The future of career development – a moral and ethical dilemma for HR?

65% of today’s primary school children will work in jobs that don’t yet exist. An interesting statistic? Yes. Exciting? Definitely. A little scary? Perhaps. Fundamentally, the changing nature of careers is not a new concept. It has always existed and is intrinsically linked to evolution. However, with the lifespan of skills now estimated to have fallen from five to two and a half years – driven largely by technology – the implications are significant; requiring organisations to not just re-evaluate how they develop the skills they need for the future, but to contemplate broader issues such as the future of careers and the role people have to play in an organisations’ future eco-system.

From organisation to employee and back again

Historically, career development sat with the organisation with well- trodden career paths that were understood by everyone. Career development and progression were, to a large degree, at the discretion of the organisation.

Then we experienced a change. The paternalistic approach to career development was swept aside, replaced by the belief that employees were responsible for their own development and careers, with managers and the organisation playing a more supportive role, providing the tools and opportunities for employees to develop while managers helped employees to identify how they could grow within the company. The emphasis however, was firmly placed on the employee and their responsibility in developing the skills needed and driving their career.

Undoubtedly this model will be familiar to many organisations. However, how relevant it will be in the future, particularly against the backdrop of increased automation and the introduction of new technologies is questionable.

Adaptability & Learnability

With skills now having a relatively short shelf life of two and a half years, how we ensure our employees are not simply developing but developing in line with the future needs of the business is something we need to take a more proactive approach on. It almost becomes incumbent on us, the organisation, to identify and map out the skills we will need in the future, and importantly, provide the mechanisms for our people not only to develop these skills, but in many cases, to completely retrain.

Of course this approach doesn’t mean that employees no longer have to be responsible for their own career development. Quite the opposite in fact. Their outlook on careers and what a career means will need to change. Individuals will need to accept that they will need to be far more flexible and willing to learn if they are to remain relevant, seizing opportunities when they present themselves. In fact, research INTOO conducted last year identified learnability and adaptability as the skills organisations valued most highly in its employees for the future world of work.

People are an asset, not a commodity

The changing nature of careers and the impact of future world of work trends also brings into question a moral and ethical consideration: how do you value skills and the value humans bring to an organisation and to what degree you are willing to invest in career development to ensure employees are given the opportunity to stay relevant, and employable.

This becomes even more important when you consider the data relating to the potential number of jobs at risk as a result of automation: the potential impact of automation on jobs: 35% of UK jobs could be vulnerable, 47% in the US, and 77% in China. If careers are changing do we have a moral obligation to provide employees with the opportunity to develop new skills and evolve their careers? Or do we accept that a certain % will have reached their best before date.

How we navigate these challenges will have a direct impact on our ability to attract future employees. Without wanting to generalise, younger generations place more emphasis on purpose and an organisations impact on the world than commercial gains. They are more discerning, driven by fairness and a desire to make a positive impact.

As the world around us continues to change, organisations will find themselves facing increasingly difficult decisions that will require a careful balance between business needs and broader moral and ethical considerations. Careers and how you upskill or reskill employees is only one example of how this impacts talent management strategies. More will follow bringing into question commercial goals and an organisations overall purpose.