Theories about the future state of the workforce were thrown out the window during the pandemic. CEOs, CFOs and other executive leaders recognized that many roles could be just as productive, if not more so, when working remotely, and most have adjusted to hybrid cultures. At the same time, evolving technologies, like artificial intelligence, are accelerating predictions of what the workforce will look like over the next decade or so. In the midst of the fast pace of change in the finance sector and elsewhere, the C-Suite should be thinking through the employee skill sets they may be missing today, and what their organizations will need—and value—in the near future.
A Transitional Time
Generally speaking, today’s office-centric positions, particularly in the finance organization, are focused on transactional responsibilities. The priorities of the day center on processing transactions, making payments and reconciling accounts. Based on a global survey of senior executives, 34 percent of business-related tasks are being performed by machines, with humans picking up the remaining 66 percent of work. The World Economic Forum, in its Future of Jobs Report 2023 about the findings, says this shows the level of automation is occurring more slowly than previously predicted; its 2020 survey had reported that nearly half of business tasks would be automated by 2025.
For the most part, finance organizations are facing backward, looking out the rearview mirror as they consider how the events of the past can affect the company’s future. As newer technologies come along, however, there will be a shift toward the front of this moving vehicle, if you will, to turn more attention toward the windshield—to anticipate what’s going to happen next and strategize the company’s course of direction.
As it is, AI technologies are being explored across all types of industries and being implemented to some degree. While some have predicted the demise of many jobs because of AI, the reality is the type of skill sets and competencies that are desirable by companies will be what changes, as human intervention, training and supervision will continue to be needed. This opens up opportunities for employees while also expanding companies’ willingness to be flexible with their workforce (i.e., part-time, interim roles and remote work arrangements). In-demand skills will be noticeably more about what makes us human—our “softer” skills. In the WEF survey, analytical thinking is the top core skill mentioned by companies, followed by creative thinking and then what they call self-efficacy skills—resilience, flexibility and agility.
Considering what skills are most needed today, where the gaps are and how those things might change is critical for senior leaders as they make hiring and training decisions and for employees who are considering their career pathways. While no one can predict exactly what’s going to happen next, it’s a sure bet that the workforce of tomorrow will not look the same as it does today. I believe these are some of the skills that will be most in demand in tomorrow’s workforce.
• Practical foresight: We’re moving toward future movement versus a focus on where we just came from. Financial planning and analysis experts have this skill down, as they are accustomed to using current data to build forecasts and take note of trends to consider the likelihood of various scenarios. Not everyone has to be an FP&A pro, of course, but there will be value in those who can help others (the board, CEO, CFO) visualize clear paths forward. So far, people have been rewarded for documenting history correctly, but the future will reward those who can help companies with navigation and insightful decision-making.
For instance, consider marketing’s traditional focus on historic analytics, such as unique website visitors, social media engagements and downloads. Making and keeping connections with customers should go beyond these initial touchpoints and analytics and consider how to keep their prospects’ engagement, by putting the focus on building a digital relationship with them over time. A deeper understanding of how people interact with your brand, in its many digital channels, is now possible with the latest technologies, and companies are better off for it.
• Versatility and adaptability: AI presents opportunities in terms of new and expanded roles. Acquiring new skill sets is going to be a necessary, and potentially rewarding, need for many people, depending on their interests. At the same time companies need people who are open to change, who can take on new initiatives quickly and enthusiastically, or adjust to a new way of working.
• Collaborative in all respects: “Must work well with others” is a common phrase in job descriptions, and becomes even more important for remote and hybrid workforces. The past three years have proven that corporate cultures can be fostered and bonds between colleagues can be kept intact—as long as everyone has the digital tools they need to keep in contact with one another.
• Instinct for transparency: Both companies and those they work with, whether they are full-timers or part-timers, or working on an interim/fractional basis, need to keep the lines of communication open. Communication capabilities have always been important but have become even more so when people are working physically apart and need to trust each other. Being transparent fosters confidence and keeps everyone focused on the work at hand.
Skills for Tomorrow’s Workforce
Working physically apart doesn’t mean you’re not together. One of my company’s newest clients has a leadership team scattered across the country. Even though they don’t meet in person, they work strongly as a group. Similarly, at RoseRyan, a distributed workforce became the norm during the pandemic, and we do not have plans to meet together as a group more than a couple of times a year. What’s helped us, in addition to having a strong culture and employees who have the skills noted in this story, is recent advances in technology. Fast connectivity and our workforce’s adaptability have made it possible for us to work both collaboratively and efficiently every day.