"It's about time you got your act together," a young boy clad in business attire told the crowd at Cornerstone's 17th annual Convergence conference last week.
The candor behind his statement garnered some laughs, but there were also head nods: yes, attendees agreed, it is about time. Navigating the future of work and making way for the next generation of workers—like the kids in the video—was top-of-mind throughout the conference: from keynotes from Cornerstone founder/CEO Adam Miller and Institute for the Future (IFTF) fellow Bob Johansen to the over 40 break-out sessions.
In the videos these kids, the harbingers of the future themselves, reminded us all that change is coming—touching on everything from their interest in on-demand learning, to the rise of robots, to their uncertainty about what kind of role they might want in the future. And in tandem, this year's presentations offered strategies to prepare for these new frontiers.
Here, are our top takeaways about navigating the future from Convergence 2018:
1) The Generational Makeup of the Workforce Is Changing
Over the last ten years or so, the workforce has been preparing for the advent of the millennial worker: the rising generation of the workforce. But today, it's Generation Z that's beginning to enter into the working world. According to award-winning host, storyteller and filmmaker Jay Shetty, they're very different than their millennial counterparts. For example, while many of us have been updating our workspaces to be more open and inspire collaboration for millennials, Gen Z will be looking for private spaces.
"Sixty-nine percent of Gen Z said they'd rather have their own workspace than share it with someone else," Shetty said.
But he says the solution isn't to overhaul the workplace yet again for Gen Z—or any other rising generation (the kids in the video belong to Generation Alpha). Instead, focus on a way to help all generations work productively together—including the increasing number of older generations who are expected to work long past retirement—despite their differing preferences. Shetty, for one, recommends setting up a cross-generational mentoring program so everyone can learn from each other and continue to grow in their careers.
2) As New Technologies Emerge, Employees Will Need to "Upskill"
Automation, artificial intelligence, and other technologies are already starting to change and eliminate some jobs. But at the same time, there's a severe lack of skilled workers. Today, 40 percent of US employers report struggling to find workers with the skills they need, and another 60 percent say their new employees are unprepared for the roles they've been hired to do. This "skills divide" is only going to become more apparent in the years to come, with 90 percent of CEOs expecting digital tech to disrupt their industry.
"You can't just recruit your way through the skills divide," Miller said. "Because of the pace of change, learning can no longer be a one-time activity." Miller urged companies to focus their resources on "upskilling" the workers they have today in preparation for the changes to come.
3) There's a Greater Value on Soft Skills
"Upskilling" the workforce isn't exclusive to digital capabilities like working alongside a robot or programming. To weather whatever the future brings, companies need personnel who have a high emotional aptitude, as well.
"Most people don't feel safe bringing their whole selves to work," said co-founder of software company Candor, Inc. Kim Scott. "We're taught to 'be professional' and save emotions for our personal lives—but that creates some serious gaps in interpersonal relationships in the workplace."
From this trend, Scott developed the concept of radical candor—the ability to show a high level of empathy, while also giving direct feedback. To improve communication at your company in preparation for the future, find ways to practice honest, empathetic, communication—and foster these soft skills among employees.
4) We Need to Rethink "Human Resources"
Human resources, said Bob Johansen from IFTF, is the best name for any department in the corporate world—but over the years it's gotten a bad rap. To combat this, he advises adding an emphatic pause between human and resources to remind employees that the function of the role is to provide people with the tools they need to succeed. And then, Johansen says, HR teams need to deliver. To prepare our companies for the future, start by making even more resources available to employees in the form of learning and training opportunities.
"Your role in human resources has the opportunity to make a better future," Johansen said during his keynote. His advice? Embrace it.