• Many employees fear technology will replace them, but it can create opportunities for them via upskilling, if organisations have the right strategy. 
  • For a workforce transformation strategy to be successful, it must be supported by key elements of the business, and critically, have buy-in from the most senior levels. 
  • It can be difficult to know where or how to start preparing for the Future of Work, so PwC has developed a set of seven principles to guide businesses through.

The very nature of the way people work is changing: businesses are beginning to operate in an environment that is underpinned by, and demands, the collaboration of human and machine. People are naturally fearful that technology will substitute for or replace them, but the reality is that it creates opportunities for them to become more productive. Technology is only one of many disruptors — rapid digitisation, changing delivery models, evolving community and government expectations, access to information, and broader labour market disruption are all driving leaders towards the need to transform their organisation.

There is much talk about the Future of Work, but some organisations are preparing to undergo new learning cycles and adapt themselves to new challenges in the present. For example, PwC has globally committed an investment of US$3B to upskill its workforce over a four year period,1 while Amazon, as a part of its upskilling 2025 initiative, pledged to invest US$700m in the United States.2

digital upskilling

To prepare for the Future of Work organisations should firstly focus on establishing a foundation for digital upskilling. This is a critical need in Australia where the nation is ranked 23rd for digital skills by the World Economic Forum. According to a 2018 study, Australia needs an extra 200,000 tech workers by 2023 to be considered a digital leader globally.3 Exacerbating this gap is the fact that the number of job advertisements listing digital skills as a requirement increased by 212 percent between 2015 and 2017.4

To truly enable the new human-technology paradigm, and to seize the opportunities on offer, we need to move the conversation away from a fear of automation towards the opportunity in augmentation.

Failure to be proactive will result in the absence of a competitive employee value proposition and the inability to attract top talent. In turn, this will inhibit productivity and restrict innovation, directly leading to diminishing ROI and hurting the company’s growth and competitive advantage.

future ready

Being future-ready is a never ending process. To build organisations that are adaptable, PwC has identified seven key principles to help businesses plan for the Future of Work. According to these, businesses should focus on creating an approach that:

  • Is action-oriented: To ensure practical, rapid and aligned action, leadership teams need support to execute their strategies.
  • Is holistic and comprehensive: Action that is driven by the business’ strategy, operating model and organisational capabilities should be supported by technology, analytics and experience.
  • Is data driven: Leverage data and predictive analytics to predict future trends, customer and business needs and make better decisions about the workforce.
  • Is culture driven: Cultivate a combination of skilled and adaptable people, aligned to culture and with the mindset and behaviours to power business. Harness the talents of employees who can help drive success.
  • Sits at the intersection of human and technology: Effective coexistence of people and technology will depend on employee experience during the transition period.
  • Acknowledges economic context: Evaluate the operating environment, considering consumer confidence, risk and regulation, trends in the market, rapid urbanisation, shifts in global economic power, labour market movement and availability.
  • Acknowledges social impact: Champion a sustainable future for employees, communities and stakeholders, including understanding the social context of the organisation and the external role it plays.

Discussion around the Future of Work is ongoing, and evidence of real implementation is still thin on the ground. Therefore, it can be difficult for organisations to figure out their starting point. Practical steps that business can take form the foundation of the bigger change. The following points highlight where the transition that organisations are working towards can be supported:

  • Business and operating model: Layout the organisation’s short- and long-term goals by analysing the core capabilities required to successfully realise their strategies. This stage will help in identifying the gaps and requirements to achieve the goal.
  • Capabilities: Compare existing workforce skill sets and how changing customer demands shape the need for additional skills.
  • Workforce strategy: Strategically combine the dimensions of employees and work
    • Digital and physical workplace: Evaluate the work environment and technology to identify the gaps in tools and infrastructure that will be essential for the tech-advanced future.
    • Strategic workforce planning: Establish strategic skills-mapping within jobs that will require reskilling or upskilling of employees.
    • Shape the talent: Develop targeted reskilling programs and upskill on a large scale. This can be achieved by fostering an environment of lifelong learning.
    • Employee experience and performance: Offer personal development opportunities and the latest technology to facilitate work-from-anywhere ambitions.

the journey

Creating a future-ready workforce will be a journey that requires buy-in from leaders and aligned with strategy. Jobs and skills will need to be reshaped and ways of working expanded. While it is impossible to predict all the changes that will occur in the future, it is possible to take preventive measures.

Rather than giving in to the possibility that ‘automation will take over all the jobs’, a more optimistic outlook is one where humans get the opportunity to pursue a diverse set of work experiences and take the initiative to shape their own career paths. While the future can never be certain, the time to act is now.


Ben Hamer contributor


Dr Ben Hamer

Ben drives the Future of Work market agenda at PwC Australia.

More About Dr Ben Hamer


Rebecca Smith

Rebecca is a partner in PwC Australia’s The Difference, and the Future of Work lead partner.

More About Rebecca Smith