Preparing for the Workforce of the Future - Page 2

Aug 13, 2007

Jeff Wacker


Automation that takes advantage of accelerating technical capabilities will be required to succeed in the high-speed, high-agility, high-complexity business world. The agility required of business will transcend the ability of humans to manage and operate the enterprise directly, driving to new levels of automation that will create “business-by-wire” enterprises.

Automation at this level can be likened to a new fighter aircraft’s “fly-by-wire” capability. The new U.S. Defense Department’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the next-generation attack aircraft for the Navy, Air Force, Marines and allies; bringing cutting-edge technology to the skies. It is designed to be unstable so that it has rapid maneuverability. Controlling the aircraft requires so many adjustments and corrections that a human cannot react fast enough. A computer actually flies the plane, and humans fly the computer.

Applied to business, this kind of radically improved automation enables business leaders to realign the workforce. Most employees today are in operational mode, with a few focused on improving existing operations. In the future however, with automation managing day-to-day operations, most employees will be focused on innovations that improve the automated operational workflow. Many will be creating the next major enhancements.

Education, Training and the Role of Government

The more transient workforce of the future will not have access to traditional organizational training, and requirements then will shift to more formal and emerging forms of education. Educational institutions and governments must change to support this new reality. The role of universities, community colleges and trade schools is shifting dramatically. Most of these institutions today train students to meet current requirements instead of in anticipation of future demands.

The government’s role will change to providing demand signals to educational institutions about how people need to be trained to create a highly employable local employees who can contribute to a globally empowered, skilled workforce. As business models change, governments will send active demand signals that define the needs of the workforce of the future. Those signals will include policies that move training in specific directions.

Businesses also must send active demand signals to educational institutions about their future needs. In a rapidly changing world, organizations must create the wave of change rather than just ride it.


As the structure of the workforce evolves, the relationship between managers and employees also changes. Traditionally, managers have told employees what to do and then have managed them through the work process to an outcome that is evaluated. This is the command-and-control approach to management.

In the new command-and-empowerment model, managers set expectations. Employees, many of whom are independent agents, deliver the business results. Management by objectives will be back with a vengeance as employees self-manage in a highly visible environment to achieve personal and company success.

Organizations that have workforce requirements, such as for documented employees or minorities, are learning to manage the HR function remotely and to create robust interfaces with these more independent employees. These new models will require companies to create standard ways of defining requirements and processes for how the work gets done and how results are delivered.

Remote management and facilitation of employees is going to become even more critical, and difficult, than it is now. That includes virtual teams, alternative work arrangements, the ability for people to enter and exit the workforce rapidly.

A New World Workforce

Each wave of technology has dramatically changed the role of the workforce within the industry most affected. Each generation has to contend with increasing automation as it shifts how, where and by whom work is done. Each wave of IT has its own effect on the workforce and the emerging “Fourth Wave” will do so as well. Businesses that understand those probable impacts will be equipped to make good decisions today that will put them in a better position to succeed in this flat new world.

Jeff Wacker is corporate futurist for EDS.

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