Date posted: 16/11/2017 6 min read

Listen: Five ways to futureproof your workforce

What will the future world of work look like? And what can business leaders do to prepare for tomorrow? Here are five ways to plan ahead.

In Brief

  • Most employers know they need to change work practices, but many are not satisfied with their progress, a new survey by Chartered Accountants ANZ finds.
  • Accountants have an opportunity to become technology advisors, as well as business advisors.
  • Business leaders should focus on upskilling their people, recruiting diverse talent and addressing community interests.

Employers need to make changes and make them fast. The workforce in Australia and New Zealand is undergoing extraordinary change, as skills that were once highly valued are replaced by technology, and many businesses are not fully prepared.

That message comes through loud and clear in The Future of Talent: Opportunities Unlimited, a new report by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, informed by a survey of more than 1,000 business leaders. 

Most Australian and New Zealand employers surveyed say they need to change their work practices to ensure their ongoing growth and profitability. However, many feel they are only doing an average job to adjust.

“There are massive changes in the workforce that have been happening and are happening, and will happen,” says author and science commentator Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.

(Pictured: Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. By Mel Koutchavlis.)

Listen to a podcast with Dr Karl:

So how should employers respond? “To be able to unerringly predict the future,” Kruszelnicki responds wryly. This is because we simply don’t know how technology and automation will impact the workforce tomorrow. 

So aside from inventing a time machine to see into the future, how else can business leaders help their people adjust to this uncertainty?

Here are some practical tips to consider:

1. Merge HR with technology

The Chartered Accountants ANZ report argues that while business must harness technology, people will always be needed. While some roles will be replaced, new ones will also emerge. Futurist Chris Riddell agrees: “In any organisation, the two most important co-pilots in the future will be your technology/digital division and your talent division. Those two need to work together closer than ever.”

(Pictured: Chris Riddell.)

2. Help people become adaptable

In the survey, employers say adaptability and agility are important skills in modern workplaces. As Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel wrote in The Australian: “It is time to recognise that it is not a failure to progress to a job that has no obvious link to one’s degree. In the mass education era, the capacity to pivot is probably the most reliable predictor of success.”

Employers can help their people develop agility and adaptability by offering development opportunities within the organisation. These can include transfers across business units, rotation programmes, “acting” in other roles, secondments to other business units or assignments with related organisations. Businesses must also adopt a mindset of continual learning through on-the-job training, mentoring and online courses and professional development.

3. Turn accountants into technology advisors

When rating the most important skills for the future, accounting leaders in the survey place “the ability to work with data and the latest technology and systems” in the top four. However, only one-third say they are excellent at attracting and retaining those skills. 

Employers must encourage their accountants to become experts in technology, says Riddell: “People need to know what the latest technology platforms are, otherwise they will be out of step with the market. They trust accountants, who know their businesses better than anyone. So accounting business advisors need to become the new technology advisors.”

Riddell points to cloud accounting platforms as an example of this. “Technology provides the tools to help drive deeper insights into businesses in real time and see how they’re performing. We’re going to see more technology like that come into the market and accountants who can harness that will remain some of the most valuable people when it comes to helping businesses grow.”

Listen to a podcast with Chris Riddell:

4. Embrace your community

The Chartered Accountants ANZ report highlights what has been described as a moral obligation for business leaders “to address social challenges by focusing on purposeful growth. This means influencing the political, economic, regulatory and social systems within which companies operate, through better collaboration with government and finding non-adversarial ways to interact”.

Kruszelnicki points to the environment as an example of where big business has done more harm than good: “With global warming, we need the good people to be in there [influencing government] because the fossil fuel companies...claim that there's no such thing as global warming and because they've been able to subvert large sections of the media, they've managed to create doubt in the mind of the average person…” 

Kruszelnicki suggests people should enter politics to influence government for the better. The Chartered Accountants ANZ report argues business leaders should see the commercial sense in cooperating with government for the public good. Otherwise a lack of trust in political and business establishments creates hostility towards globalisation (e.g. Brexit) which prevents organisations competing on the world stage. That erosion of trust also makes it harder for big business to attract talented, community-minded people.'

5. Broaden your horizons

High-potential professionals can be found throughout the population, but many recruitment practices inadvertently eliminate swathes of talent from consideration. “What might at first look like a skills shortage may on closer inspection reveal too narrow a search,” says the Chartered Accountants ANZ paper.

Employers should question their assumptions about roles and skills required, in order to source more diverse candidates, according to Riddell. “The more diversity you have, the richer your business will be from a cultural perspective. And ultimately that is what you will deliver for your customer. If you have a living, moving internal network and vibrant community within your business, that is what your customer will feel, see and experience.”

Related: The Future of Talent

Read the new Chartered Accountants ANZ report that explains how work practices are changing and what business leaders must do to prepare their workforce.

Related: Stay curious this summer

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Karl, The Universe And Everything, by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is in bookshops out now. 

Andy McLean is a writer and content marketing consultant.