Vibrant Economy Blog

The future of work: how do we make it 'work'?

Keely Woodley Keely Woodley

Skills, collaboration, the right role models and the 100-year life could be key to success in the future of work.

It seems hardly a day passes without us reading about the ‘accelerating pace of global change’. Whether it’s economic or social, both will dramatically change the world of work. That said, while there’s been a lot of heat generated on the topic, to my mind, we’ve seen very little light.

This is why I was excited to host a dinner last week to discuss the future of work. It was great to see leaders from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors in the same room, sharing insights and discussing the challenges that face businesses and individuals.

The challenge for business and employers

What was clear from the conversation was that the nature of work is radically changing: advances in AI, IoT and Big Data are set to power a new wave of digital transformation. Organisations will need different skills to drive the innovation and agility they will need in the new world.

A post-Brexit UK must make sure that it can access enough people with the right skills to help businesses succeed in the long term, and they’re going to have to work hard to attract new staff and invest in their skillsets.

On the same evening as our event, Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA and head of the government’s review of zero-hour contracts, warned of the dangers of ‘dead end’ jobs in the future of work. He argued that businesses must play a part to help end epidemic of ‘bad work’, which is bad for British jobs and productivity. So, given all this, what is the way forward? How do we make work pay for employers and employees alike?

What next?

Our guests argued that the following four themes could hold the answers:

1. Skills

Businesses will need new skills to thrive as they adapt to new technologies. A reskilling culture is already beginning to take shape: employers are increasingly shouldering responsibility for the development of their staff. Nevertheless, more can still be done. Businesses must work with government and develop an ethos of shared responsibility when it comes to skills; making sure that everyone can enjoy a successful, rewarding career.

2. Collaboration

Links must be forged between schools, colleges and universities. By developing relationships built on transparency and trust, educators and business leaders will help young people leave education with the skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s economy and avoid ‘dead-end’ jobs.

We must also support a culture of collaboration between businesses, which has already surged in the face of economic necessity. By way of some context, WeWork – a provider of shared office space – intends to have 376 locations in 2018, up from 24 in 2014. Shared office space provides huge potential for collaboration, businesses are exposed to new ideas, methods of working and can develop new solutions powered by an exchange of original ideas.

3. Role models

We must do more to share the experiences of those who can inspire action and encourage change. Any business leader will tell you that people from non-traditional backgrounds bring refreshing skillsets and can help the organisation innovate and thrive. By showcasing role models who embody the new world of work, companies can help to prevent communities being left behind and becoming isolated from wider prosperity.

4. The 100-year life

While I won’t deny the prospect of putting my feet up can at times feel appealing, I’m also excited by the prospect of the 100-year life, where I can enjoy several careers and experience a variety of industries. Educators and employers need to prepare for the change. It’s time to start providing people with skillsets that are applicable to a variety of careers, empowering them to succeed at all ages and across the job market. We have to move away from the traditional belief that careers can be built on a small number of sector-specific skills.

Our inquiry

At Grant Thornton, this is the starting point for our focus on the future of work. We will continue to explore various aspect of the debate, developing a coherent framework for investigation and presenting our findings as we go.

This inquiry will engage experts from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors, and will inform a roadmap that we are producing to help businesses prepare for, and react to, the future world of work. As we begin this process, it is clear that both employers and employees alike are looking for guidance. By providing answers to the important questions, we are looking to help businesses everywhere prepare for the future.