HR Leads Business

Dec 10, 2018 | Ginny Engholm

Planning for 2019 and Beyond: What Are the Biggest Global Trends Affecting the Workforce?

Challenges in recruiting and retaining top talent, combined with technological innovations transforming the workforce, are forcing business leaders to get creative with workforce planning.

The biggest issue: a tight job market that shows no signs of easing. The latest data reveals a U.S. unemployment rate of 3.7 percent. “We are at an all-time low when it comes to joblessness, particularly in the United States, but even on a global scale we're seeing the tightening up of the market,” says Cecile Alper-Leroux, Ultimate Software’s vice president of HCM innovation.

Here are the other trends senior executives need to plan for when it comes to workforce development in 2019 and beyond.

An Emphasis on Reskilling

The “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which Alper-Leroux describes as “the confluence of AI technology, automation and robotics,” is likely to continue to be a driving force for workforce change in the coming year.

“Very few organizations are fully aware of the challenge that the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents for workforce needs. We need to reskill and up-skill our workforces in a much more systematic way,” Alper-Leroux says.

Jason Corsello, managing partner at Acadian Ventures, also cites this as an area of focus. “Automation of manual processes and the leveraging of technology to augment decision making is going to enable us to move much faster. We starting to witness even more productivity gains,” he says.

These technological advancements mean that reskilling your current workforce needs to be the top priority as an employer. This isn’t a gap you can close just by hiring. “There are workforce shortages across the board,” Corsello says. “Workforce shortages used to be relegated to Silicon Valley or New York City. Now you hear it in the Midwest, in smaller cities, in Nebraska, where even they don't have the available talent to fill the jobs.”

Fresh Perspectives on Diversity and Inclusion

Another top priority for companies for 2019 is transforming how they think about diversity.

“Diversity has been a topic that people have been talking about as just the right thing to do,” Corsello says. But it’s not just about what’s right — it’s also about what’s effective. “It’s become much more of a business imperative to have a diverse workforce, because without it you start to lose out on the best talent available,” he says. “You need to have a concerted effort and concerted diversity programs that are focused on attracting the best talent.”

Training managers to ensure they are prepared to lead diverse teams is crucial. “We need to invest more thoroughly in diversity, equity and inclusion opportunities,” Alper-Leroux says. “Inclusion, in particular, is crucial. Globally, you have people from displaced countries and cultures coming into the workplace in larger numbers. It's going to be very, very important to make sure that supervisors on the ground really know how to manage much more diverse teams than they've had to in the past.”

These displaced populations can transform a community’s workforce, often in a short amount of time. “New populations of potential workers are available to employers due to massive displacement,” Alper-Leroux says. “In Germany, there are villages that have overnight shifted in demographics by bringing in displaced workers from Syria.” Savvy executives are thinking about how these new populations of workers can help them meet their talent needs and enhance their organization’s growth.

Finding New Ways to Manage Stress

Workplace climate is another global trend that many companies fail to focus on. Globally, workers are experiencing record levels of stress. "The problem is way worse than anyone even thinks about or talks about,” Corsello says.

Many workers doubt whether all the long hours and stress will pay off. Alper-Leroux says a study by her company found that “for those at a manager level or below, only 9 percent of employees believe they'll be able to fulfill their dream at work. When you move up to the level of directors and executives, it goes a little higher to 30 percent. But that is still pretty grim.”

We’re starting to see more focus on overload and its effects on productivity and employee well-being, Alper-Leroux says. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. “People are in a room full of people and are incredibly lonely and disconnected from the work that they’re doing because they aren't connecting. Companies aren’t actually creating an environment where people can share things that are important to them,” she says.

HR Can Lead the Way

The biggest takeaway for senior leaders and HR executives? Dealing with these workforce challenges is actually HR's specialty and HR’s job. “HR executives should be calling meetings about this. They should be figuring out these workforce issues and telling global executives, ‘This is what we should be focusing on,’ " Alper-Leroux says.

For HR executives and other business leaders, these global trends present challenges but they also offer opportunities. “This is absolutely an area where HR can shine by helping companies and employees figure out how to develop their people further, give them new opportunities and help the company grow,” Alper-Leroux says.