Workforce changes and challenges in the technology industry

Last year the five most valuable companies in the world were all technology companies, writes CompTIA’s Moheb Moses

Last year, for the first time ever, the five most valuable companies in the world were all technology companies, replacing the traditional behemoths in the energy, finance, healthcare, and manufacturing sectors.

Digital business transformation, once a buzzword and now a simple business reality, is a driving force in organisations of all sizes and across all sectors. This opens up opportunities to explore advances in areas such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, and, likely, technologies we haven’t considered yet.

This will inevitably have a serious impact on the way people work, from enabling stronger collaboration across geographical distances to creating uncertainties around job security and finding innovative ways to address the skills gap.

The workforce remains dynamic, and the growth of remote and mobile working, combined with more team-oriented organisational hierarchies, means businesses will continue to rely on technology as both a driver and a facilitator of these workplace changes.

A boom in new collaboration and communication tools has made it possible for people to work closely together despite never being in the same room together. Mirroring the bring your own device (BYOD) trend, organisations haven’t always embraced these new tools at the same rate as employees’ desire to use them.

Workers are eager to move beyond legacy corporate email systems, intranets, and project management applications. They can be up and running on cloud- or mobile-based alternatives with little more than a simple registration and a credit card, and sometimes they don’t even need the credit card.

While this approach frees up workers to be productive in ways that suit them, it can also create a potential security vulnerability, putting the corporate network and data at risk. This puts the burden on the organisation to gain visibility into this ‘shadow IT’ and put appropriate policies in place to protect the business.

Another trend shaking up the way people work is known as the blended workforce. This is where businesses use a mix of temporary or contract workers alongside permanent fulltime employees. While this approach has been a mainstay in many businesses for a long time, these arrangements were historically driven by the desire for flexibility, the need to meet short-term project demands, or the need to tap specific expertise.

Today, new elements are poised to reshape the concept of a blended workforce. Matchmaking platforms and niche sites help workers and employers with specific needs to find each other. The future of the blended workforce may go beyond simply hiring different types of workers and include the use of artificial intelligence, bots, virtual assistants, and other types of knowledge-based systems.

At first glance, this may make knowledge workers nervous, since the use of an effective form of artificial intelligence could make their job obsolete. However, this debate has been going on since the industrial revolution.

While technology can destroy jobs, these have usually been roles characterised as dirty, dangerous, or dull. Historically, technology creates enough jobs to offset the losses.

Today, McKinsey & Company estimates that 60 per cent of all current occupations have duties that could potentially be automated to some degree. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it can free up workers from the drudgery of manual tasks, letting them focus on more creative aspects of their role. However, there are still many unknowns when it comes to how technology will change workers’ daily duties and it will still be some time before those issues come fully into focus.

One area where automation would likely be welcomed is in areas where there is a significant skills gap. Given the breadth and pace of innovation today, it looks like the perennial skills gap is widening in many areas and for many different types of workers.

CompTIA’s workforce research consistently reports concerns from employers regarding finding candidates with the right combination of technical and soft skills.

At the same time, the data shows many employers are lagging behind when it comes to best practices around hiring and professional development. As time goes by, the industry should expected a renewed effort to explore ideas such as always-on learning, immersive learning, apprenticeships, and means to expand the pipeline of talent.

Businesses today are starting to recognise the critical role that technology plays in advancing corporate objectives. Nearly every goal, from identifying new customers to hiring a skilled workforce to exploring new products, now requires technology to move forward at pace. Companies may have originally viewed transformation as an avenue for growth, but it is becoming a requirement for survival. Therefore, the ongoing adoption of new technologies is likely to continue changing the nature of work in ways that haven’t yet been considered.

Moheb Moses is ANZ community director at CompTIA and director at Channel Dynamics.

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