Future Work – What will work and workers be like in the future?

A conference on the Future of Work, on 29th November, organised by the Sunday Business Post highlighted the trends and influences which are likely to impact on the types of jobs that will be in demand in the future.

In his keynote address, Ade McCormack, former technologist and Financial Times columnist explained why work will be quite a different experience for our children. He tracks human development and work from Stone Age man to now and suggests that we are moving from the Information age into the Biological age. This will include moving from a stage of using and wearing technology to possibly have technology embedded in us. He also suggests that as many as 50% of jobs in the future will be done by robots and humans will need to develop their creative potential rather than engage in mundane tasks which will be done increasingly by robots.

He also notes that the digital economy is driving fundamental power shifts including: from the employer to the employee, from the seller to the buyer and from the government to the citizen.

In his presentation on How to future proof your workplace? Peter Cosgrove, Director, CPL and Founder of the Future of Work Institute, Ireland, highlighted some key issues and trends which will impact on employment including;

  • The impact of technology on all businesses and how technology is affecting recruitment methods with social media an increasingly important aspect.
  • How businesses are being affected by a global marketplace, flexible working and adapting to the new generation of workers. Work in the future will not be a place to go to, but a thing to do!
  • The importance of talent, innovation and how gender diversity will become increasingly important
  • The employer brand is important and employers will need to adapt to ensure they attract future talent in a talent scarce marketplace.

Fiona Mullen, the HR Director at Facebook discussed How companies can provide outstanding workplaces which are enablers for productivity, creativity and innovation. Fiona provided an interesting account of the Facebook story and the values of being ‘bold’ in a brave and innovative way and open to its staff and customers. The company tries to avoid being hierarchical and engages with staff in building trust and a common purpose. The company motto is ‘This Journey is 1% Finished’, illustrating its ongoing ambition.

 Annette Burns, Director of  eumom  highlighted the growing importance of women in the workforce. She noted that Western economies are facing a skills crisis where a birth rate of 2.1 is needed just to keep standing still; yet every year thousands of skilled women leave the workforce. In Ireland alone, over 3000 fulltime women leave every year. In the US 3 million professional women are keen to re-enter the workplace. eumom, has researched the issues and has identified what limits women’s participation and what are the enablers to contributing now and in the future.

Professor Anthony Staines, DCU discussed how changing skills requirements alter education priorities for individuals and policy-makers across the stages of formal education? In particular he examines the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and suggests that while this is important there is a need to focus on other skills also. He notes that in comparison to other countries we do have a well-educated workforce, though there are some issues with early school leaving and the youth who disengage from formal education. He noted that our education system is getting better at supporting lifelong learning but the main beneficiaries are those who are already well educated and have done well out of the education system. He suggests that in terms of educational outcomes Ireland is good at equality but not equity. He welcomed the developments undertaken by SOLAS in expanding and modernising the apprentice system in Ireland and suggests that employers should increasingly try to employ apprentices rather than the traditional focus on graduates. He also noted that while technology is solving a lot of problems there are some persistent problems that need much attention such as

  • Persistent poverty
  • Climate change
  • Migration
  • Controlling corporations

Mark Coleman, Research Director at Gartner discussed the issue of Competing for Top Talent. Though most CIOs believe there is a talent crisis, they engage in surprisingly little talent innovation. In particular, they should consider new approaches to acquiring and keeping top talent. To compete in this arena, CIOs must borrow the mindset, tools and technologies of branding and marketing. Seeing talent as a customer, and employment by IT as a brand promise fulfilled, will improve talent acquisition and retention.

In her Ministerial Address: Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & innovation noted the new jobs announcements she had made that morning in pharmaceuticals and communications and that they were likely to be an important feature of the economy in the future. She highlighted the new data on unemployment which is now at the lowest rate in many years and the importance of continuing to ensure that all have an opportunity to enter the workforce. The Minister noted the role of the Regional Action Plans for Jobs and the new Regional Skills Fora as an important initiative designed to bring employers and educationalists together to ensure skills gaps are overcome.

Professor Cathal O’Donoghue, Director, Rural Economy and Development Programme, Teagasc discussed The Future of Work in the regional economies of Ireland. He showed how the recent recession and economic recovery has affected different parts of Ireland in different ways, which has resulted in diverging labour markets. He discussed recent drivers in relation to regional economic growth, demographic and labour market changes. The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas outlined a strategy to both increase employment in the short term and to move employment up the value chain in the medium term.

Kevin Empey, Director, Willis Towers Watson discussed how advances in technology are redefining employer/employee relationships. He explored what is changing in the employer / employee landscape and how organisations can prepare for a rapidly changing workforce and workplace. He discussed how demographic and technology trends are converging to transform working environments globally as well as the implications for Business Leaders, for HR and for employees.

The conference concluded with an interesting Panel Discussion on The ‘Gig’ economy and What it means for work in the future? This on-demand, or so called ‘gig’ economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But there are important hard questions about workforce protections and what a ‘good’ job will look like in the future.


Deirdre Frost