Brave New World: Robots And Millennials

How CEOs Shape the Workforce of Tomorrow Will Dictate Their Success in the Digital Age

by Hugues Havrin and Dominique Gatto

AT&T has 280,000 employees. Half of them (140,000) are now acquiring new skills for new roles. To speed the process, AT&T is reducing the number of roles from 250 to 80— in IT, for example, 17 roles were consolidated under the title of “software engineer.” AT&T has also poured hundreds of millions into employee education, professional development, and tuition. 

How companies shape and reshape their workforces may be the most important success factor to win the digital transformation battle over the next decade. Labor demand is being rocked by digitization and robotization. Labor supply is shifting from baby boomers to Millennials, who will make up 50% of the workforce in OECD countries by 2020. At the same time, 40% of the world’s 2020 graduates will come from India and China. Meanwhile, organizations are stripping out middle management in favor of flatter, less hierarchical structures. 

If the talent and organization is changing, so are the jobs. Various proclamations hint at a dystopian future where robots rule and humans hope for a universal wage. The reality, according to a spate of recent studies (Oxford, OECD, World Economic Forum,) and our own observations is that while 45% of today’s jobs are likely to be automated, only about 10% to 15% are actually threatened. Most will be transformed, requiring new skills and roles (a la AT&T). And new jobs will be created, with a de-emphasis on transactional tasks (which will be digital and mobile) and an emphasis on relational skills (customer service, leadership skills) and expertise (technical skills, data analytics, user-experience design) to deliver more personalized and value-added services to clients.

Digitization and robotization is more about transformation than elimination of jobs 

The question for CEOs and HR executives is two-fold: How can they retrain an aging workforce to keep up with changing roles? And how can they attract and train Millennials to match job descriptions that will continue to change. And retention is an issue: One quarter of Millennials think they will work for six employers during their career. These are not your grandfather’s MBAs. 

To shape an innovative and engaged workforce in this new era, CEOs must: 

  1. Deliver a personalized and meaningful employee experience—even for roles that are rote—and consider it as important as the customer experience.

  2. Develop innovative redeployment and reskilling vehicles—with multi-channel, electronic, self-teaching modules, and leveraging new HR analytics techniques to identify non-traditional ways of staffing

  3. Create flexible win-win models—giving employees (or “hopwork” freelancers) work/life flexibility that also allows the company to forge creative and engaged teams. 

The early returns from AT&T’s retraining are good—in 18 months, product development time was been reduced by 40% and time to revenue by 32%. The bigger question for all incumbents reshaping their workforces is whether they can change the culture to foster constant learning and role changing, And this change starts with the ability and willingness of the top leadership to ‘go back to school’ and promote less hierarchical, less structured and flatter organization models.