Supporting the Future Workforce

Future Workforce December 4, 2019 By: Jenny Nelson

Changes in the ways people and organizations work will affect both association staffers and the professionals in the industries associations serve. ASAE ForesightWorks research points to ways that leaders can prepare now to develop and serve the future workforce.

Our workdays don’t look like they did 20 or even 10 years ago. We might work remotely or teleconference into a meeting with colleagues or partners in distant locations. The systems that support our work and the skills required to do our jobs have changed—and will continue to evolve.

Associations have a critical role to play in developing today’s workforce and engaging the workforce of the future. ASAE ForesightWorks action briefs on workforce and workplace trends provide insights for leaders who are looking to start addressing future needs now.

Developing the Right Skills

Online platforms, databases, and automated systems are changing traditional job requirements, simplifying and streamlining some tasks while creating a need for workers with new skills. According to the ASAE Research Foundation’s “The Role of Associations in Workforce Development” study, hiring managers think technical and soft skills are the most important types of skills for employees to develop, with 54 percent of managers rating them as very or extremely important. In a Deloitte study, even more than specific technical skills, cognitive and social skills rated highest among essential skills for the workforce.

Despite a broad understanding of these needs, the skills gap persists across industries. A 2016 Bureau of Labor and Statistics survey found that 39 percent of U.S. employers report difficulty filling jobs due to a lack of available talent. To support the development of critical skills within the association workforce, the “More Human Humans” action brief suggests that organizational metrics emphasize growth in human skills and relationship-building in addition to traditional measures of success. Association training programs should include the development of soft skills, like social and emotional intelligence, creativity, teamwork, and learning to learn.

Engaging the Future Workforce

The workforce of the future will not look like the workforce of today. Consider these trends:

  • American society is more diverse and from a wider range of backgrounds. According to the Pew Research Center, immigration accounted for more than 55 percent of U.S. population growth from 1965 to 2015.
  • The future workforce is also more likely to encompass a wider range of abilities. According to the 2017 Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America, the disability prevalence rate in the United States rose from 11.9 percent in 2010 to 12.8 percent in 2016, but technological advancements allow for greater workforce participation across a spectrum of abilities.
  • The workforce may also be older. Thirty-seven percent of baby boomer respondents to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s “2016 Retirement Confidence Survey” said they want to keep working beyond the traditional retirement age.

To engage and support an increasingly diverse workforce, the “Immigration-Driven Demography” action brief asks leaders to look at demographic shifts in their industries and update necessary cultural competencies. The “Toward a Spectrum of Abilities” action brief suggests that association leaders champion inclusivity in their organizations, in their volunteer community, and in the industries they serve. And leaders will need to think about supporting career shifts for older workers, according to the “Re-Working Career Pathways” action brief—this may mean providing late-career training or mentoring for experienced professionals looking to take on new challenges.

While workforce needs and workplace processes are changing, leaders can act now to prepare for the future. By supporting development of necessary skills and engaging and supporting the changing workforce, associations can ensure they’ll meet their own organizational needs as well as the needs of diverse industries.

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is associate director, research content, at ASAE.