Talent 2020 : The Future Is Unwritten.

Back in 2015 I wrote a prediction piece for Cornerstone and HRZone. Mervyn Dinnen, Rob Briner, and Dr. Tom Calvard also contributed. I rediscovered my scribbles this morning and thought it might be interesting to take a look, five years on, and see how right or wrong I am.

Talent 2020 : Then

As someone who relies on improvisation in my work, and someone who practices meditation, I enjoy going with the flow, and trying to be in the moment. The idea of trying to see five years into the future for any reason, let alone what that might mean for talent at work, is therefore a challenge for me. Here are a few thoughts about what talent should mean for an enlightened organisation in five years time, and some things that need to shift in order to make talent the dynamic, wider opportunity it should be.

Talent 2020 : Now

I no longer meditate, at least not consciously. Currently I find peace in good work, art, and walking. I still cannot see into the future.

Talent Bubble: Then

I find the notion of talent as some exclusive club into which only a few can pass, quite abhorrent. When I worked for BT I refused to join the talent community, because it felt like a secretive, invitation only club, into which you were quietly drawn, rather than something everyone knew about and could take advantage of when needed.

Everyone has something to offer, and I prefer to think of talent as an all encompassing notion which we should use to encourage everyone to bring their best, and be the best they can. It’s a fluid concept, my talents may be particularly useful for a given time, and for a given set of requirements. I’d like to see the idea of talent as something highly permeable through which I, and indeed anyone, can move, to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

Talent Bubble: Now

I no longer feel so repelled by the idea of a talent community, but that’s more about me becoming more comfortable with who I am, and focusing on the things I can influence, not because I’ve grown to like the idea. I still believe talent is fluid, and we need to be better at letting it flow to where it’s needed. I’m also much more appreciative of hard work now.

A Shift – From Employee to Freelancer: Then

According to a 2014 report published by the ONS, self employment in the UK is at its highest level since records began. There are 4.6 million people working for themselves, with the proportion of the total workforce self-employed at 15% compared with 13% in 2008, and as few as 8.7% in 1975. This shift looks set to increase, with some predicting the number of people in a freelance role could be as high as 50% by 2020. I think what this means is that the bubble in which talent currently operates will burst.

The idea of a ring fenced, invitation only club for talent within an organisation will no longer be practical as organisations increasingly look outward to freelance workers to help them deliver. How willing will these organisations be to invest in talent that they don’t ‘own’? I invest frequently in my own ‘talent development’. I’ve spent time and money with The Improvisation Academy this year developing my improvisational skills. I’m investing time and money learning more about Organisational Design and I’m also investing in improving my artistic skills as demands for these is increasing from my customers. Currently I fund these activities directly from my freelance income, and I’m wondering if maybe, my freelance arrangements should be tweaked so that clients who invest in my talents can see that part of their fees is a direct investment in me, and therefore, the service I give them? 

The same ONS report which confirms the current levels of 15% self employment in the UK also reveals that income from self employment has fallen by 22% since 2008/09. There could be all sorts of reasons for this – and maybe, just maybe, if the buyer could see that the freelancer was committing to his or her ongoing talent development, this fall could start to become a rise.

A Shift – From Employee to Freelancer: Now

Sadly The ONS don’t appear to have updated the report I referenced five years ago. I can see from their website the number of self employed has since risen to 5 million, with the proportion of the total workforce steady at 15%. So much for bubble bursting and us lot taking over the world eh?

A Shift – From Being Trained to Learning to Learn : Then

Within organisations, there seems to be a move towards a more self determined approach to learning and development, albeit to me, this currently feels quite slow. As we can see in this article, technology is a clear enabler for this, and By 2020, I think this will offer a challenge to people in traditional organisational talent communities, for whom membership often means access to an enhanced training programme.

For some – the idea of cocreating and co-owning this facet of talent development will be very exciting, yet there’s a degree of arrogance that comes with admission to the club, and an expectation that stuff like training, learning and development, will be done for you. People with that mentality may see this shift as a cheapening of the talent experience, but then I’d argue they are not the kind of people you will be looking for in future. A move to more self determined learning should make talent communities more open, and make it easier to connect with relevant talent at relevant times, personally and professionally, organisationally and individually.

A Shift – From Being Trained to Learning to Learn : Now

I feel like there’s been at least some progress here. Technology is indeed an enabler for the curious, and it’s becoming easier and easier to learn new skills for ourselves. Youtube is a fantastic ‘how to’ resource which many of us use often. There is a growing acceptance of the need to work with uncertainty – and be comfortable with not knowing too. Another thing I see more of now is online communities and chats which can be useful for knowledge sharing. Beyond that though – there is still a demand (which I think we’re sometimes too quick to respond to) for sheep dip type training and learning.

Clarity in the Hiring Process : Then

There is already a need for greater clarity in the hiring process, specifically around making sure the role description is tangible, and matches the needs of the employer – regardless whether this is for a permanent hire or not. I think recruitment agencies need to work much more closely and robustly with their customers – not only in making job descriptions fit the role better, but being generally more responsive and accountable too. A failure to achieve this will mean that talent increasingly bypasses the recruitment industry and goes direct.

Clarity in the Hiring Process : Now

I don’t get the sense that much has changed here. I look for contract/interim/part time work so I’m registered with a number of online agencies, and I’m no longer surprised by some of the completely unsuitable jobs they point me to. A week or so ago I was sent details of a funeral director and a nursery worker in the space of 24 hours, whuh?

Did I Get It Right?

This predicting the future lark is hard work. By all means, hire me as an artist and facilitator, but based on this look back at a look forward five years ago, a futurologist I am not. If I’m approached to do something similar in future, I’ll refer back to the late great Joe Strummer, ‘The future is unwritten’. Maybe it should stay that way.

Photo credit

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

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