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Changing Worlds of Work and Workers

By Beth Mirza  5/7/2012
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As job demands, how work gets done and who does the work change, HR professionals need to prepare to have serious conversations with senior leaders to make sure that the talent in the organization is ready to meet business needs.

Michael Haid, senior vice president, talent management, for Right Management in Pittsburg, N.J., spent his concurrent session during the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2012 Talent Management Conference & Exposition talking about how work and workers are in flux.

Haid declared that we are leaving the Information Age—which was preceded by the Stone Age, Industrial Age and Space Age—and entering the Human Age. Prior epochs in human history have been marked by the emergence of and dependence on tools, machines, innovation and technology. In the coming age, Haid said, “Talent will be the engine of commerce.” Having the right people, with the right skills, in the right jobs at the right time will be companies’ main source of competitive advantage, he added.

Following are the trends affecting what talent employers need now and in the future, according to researchers at Right Management, a division of ManpowerGroup, interpreting thousands of surveys across dozens of countries:

A demographic and talent mismatch. Organizations are struggling to fill certain types of jobs, including technicians, sales and skilled trades. Part of the difficulty is that the demands of these jobs have changed, Haid said. Technicians must be able to communicate well with colleagues in addition to performing jobs with technical expertise. Salespeople need to be consultants and network with their clients in addition to selling products and services. And there aren’t enough skilled workers being trained to meet demand as older workers retire.

According to research from Deloitte and the United Nations, population growth is slowing and the number of working-age people is declining. So not only are older workers retiring and existing workers less qualified, there also are fewer young people to fill the jobs they leave empty. “These are global, irreversible trends,” Haid said.

Technological revolutions change who does work. Organizations can now post a problem on their website and have a “crowd-sourced” solution within days—or minutes. “You get innovation without employing anyone,” Haid said.

The rise of individual choice. Highly skilled applicants are now presented with tailor-made employment contracts. Organizations are deciding which talent they need and which they do not and are altering benefits and perks to appeal more to the workers they want.

The rise of customer sophistication. Five years ago, a person who wanted to buy a car would go to a dealership to learn more about the different makes, models, prices and financing. Today, a customer researches online for the best vehicle, finds it at a local dealership, negotiates the best financing among a variety of lenders, then pops over to the dealership to sign the paperwork quickly. Companies must move quickly to stay ahead of their customers.

Employers have to shift their thinking about who does their work and how the work gets done, Haid said. Make sure that older workers are passing their knowledge to younger employees. Teach employees how what they do supports the company. Think of workers in terms of flexible teams instead of rigid job descriptions—teams that can adapt as business needs change.

When talking with senior business leaders about these changes in work and workers, keep these concepts in mind:

  • Confirm the business strategy. Make sure you know what the leadership wants to accomplish over the next six months, one year and five years. Then document how talent feeds into these priorities.

  • Talk about what skills leaders will need in the future. How are you developing your high-potential employees to meet these future skills?

  • Frame the discussion in terms of risks and trade-offs. Which will really get senior leaders’ attention? What is the risk of not implementing leadership training? What happens if employees are not engaged? “Answer the ‘so what?’ question that senior leaders are always thinking in the back of their minds,” Haid said.

Beth Mirza is senior editor for HR News. She can be reached at


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