

RAND researchers Lynn Karoly and Constantijn Panis sought to answer this question as well and came up with this tech angle:

“The pace of technological change — whether through advances in information technology (IT), biotechnology, or such emerging fields as nanotechnology — will almost certainly accelerate in the next 10-15 years, with synergies across technologies and disciplines generating advances in research and development, production processes, and the nature of products and services”.

“In the IT field, for example, advances in microprocessors will support real-time speech recognition and translation, and artificial intelligence and robotics are likely to advance further. The use of more intelligent robotics in manufacturing will support the ability to quickly reconfigure machines to produce prototypes and new production runs, with implications for manufacturing logistics and inventories. Further technological advances are expected to continue to increase demand for a highly skilled workforce, support higher productivity growth, and change the organization of business and the nature of employment relationships”.

A series of follow-up reports in the coming weeks will ask:

  • Have we seen the end of the pay rise? (Responding to four years of falling average real earnings, the most sustained period for at least half a century);
  • Has job turnover slowed down? (Responding to a fall in voluntary exits from firms  – a trend that pre-dates the recent recession and is in contrast to many years of discussion on the end of the “job for life”);
  • Are we working harder than ever? (Responding to a trend for employees reporting that they’re working more intensively than ever before – driven as much by developments in technology as by recession-driven cost savings on employee numbers);
  • Are organisations losing the trust of their workers? (Responding to evidence showing plummeting trust in organisations and their leaders that has been exacerbated by recent scandals in sectors as diverse as financial services and the NHS).

Peter Cheese, chief executive at the CIPD, comments: “Work’s changed beyond measure in the 100 years since the CIPD was formed. But the pace of change today is unprecedented. The future of work, the changing nature of the workforce, and the organisation and culture of the workplace are among the biggest challenges facing organisations and their leaders, and if HR doesn’t provide the answers, they’ll find them elsewhere.

“These are big challenges. If we get them right, we can deliver better work and working lives and stronger, more sustainable organisations. But to do that, as a profession, we have to develop our analytical skills, so we’re better at ‘seeing round corners’ and helping our organisations identify the next big questions and challenges.”

Mark Beatson, chief economist at the CIPD, adds: “Our report reveals how much the world of work has changed in recent years.  But the world does not stand still and new trends will emerge that will have equal, if not greater, impact. We highlight just a few of the questions that business leaders might find themselves having to address – sooner rather than later.

“We’ll be delving deeper into these emerging trends in the coming weeks to see whether these are truly new and emerging forces that will stay with us or the consequences of the troubled times we live in. But we’re also asking the profession to highlight the other future megatrends they see taking shape. This report is the start of a conversation designed to help the profession get better at anticipating and adapting to a world that is changing faster than our approaches to the organisation, management and conduct of work have been up until now.”