Alumni careers advice: The future of work or the new normal?

24 April 2020

We are living in unprecedented times; where we work and how we work is evolving as we adapt to our new normal. What will the future of work look like in the light of our global health crisis? One thing for certain is a career as we know it will change beyond recognition.

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends reports in 2018 and 2019 highlighted some key changes which seem particularly pertinent as we look to our careers and future today. Which sectors will emerge as stable and likely to continue to grow? What impact will continued social distancing have?

We are already seeing rapidly advancing technologies; artificial intelligence, robotics and automation that are beginning to make disruptive changes to the way we work. An April 2020 McKinsey article, The future is not what it used to be: thoughts on the shape of the next normal, highlights the growth of contact free economies, digital commerce, telemedicine and changes in supply chain as key parts of the future of work. It is these changes that are now beginning to shift definitions of career models from those defined by positions or tenure to those of pathways or new experiences. We are seeing organisations actively redesigning jobs around AI and robotics as transactional work moves to automation, leaving employees focusing on the key transformational areas of their work and needing to embrace new experiences and career pathways.

In Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report, “building the 21st century career” emerged as the fourth most important work trend in 2018 and again in 2019, with 47 percent of the 11,000 HRDS and senior business leaders surveyed describing it as a very important strategy to sustain competitive advantage. In their 2019 report, leadership changes are highlighted as a key requirement to make these organisational shifts. To be effective critical new competencies emerge as:

  • Leading through change
  • Embracing complexity and ambiguity and on a remote basis
  • Understanding cognitive, digital and AI technologies – managing humans and machines.

The future is not what it used to be: thoughts on the shape of the next normal says that organisations are now looking to their succession plans to ensure they are robust enough in having leaders in times of crisis.

A recent Alumni Learn and Connect webinar with a panel of our mentors discussed the key trends outlined in the Deloitte survey. Our mentors gave valuable insights and comments on how their organisations are responding to the future of work challenges, from a career development perspective, and what this means for individuals, teams and organisations. A full recording of the webinar is available here.

At WBS the future of work is recognised as a central plank of our research strategy. In a time where productivity, wages and life expectancy are stagnating, we are working to use innovation to support the productivity and wellbeing of the workforce. Learn more about the four themes of this new priority area.

So what will characterise a 21st century career in our new world?

According to Deloitte’s report, a 21st century career is not bound by learning and acquiring specific levels of skills, but is seen as a series of developmental experiences, each offering a person the opportunity to acquire new skills, perspectives and judgment. It is no longer the ladder or simple stair step of previous generations and careers in this century may follow an upward arc with progression and promotion at various times.

What will be critical therefore is for individuals to develop a curious mindset, a way of thinking ‘what if’ and the ability to seek new and innovative ways to achieve positive outcomes. Personal learning plans and coaching, rather than programmes to enable employees to develop or reinvent themselves, are ever more important and the report also highlights the shift in attitudes to older workers and the contribution they can make to an organisation’s success.

Five key tips for being on track

  • Adopt a curious mindset - ‘reimagine the possible’ is now seen in recruitment adverts for PwC
  • Don’t wait to be put on a learning programme - look for opportunities to drive your own learning
  • Shadow a colleague - find out what is happening in another part of the business
  • Network and discover what is shaping others’ careers
  • Really understand the organisation's strategic intent - if you don’t know where it’s going how can you make valuable contributions?

To explore the rise in automation, watch Associate Professor Maja Korica discuss the rising automation of certain job roles.

If you are a WBS alumni and you would like to share your thoughts on this topic, we would love to hear from you. Please email or  Don’t forget that you can also access the alumni careers portal on my.wbs.