ASAE ForesightWorks Drivers of Change: Workforce and Workplace

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Technological advances and changing workplace needs are shaping the future of work. Changes are anticipated across numerous industries, creating new workplace structures, new competencies for organizational success, and new learning and skill development demands for workers. The drivers of change below connect shifts in the world of work to opportunities and challenges for associations.

Automating Work
Machine learning, innovative robotics, data analytics, and affective computing mean that growing swaths of work are potentially automatable. The impacts of automation on work and workers will vary substantially by industry, occupation, and even workplace—but they could transform most kinds of work and affect workers at every level, including senior management. Associations’ members and their own workforces will increasingly be affected by automation.

Bifurcated Workforce
Trends may create two classes of American workers: mission-critical players who move the organization forward and foot-soldiers who do the basic work. The latter are regarded by employers as relatively disposable, with lower prestige and pay. Such a two-tiered workforce is not assured, but it is being driven by deep structural forces, including the expansion of gig and freelance work and the rising inequality of opportunity for workers.

Diversity + Inclusion
American society and workplaces will continue to grow more diverse and inclusive as values evolve and younger generations increase their share in the demographic mix. This will occur against a backdrop of social, political, and racial polarization—and the workplace will be a primary arena in which contending views collide and issues are worked out. To meet these challenges, inclusion efforts can be treated as a systemic priority, supported by a new generation of tools and processes.

Human-Machine Cooperation
Though many forecasts include substantial job losses due to automation—and such losses are indeed already occurring—many jobs will rely on cooperation between humans and machines. While less disruptive than total automation, human-machine cooperation will be a massive shift, with entire work processes becoming machine-oriented and humans learning to complement automation’s role.

More Human Humans
Automation will steadily increase the relative value of certain human qualities in work, including social skills and creativity. In the age of artificial intelligence, humans will remain relevant not by knowing but by thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating at the highest level.

New Forms of Work
Freelance, gig, contract, and temporary work and the infrastructure to support them (e.g., online platforms and reputation systems) are growing. The number of independent professionals is expanding, and networked organizations rely on them. Associations will have new opportunities to serve these workers and advocate for their interests.

Reputation by the Numbers
Vast amounts of data will support reputation systems, and reputation will increasingly eclipse credentials for landing a job. As worker reputation systems and human resources analytics grow, assessment of an individual’s suitability for a job will be driven by a person’s algorithmic match to needs.

Re-Working Career Pathways
The idea that the course of people’s professional lives is settled in their twenties is long-outmoded, but employers and life structures have been slow to adapt to this fact. However, organizations are increasingly assisting with midlife transitions—such as going back to school or enhancing skills for new career directions—or allowing for reduced hours so that employees can pursue other interests. Such steps create a need to rethink work, education, and social safety nets to accommodate new approaches.

Toward a Spectrum of Abilities
Changing attitudes and technological interventions are shifting the nature of disability and blurring its boundaries. Gaining ground is the concept that disability and ability are not a binary but instead a spectrum, with every individual’s physical, behavioral, and cognitive traits falling on multiple points along that spectrum. These changes will increase the number of workers who would once have been unable to work due to disability, while also broadening our understanding of differing abilities. Organizations will need to navigate a complex and evolving terrain of expectations and rules.