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The future workforce… digital ready or digital steady?

Digital Initiatives By Lee French, Partner, Civil Engineering – 16 November 2021

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Lee French

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As we start to come to terms with the aftereffects of Covid-19, we find ourselves asking the question, what does the workforce of the future look like and what will drive them?

With or without Covid-19, we were going to have to deal with the redefinition of socialising and workplace interaction as digital transformation gains pace. Today’s workforce sees the world differently and expects different things from their career and lifestyle.

In planning for and building the workforce of the future, leaders must embrace change and be able to constantly adapt. The biggest change that we continually face is the digital revolution, which continues to move forward at an exponential pace.

When we look at the expectations of the workforce of the future and ask whether being digitally ready is essential, we must accept that the answer is ‘yes’. If you consider our current business processes, they have already transformed. We are living in a digital world with automation and analysis all around.

If we consider the challenges this poses to the current and near future workforce, we need to take account of their broad range of attributes. The active workforce has progressively developed their understanding and skills in the digital world. This contrasts with new career professionals who may have been born in the middle of the digital revolution, grown up with it and been educated through it. The reliance on a digital-ready world for our new workforce as they rise through the ranks is only going to increase.

Within the construction industry, the rise of the programmer is becoming increasingly evident with certain roles such as coding/programming and tech interface becoming just as important, if not more, than technical output.

We have a big role to play as businesses and leaders to ensure that we protect against redundancy and provide the workforce with the tools it needs to stay afloat. Tech advancement need not replace roles but can make us more efficient in our day-to-day job. We need to understand, educate, be educated and embrace it.
This brings us on to future-proofing and looking at our obligations to the workforce and industry. We need to keep up with these advancements and our leaders and workforce must have the ability to adapt and react.

Employees are the most valuable part of a business and organisations must be willing to invest in training, development and research. Building relationships to develop trust will also be as important as ever. Dependence and accountability can only be achieved when we have these things in place.

We must also consider motivation: in changing times, motivation changes. Pure commercial benefits that may have motivated employees 15 years ago will not provide the same results today. The new workforce places a lot of importance on ‘softer' benefits such as place of work; autonomy, flexibility and agility; social relationships, acceptance and acknowledgement; education and training opportunities; clear career development; health and well-being and corporate social responsibility. In most cases, the best results will come when the workforce feel they are developing a career and making a difference, rather than just doing a job.

The big question in all of this is what happens if we can’t or don’t embrace change? This is no longer an option - maintaining the status quo will eventually lead to demise. No business can continue operating successfully if they do not adapt to and navigate change. We are all familiar with the likes of Blockbuster, Toys R Us and Kodak - their stories quickly becoming business folklore.

We have a duty and obligation to our workforce to travel with them on this transformative journey. To do so successfully, we must be ready to embrace the transformation ourselves.

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