Hispanics, Women, Younger Workers Change the Nature of Work

Organizations will need to adapt to workers of the future

By Aliah D. Wright Sep 30, 2014
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LAS VEGAS—The changing nature of work and the worker was the theme of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation’s 16th annual Thought Leaders Retreat, held Sept. 29-30, 2014.

In his opening remarks, SHRM President and CEO Henry “Hank” Jackson said “the onus is on us to elevate the conversation on the pr​actice of HR, and the leaders who can do that are the people in this room.”

Speaking to thought leaders from across the country and around the world, including attendees from Canada, Australia, Taiwan, India and Pakistan, Jackson said HR professionals should be mindful of the rapid changes impacting the profession. 

Speaker Tammy Erickson, author and CEO of Tammy Erickson and Associates, also delved into the topic of change—demographic and generational.

The late management consultant Peter Drucker “predicted that when people look back on the last century—even with the computer and Internet and space travel ... he said the things that will stand out [will be] demographic changes,” Erickson told attendees. The declining birth rate will greatly impact how organizations look at talent in the future.

“I don’t think it’s a problem that governments will solve. Individuals are going to have to use their own ingenuity,” she said “and companies that have the resources and ability to think ahead and change will need to.”

She predicted that in the future, the American workplace will be comprised of more:

  • Hispanics
  • Females
  • Older workers
  • Entrepreneurial workers
  • Mobile workers
  • Workers with differing objectives and attitudes about the ways they work. Particularly, those she dubbed, “the Re-Generation,” people now under the age of 18.

Referring to research from her firm, she said that by 2050, a majority of the U.S. workforce will be Hispanic, representing 55 percent of the nation’s workers ages 18-65. On average, she said, “Hispanics are almost a decade younger than the general population and more than a third of Hispanics are less than 18 years of age.”

There will be fewer whites working and “more people in various categories of diversity will be working.” Educational categories are changing as well. 

“Education levels among Hispanics are increasing,” Erickson added. “Hispanics today have one of the highest levels of educational attainment—second only to Asians in the U.S.” she said. 

Because younger Hispanics are drawn to larger, well established firms with recognized brands, companies will need to adjust the ways in which they recruit these individuals by being more inclusive of what matters most to that demographic—including flexible work arrangements.

“This is a group that demands flexibility. Family is a critical importance. The ability to care for family, meet family commitments, came through, loud and clear,” Erickson said, citing research from her organization.

“[Our] old practices of thinking that people will sacrifice the family to be with the company don’t sit well,” she added.

She added that the workforce of the future will “increasingly be female” and better educated than the male-dominated workforce of the past. 

“This is not a U.S. phenomenon, she said. “Consistently women in country after country are out-educating men.”

Women, too, will want more flexibility, task-based work, and diversified workforces, as well as leaders who exhibit a warm acceptance of different perspectives. Telecommuting is key.

“Companies need to move away from the notion that seeing means working,” she said. “Young people know how to make their presence felt digitally.” She said that if companies are concerned that their employees are not getting the work done, they can “move toward peer review. Because peers will know who’s actually contributing to the task. It’s a lot easier for peers to know if people are doing the work.”

The idea that you have “to be in the office showing face time … is not something that most 20 year-olds even get.”

As for the “Re-Generation,” Erickson said that in 10 years these young adults will have different notions about the world of work, too.

Many have been influenced by the global economic recession that began in 2008 and have been influenced by other financial and environmental conditions; they want to devote resources to energy conservation; they are self-reliant, yet hooked on mobile technology and reality TV.

“They are going to be very different from Gen Y,” she said. Not only are they financially conservative, they “defer gratification and save for the future.” For them, owning a home will be considered a luxury. They also prefer to recycle, share, borrow, trade and barter; are heavily steeped in technology (for them texting is the norm, not the exception) and they are modern MacGyvers who prefer to improvise and compromise. 

“While Gen Y [was] good at collaboration, the ‘Re-Gens’ will bring the added skill of compromise,” she said, adding that they are the generation who gets its information from Google, instead of from older adults. 

“This sense of an adult as an authority figure who knows information is gone,” she said. The generation coming after the Millennials will “operate in very different ways. And when we bring them into our organizations they are going to have different views on the role that older people play—it will be more like a guide or a teacher than a source of information.” 

She said that older workers will need to be given “task-based” work that moves them into more productive roles. Contingent work will likely continue to increase. 

Technology will continue to change the nature of work as well, she added.

“So the opportunities to coordinate more, to have instant access to information … that will change the way a lot of us work, too,” she said. 

Aliah D. Wright is an editor and manager for SHRM Online.​

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