Liquid workforce

KS Nair

KS Nair

A friend recently presented me with a state-of-the-art smartphone. He said it is like carrying my entire computer on the palm. It’ll allow me to communicate with instantaneously through WhatsApp. He demonstrated how I can find an eating place where grilled items are available. I never knew such a facility existed right in my neighbourhood.

Since then I’ve been running into problems. Instead of easy communication and locating places using GPS, I spent most of my time grappling with the technology. In frustration I went back to my old handset.

There was one realisation: I’ve not yet become savvy with modern gadgets. In the fast emerging digital world, I will be a pariah unwanted and unwelcome.

This is the age where management wizards are talking about the liquid workforce. While governments are encouraging deskilling people to make them suitable for the digital economy, I have this fear of being let out of the mainstream. In a short while I will become redundant: A living corpse.

In the digital economy, experts forecast five major technology trends that will sweep away people like me. In the accelerated pace of technology adoption many practices of today will become irrelevant. The entire manufacturing and marketing processes are in a state of flex. The consumer mind is impacted dramatically by technology. In an era when success means customer-centric approach, doing business calls for a sharper focus on people.

For the first time in history it’s people who actually matter. In the digital economy they alone are critical determinants in success or failure. Businesses are compelled to follow strategies that enable people—consumers, workers and ecosystem partners—to accomplish more with technology. This ‘more’ is to be accomplished with ‘less’.

The digital revolution is also empowering people. Those who refuse to be part of it will have no place in this New Age. A study by global consultancy Accenture says that the digital economy accounted for 22 per cent of the world’s economy in 2015. It forecasts these numbers would increase to 25 per cent by 2020, up from 15 per cent in 2005.

Along with these unprecedented changes, people’s expectations of services are also dramatically transforming. It’s all about speed and personalisation.

Today’s millennial generation, which will provide the adrenalin of digital growth, is putting pressure on managements to change the way they run companies. This ‘born digital’ generation demands a new customer experience and a workplace where collaborative technology and networking will be key factors.

Cultural shift

Here disruptive technologies and labour practices become integral to companies that look forward to take challenges of the digital economy. Corporate cultural shifts will see many current practices disappear and new system in their places.

Agility will be the mantra for success. Therefore, there is an urgent need to change the corporate structure and its culture under which talent will have to be scouted and trained in a totally different way. The thrust is on flexibility and collaboration.

There will be no place for gut instinct as the digital economy expects businesses to become data-driven. Successful corporate leaders will realise the importance of digital tools and leverage them to bring disruption to workplace processes that will be technology-driven.

In this continually reinventing corporate world, people will be central in determining success or failure. Although intelligent automation is the launching pad for new growth and innovation, the centrality of the people can never be undermined. Here comes the role of ‘liquid workforce’.

Agile companies have realised the importance of digital workforce which has the right skills in handling the right kind of technology. Those who fail to keep up with the changes of the digital world and its liquid workforce culture would face overwhelming anxiety that Alvin and Heidi Toffler had called ‘future shock.’

To make future shock-proof, embrace liquid workforce to achieve competitive advantage. The culture of rigidity is replaced with the disruptive environment of startups. Successful companies would be run by CEOs who are constantly willing to face disruptions of the digital economy. Their priorities will be reimagining their mostly technically-skilled workforces.

Embedded in the new corporate culture is an ecosystem dominated by disruption and constant change. For embracing this kind of corporate culture it is necessary to think agile and prepare for constant access to critical skills, dedicate to innovate faster, and find to operate more effectively at lower cost.

The liquid workforce will not only be willing to adapt to the evolving market demands, but also to develop the skillsets to achieve new goals left open by disruption. This is the challenge before CEOs with a recent survey showing that globally 38 per cent of enterprises are facing skills gaps.

Automation would take over routine work, but talented liquid workforce will be driving the digital economy of tomorrow which will be based on innovation. The leaders in this will be the millennials who will form 76 per cent of the global workforce.

What is worrying is that 53 per cent of business leaders worldwide are finding it hard to attract and retain millennial talent. Therefore, the need of the hour is to develop a liquid workforce, whose talent flexibility would ensure supply of skills, which can manage disruptive innovation in production, distribution and marketing in the evolving digital world.

When I dumped the gifted smartphone, I received a message in return. If I need to be part of the digital world, there is no other way but to upgrade my skills. One need not be a nerd, but one must certainly be tech savvy and willing to learn.

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