2019 Big Workforce Ideas: What to Watch in the Year Ahead


Move Over Millennials, It’s Gen Z’s Time.

In 2019, Generation Z will outnumber Millennials, that generation you’ve loved to hate for the past decade. “Generation Z is now heading into the workforce in meaningful numbers and for the first time in modern history five generations will be working side-by-side,” says Michael Dell, CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies. Gen Z — which Pew Research Center defines as those born from 1997 onward — will be about one-third of the global population and one-fifth of its workers. What is this new generation’s work ethic? “My experience is that they lean in and lean hard,” says best-selling author Brené Brown. About half of her staff is Gen Z. “They are all very different people, but as a group I experience them as curious, hopeful, always learning, painfully attuned to the suffering in the world, and anxious to do something about it.”

Inclusive Design Will Go Mainstream.

A growing awareness among professionals and advances in artificial intelligence are transforming inclusive design, says Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “We used to call it assistive technologies and it used to be a checklist of things you did after the product was built,” he says. Now it’s “about taking this way upstream into the design process. What if we said upfront we want a design for people of different abilities to fully participate?” He points to the new Xbox adaptive controller, where even the packaging was designed to be accessible, or new AI that helps people with dyslexia read and comprehend written text.

What Will Matter at Work Is Your Humanity.

When robots take all our jobs, what do humans have left? Precisely that — our humanity. Creativity and so-called soft skills are becoming all the more important to your career because that’s what can’t be automated. In fact, LinkedIn data shows the fastest-growing skills gaps — the difference between what employers seek and what workers bring to the table — are related to soft skills: oral communication tops the list, followed by people management, time management or leadership. Employers who want to make the most of their human employees make sure to look after them as whole people, not just task performers, says Susan Cain, author of “Quiet” and CEO of Quiet Revolution. “I’m increasingly seeing employers having a goal of facilitating the entire life of an employee,” Cain says. “I don’t mean it in a Big Brother type of way, but being an aid in the entire life of an employee as opposed to just the part that shows up to make wages.”

Companies Will Speed up Diversifying Their Workforce — or Will Be Made To.

Nearly five years after they started publishing diversity reports, few companies have actually made material progress in hiring and retaining a more diverse workforce. That’s because besides being more open about their shortcomings, they’ve mostly kept recruiting the same old way, says Jopwell CEO Porter Braswell. Now’s the time employers humble themselves and ask for help, he says: “They’ll be recruiting with a different mindset, not looking to check every item off a list.” That’s driven by two factors: short term, the labor market is tight and talent at a premium. Long term, “by 2040, the majority of people in the U.S. will be people of color,” Braswell reminds us. Companies that don’t change will become irrelevant to workers and customers. And they may not even have the option: in the U.K., after the success of mandatory gender pay gap disclosures that started in 2018, the government is considering forcing companies to reveal their ethnic pay gap as well — and their action plan to close it.

CEOs Will Work Hard to Become More Inclusive Leaders — or Leave.

The new generation of workers expects a different kind of leadership and has now reached the critical mass where their opinion is corporate law. “We were primarily led by ‘my way or the highway’ type leaders and that does not work with this environment,” says Carla Harris, vice chair and managing director at Morgan Stanley. “I think you’re going to see more leaders looking for leadership development or leadership guidance on how to be more collaborative, how to spur innovation, how to teach people how to fail and how to innovate. I think you’re going to see far more money spent on speakers and resources around that.” Not immediately, but over time executives who don’t make that effort and pivot will be pushed out, she warns.

Companies Will Shift to an Ecosystem Mindset — and Hire for It.

“We’ve gone from a traditional linear type of thinking where everything is predictive to an ecosystem mindset,” says Sanyin Siang, a professor at Duke University and executive director of the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics. “So people need to rely less on just first-order effects but also think about second- and third- and fourth-order effects.” This will shift how companies hire as they look for skills that will boost company wellbeing in subtle but often unmeasurable ways, including people who are great mentors, skeptical thinkers or team builders. “When these roles happen serendipitously in an organization, it enables organizational survival and continuity,” says Siang.

What will you be watching in 2019? Share your comments on post on LinkedIn with #BigIdeas2019.

By Isabelle Roughol, Senior Editor-At-Large, LinkedIn