Driving performance for the future of work

What is the future of work?

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairperson of the World Economic Forum argues that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will see a paradigm shift in how we work, live and connect. Smart technologies, cognitive computing and connected systems will bring efficiencies in production that have the potential to improve our quality of life. However; we must remain cognizant of the risk of increasing inequalities between low and high skilled individuals.

Increasing automation will see intelligent machines performing cognitive tasks previously completed by humans. Horizontal and vertical business integration and formation of transdisciplinary teams will require workers to maintain networked connections to collaborate and find innovative solutions to complex problems.

Almost all industries will be disrupted in some way. The changing skill requirements will result in reduced demand in some occupations and skills gaps in others.

Maximising our potential for performance?

Rather than being replaced, humans need to adapt to the ever changing needs of the workplace. We need to develop competencies that are not easily replicated by computers. Competencies that complement technology rather than compete with it, allowing it to free up our time to innovate.

The greatest gains will be derived through collaboration between individuals, business, education and training, and governments working together to design a future that supports innovation whilst fully exploiting the benefits of emerging technologies.

We must forge connections to build and sustain a learning ecosystem that drives performance through continuous improvement and innovation with each part working in synchrony with the others through a shared vision for talent.

To keep pace with the increasing pace of change, we must “…shift from a mindset of ‘learn, do retire’, to ‘learn, do, learn, do, rest, learn…repeat’” (World Economic Forum, p.7).

We need to leverage the proliferation of available data to predict future workforce needs and skill demands and implement plans to develop capability to be ready when the need arises.

To borrow the term from Charles Jennings, learning and development professionals must become ‘performance architects’ to design environments where learning can occur as part of work to drive business performance.

Competency requirements

Learning agility, the ability and willingness to learn from all experiences to perform more effectively in new situations, will be a necessity for continued performance. Individuals will require a growth mindset to provide the requisite motivation to engage in meaningful learning opportunities to meet future, often unknown, needs.

Predicting the competency needs in the future of work requires an understanding of how computers function to identify deficiencies where humans can add value. These competencies will be those that are difficult for computers to emulate, such as:

Curiosity to provide the desire to know or learn
Passion to motivate individuals to learn
Creativity to generate new ideas and translate complex concepts into action plans
Empathy to analyse situations from another’s perspective
Intuition to listen to instinct when making decisions
Social intelligence to build and navigate relationships with others to foster collaboration
Data analysis to interpret data to inform decisions
Critical thinking to evaluate situations and form judgements to inform decisions

Building the Future of Work Community

As skill demands continue to evolve, developing a future ready workforce will be the responsibility of all players in the ecosystem, sharing a common goal to support lifelong learning to drive future performance.

All must focus on enabling individuals to engage in meaningful learning opportunities that develop transferable skills that can add value when applied to real life situations.


Individuals must be prepared to respond to the changing skill demands. They will increasingly need to reinvent themselves to be capable of adding value.

Self-directed individuals must take responsibility for their personal development, by:

  • Following their purpose and passion
  • Determining the competencies to enable them to follow their purpose and passion
  • Engaging with available resources and support tools
  • Establishing and implementing an action plan to develop the identified competencies
  • Reflecting on the experience to support further development.

But they cannot do this alone, learning to learn must become a lifelong process supported by all players in the ecosystem.

Education and training

To prepare individuals for the future of work, early years educators will be required to cultivate the growth mindset and basic literacies, such as communication and empathy that will provide the requisite foundation for lifelong learning.

Secondary educators must build on these basic literacies to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills through inquiry based learning. Educators can provide appropriate scaffolding to encourage divergent thinking to consider a range of solutions so students ask questions and learn from experiences. Education needs to be multidisciplinary to develop understanding of complex and interrelated concepts. Experiences should relate to the real world issues and provide opportunities to solve problems by building relationships and encouraging interconnectivity.

Tertiary institutions should realign qualifications to job clusters rather than specific roles to enable the individuals to apply skills and knowledge in a range of contexts.


Businesses need to support a performance culture where learning is part of work and employees must feel safe to make mistakes while being supported to learn from them.

Leaders must actively analyse data to understand the needs of the future workforce and create plans that focus on attracting and retaining talent that is responsive to change.

They will need to work closely with education and training organisations to identify and predict future skill requirements and redesign qualifications so they are more transferable and universally recognised to allow individuals sufficient time to acquire the requisite skills to meet demand when it arises.


Governments need to direct resources to ensure the training system can support individuals to develop the anticipated competencies required.

Building the learning community

The greatest gains will be achieved by building and sustaining a community of practice where participants contribute for the benefit of all. Participants will need to role model the expected behaviors of the wider ecosystem by asking questions, sharing ideas, testing theories and learning from experiences. Through these communities of practices we will foster innovation to drive performance for the future of work.

Further reading and resources

Pistrui J, 2018, ‘The Future of Human Work is Imagination, Creativity and Strategy’, Harvard Business Review, 18 January 2018, viewed 07 April,


World Economic Forum 2019, Strategies for the New Economy Skills as the Currency of the Labour Market, viewed 07 April, 2019, <http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_2019_Strategies_for_the_New_Economy_Skills.pdf>.

Published by kathhume

I partner with business to develop and implement continuous improvement and innovation to achieve real business outcomes. I support strategy development to build workforce capability now and for the future.

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