The unemployment rate has hovered around 4 percent for months now, which is a 17-year low and one of many signs of a healthy labor market. This is good news for workers but troubling for businesses looking at the long term. Finding qualified talent is extremely difficult when competition is fierce for a declining pool of available professionals.
On the other hand, rapid changes in technology augur equally tumultuous changes in the labor market. For example, Oxford University researchers predict that advances in automation and connected technologies could eliminate up to half of all U.S. jobs. But those same displacements are also creating new types of jobs, and some even believe widespread robotics will effectively eliminate dangerous and menial labor.
Forecasting the future of labor is difficult, but what is certain is that major changes are coming. Those will include both challenges and opportunities for companies. You should start preparing your business for the looming shifts tech advances will bring. Otherwise, staffing inevitably becomes an obstacle rather than an advantage.
Make sure your business is equipped to recruit, train, and retain the workforce of the future by taking these five steps:
1. Prepare for AI's imminent impact.
Artificial intelligence will be the next great technological shift to transform business. But unlike some past shifts, the impact is likely to be immediate rather than incremental. This requires businesses to begin systematically evaluating what that impact will look like now, not later. Vivek Mohta of Manifold, an AI product studio with offices in Boston and Silicon Valley, says that while business leaders may use AI to augment their workforce and give customers new experiences, "fundamentally, competing with AI is still about analyzing opportunities and threats, creating a diversified portfolio of initiatives, and empowering teams to execute against these bets." Companies will need to take a comprehensive approach to determine the most valuable AI investments for their business.
2. Adapt IT for an increasingly remote workforce.
Employees and employers are both eager to adopt a more remote approach to work. Flexible options lead to a better work-life balance for staff while lowering overhead costs for businesses. Jon Schram, founder and CEO of The Purple Guys, a managed IT services and computer support provider, is a big believer in the trend and technology's role in facilitating it -- and doing so in a secure manner. "Whether co-workers are separated by miles, mountains, or oceans, technology can bring them together," he says. "Offices of the future may have no physical office, so having IT support that understands how to securely manage data and communications in the cloud will be critical."
3. Embrace the gig economy.
Full-time employment is quickly evolving into freelance, contract, or gig work. By 2020, up to 43 percent of the U.S. labor market is expected to fall into this category. Future employees looking for variety and flexibility in their careers appreciate the opportunities of the gig economy, and employers must embrace it, too. Successfully relying on both freelancers and in-house employees require a strong company culture, the free flow of information and expectations, and a new approach to compensation. Reward employees, gig or otherwise, based on their contribution rather than their position.
4. Adopt high-tech training methods.
The new employment landscape requires new approaches to training. Augmented reality allows new hires to develop experiential knowledge without actually being on the job or even being in the same place as the trainer. This capability is essential as the workforce becomes more remote and temporary. In addition, some envision VR being helpful when training employees to handle hazardous situations.
5. Seal up the skills gap.
Future employees will need skills that are currently underrepresented in the labor market and in higher education. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center believes employers are part of the solution. Business leaders can create training and educational initiatives for today's youth based on the skills they will need in tomorrow's workplaces. Companies are already seeing the effects of a tight labor market. Without a proactive effort to close the skills gap, recruiting employees with the knowledge and experience you need is only going to get harder.
The future of labor is uncertain, but it's undeniably exciting. There are opportunities for workers to enjoy greater freedom and flexibility than ever before. In addition, there are just as many opportunities for companies to leverage human labor for maximum benefit. The workforce of the future promises to be more productive than ever -- that is, as long as companies are ready for its arrival.