Purpose and Automation a Key Part of Workforce 2030

By Paul Bergeron September 28, 2021
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Purpose and Automation a Key Part of Workforce 2030

The use of technology and the desire to contribute to the greater good are driving the CEOs and business leaders of tomorrow. Members of Generation Z are using the latest innovations on the job as they develop their values and philosophies about work. Now is the time for employers to help them reach their potential—and ensure the company thrives, too.

Valerie M. Grubb, principal at New Orleans-based Val Grubb & Associates Ltd., brought some insight into the future of work during her presentation "Workforce 2030: Are You Ready?" at the recent SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021 in Las Vegas earlier this month.

She said employees in the next decade would not only rely on more automation—businesses of all kinds are seeing that every day—but they will also desire meaning in their jobs and a connection to the company's overall success.

Finding Purpose—Now and in the Future

Younger generations want purpose in their work now, Grubb said, and will continue to do so.

"Finding purpose is something Gen Z demands, and even more so since the pandemic," she said. "They want to have purpose outside of work but also at work. And many of them are really ambitious—and that's a good thing."

She asked, "How often have you been approached by a younger employee, one who has only worked at the company for about a year, and [heard them] say, 'I want to be CEO.' " And they mean now or in the very near future.

Grubb is both frank and helpful in her response to them: "I say, "That can't happen here. We have one, but I can teach you what it takes to become a good one. Then, maybe you can leave, start your own company and be the CEO."

The key, she added, is "making someone feel important. That's important. Everyone expects this now."

To do that, show the younger employees how they contribute, in their current role, to the company's mission and success. The HR department can do this through well-crafted job descriptions and employee communications.

"Doing this helps the company connect their people to that purpose," she said. "Everyone in the company must have a purpose that helps it to achieve its overall goals."

Here's an example. When Grubb worked for a former employer, the company was cut off from ordering supplies from Staples.

"It turned out, this happened because we weren't paying our invoices," Grubb said. "I went to the accounts payable department and spoke to a manager there who said, 'That's right, we lost our credit with them. The [company's] managers weren't signing off on the invoices to be paid so they've not been paid.'

"I explained to her that as a member of the accounts payable team, [she was] in part responsible for maintaining our public image and reputation. We can't be seen as one that doesn't pay its bills."

Once the accounting manager heard this, Grubb said, she felt empowered enough to go to the company's managers and explain to them the importance of signing off on invoices correctly.

"She realized that she wasn't just another cog in the wheel," Grubb said. "She now knew her purpose. Our credit was restored, and because of her."

Come 2030, AI and Automation Are Front and Center

Jobs are becoming more reliant on artificial intelligence, including blue-collar jobs. In trucking, for example, Grubb said, companies are not necessarily looking for drivers, but instead, for people who understand automation.

A human driver can only work eight or so hours a day. "Soon, we'll have trucks that drive autonomously, so someone needs to be able to manage that and make operations as specific as possible," she said.

Retail stores and fast-food restaurants are also relying on automation. "You might have five or six ordering stations, but only one employee to take care of it all," she said. "The ordering stations run on their own, so there is just one employee needed to be on hand and answer customers' questions or fix glitches."

HR will soon be charged with finding ways to replace workers with automated processes and then hiring people who have strong decision-making skills to make sure the new system is working well.

HR is accustomed to introducing potentially difficult business decisions, such as when they are presenting to senior leadership about why the company should outsource benefits or not have a person working the reception area.

Grubb said HR departments always must be thinking of what's next and then be able to show their executive suite why it is necessary for the company, in order to proactively improve the customer experience and meet the needs of the 2030 workforce.

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