An innovative Australia? It will need a visionary workforce shift

How do we generate an innovative and entrepreneurial Australia over the next decade? Why, with the right people, a focus on their productivity and leaders who encourage a diversity of thought, of course. But what skills do our future employees need? Who is defining this requirement and how will this demand be met by our organisations and as a nation? Many of the employees essential to achieving this vision are still in school, but a significant number are employed in jobs today that will not exist tomorrow.

The Committee of Economic Development for Australia estimates that ‘almost 5 million jobs face a high probability of being replaced in the next decade or two’. This number indicates the scale of the challenge facing the Australian Government, industry, academia and ultimately the HR department of your organisation. Future-you, and certainly future-HR, may very well regret not considering the implications of this workforce shift and how to position for it.

As the sheer scale of this challenge becomes apparent, there will be an increasing demand on HR to act truly strategically and to systematically plan for the future workforce requirements of their organisations. This will entail HR planning over longer horizons and leading discussions as to how the workforce pipeline will need to be generated at an industry level, in partnership with government and academia.

Ultimately, as organisations and as a nation, there is an increasing need to continuously understand the changing nature of the workforce. Leaders will need to demonstrate an increased willingness to collaborate across organisational boundaries to invest in the current and future labour force to develop critical capabilities. One of the first cabs off the rank is arguably cyber, with the implications of this workforce demand on STEM education and specialist learning experiences, and the partnerships needed to satisfy it, becoming increasingly apparent.*

The role of government in addressing this challenge is twofold. Firstly, there is a need to pursue the correct policy settings to promote collaboration and investment towards critical national workforce capabilities. Secondly, as a significant employer, the government should clearly articulate its own workforce demands and proactively drive the workforce generation activities required to achieve the pipeline needed, to the benefit of all stakeholders.

HR must have the right capabilities, and the audacity, to partner with the business to articulate the future workforce, leverage workforce analytics to inform productivity and performance problem-solving, and drive the relationships required to generate the workforce pipeline needed. This requires a more strategic and outward facing focus for HR than is currently the case in many organisations. HR is at a crossroads; down one fork there is transactional excellence and strategic irrelevance. Down the other is the opportunity to create value for the business – contributing evidence-based human capital. It is this latter path that HR needs to march, with facts and figures that are the envy of a CFO, brokering conversations across industries, academia and with government about the nature of the future workforce that will deliver competitive advantage. Aspirational? Yes. Can visionary HR leaders deliver it? Absolutely.

HR professionals have a key role to play in equipping their organisations with the evidence needed to contribute to the national conversation about the Australian workforce of the future. A dynamic and innovative human capital platform is required for both the nation as a whole, and for Australian-based organisations seeking to adapt to achieve competitive advantage on an increasingly global stage.

So HR leaders, where do you start? It’s time to assess your strategic workforce planning maturity, consider your ability to leverage workforce data to support business problem solving and to predict and drive performance, and be positioned for conversations with prospective partners about generating the workforce of the future.

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