The Rise Of Code: How HR Tech is Shaping Workplace Trends

Knack For Hack is a hackathon series co-organised by @PolyglotGroup & @coderfactory in Australia. The first event in the series, H(R)ackathon, will address Human Resources issues and bring people together to create innovative solutions.

The purpose is to solve broad Human Resources (HR) concerns (Recruitment, Employee Engagement, Mindfulness, Team Work, Payroll, etc), engage companies in the importance of tech in HR, and promote entrepreneurial thinking.

To get you thinking, Coder Factory Academy will be running a blog series on HR trends. The first will be on workforce trends, the second on what HR tech companies are currently doing, and the third on innovative in-house HR policies. So, let’s kick it off!


Attraction and Retention

According to PwC, fair pay, a stable upward career path, a chance at financial security, and the prestige of partnership used to be enough to attract and retain bright young talent.

Now greater flexibility, appreciation, team collaboration, and global opportunities are coveted more.

Millennials and Gen. Z are even more entrepreneurial, flexible, and cynical in their approach to careers than any other generation, because the Great Recession happened in their formative years. They are very interested in opportunities for growth so they can be ready when the recovery truly starts, or when they start their own venture, which will likely be a consultancy of some variety at first. People in younger generations are even more heavily focused on personal brand, and they start young.

Usually, 15 would be the average age for some of the more precocious teenagers to start thinking and planning their careers. I know of plenty of people in coding and politics who started at about this age, like Kaila Murnain. Another even started to learn coding at six years old! That was uncommon in my generation (I’m 21 now). Today, you’ll see 12, and maybe even nine year olds creating popular apps. They’ll run off for the next better opportunity when they see one, or more likely they’ll try to balance it with what they already have and try not to burn out

Casualisation and Mobility

The casualisation of the workforce comes in many forms, with the introduction and reintroduction of arrangements that include: permanent part-time, fixed-term contracts, and casual employees, via recruitment agencies and independent contractors.

Companies are trying to define what workplace flexibility means:

  • Does it mean staff are available 24/7 (you see this often in services, manufacturing and construction), or
  • Does it mean staff must make themselves available at crisis times (see sysadmin and devops), or
  • Does it mean that it doesn’t matter how work gets done as long as it’s done by deadline, or
  • Does it mean that work can be done anywhere, but it must be within traditional hours, or
  • any combination of the above

Either way, the standard 40 hour working week is gone. According to Entity Solutions, 80% of white collar contractors are happy being contractors, though.

Australia and America have gone for longer work weeks, while Germany and Sweden have gone for shorter. The average work week in Germany is 35 hours, and Sweden has a four day work week.

The Reserve Bank Of Australia has found that “Over the course of 2016, employment growth has been concentrated in part-time jobs, while full-time employment has been little changed until very recently”.

This decades-long move reflects increased female participation in the workforce and labour markets reforms. While women are full-time workers until they have kids, for a variety of reasons after that most switch to part-time work. There are two other factors influencing the shift to part time work. Employment growth has been stronger in industries that tend to have a higher proportion of part-time jobs, such as household services. The other underlying trend is the continuing economic uncertainty in the local and global economies which is making business more cautious.

In response, a broad range of businesses are seeking greater flexibility from employees through the use of part-time or casual work or temporary contracts, to improve productivity and minimise their labour costs. This last point “might help to also explain the increase in part-time employment relative to full-time employment in a range of industries in the business service and goods-related sectors”, according to the RBA.

The Globalisation of Talent

Software platforms enable people from all other the world to work with one another. Online Project Management platforms like Basecamp allow you to do your job almost entirely remotely. Most of their employees also work remotely. There are software companies in Australia with management here and staff overseas. Talent can in effect work around the clock for companies, and they do. The practise is called being a ‘digital nomad’ and it’s increasing in popularity year after year. It’s yet another example of the eradication of the 40 hour work week.

Automation and Computerisation

Frey and Osborn define the work that is less susceptible to computerisation as those involving perception and manipulation, or creative intelligence, or social intelligence. If your job requires caring, communication, or some form of creativity, you’re probably safe for now, according to the Good Universities Guide. About 40% of Australian jobs could be impacted in the near future.

Equality in the Workforce

Human-based hiring procedures are indeed biased. What do we train our machine learning systems on, however? Training data obtained from humans.

In the Women Futurists group I am part of on Facebook — thanks Rebecca Searles for sharing it with us and letting me in! — we’ve recently been talking about what’s more likely: Will we face the Robopocalyse, or will algorithms simply continue to shut people out of opportunities that they’ve always been shut out of? And of course, as Stephen Merity discussed earlier in It’s ML, not magic: machine learning can be prejudiced, what does it mean for code to be biased when society is also biased?

Another practice suggested is blind hiring. This is where you remove all identifying information (age, name, university) out of resumes and replace it with a number, and then sort through them. The positives? It’s worked for orchestras. There’s a case where musicians played behind a screen during their audition, and 50% more women were hired.

It’s quite possible blind hiring would offer an effective mechanism for bridging the gender gap across all industries, but within tech in particular. HSBC, Deloitte, KPMG, Virgin Money, and the BBC have recently begun blind-recruitment processes for all graduate applicants. We’ll have to wait to see the outcome…

There’s also software that creates more approachable language for job ads for recruiters. This includes platforms like Textio, a company whose key role is to ‘find the magic words — uncovers key phrases and spots bias as you type’. Another innovation to eradicate mini-me-ism is re-screening surveys based on performance data, sales data, and employee survey data so companies actually hire who is likely to be most successful, as opposed to hiring according to what they already know and what types of people they are comfortable with.

Information travels too quickly for businesses to pretend they have stronger ethics than they do. As PwC noted, ‘Millennials are quick to react negatively to any perceived disconnect between an organisation’s words and its actions — and they want to know what decisions are being made at the leadership levels. If they don’t receive the information they’re looking for, they’ll go out and get it anyway, rather than waiting to be told’. Staff and customers both believe in transparency, and ‘doing the right thing’ more than they ever have before.

Stupid Question 218: What are T-shaped, Pi-shaped and Comb-shaped skills, and which one should I aim for?

The Specialist Has Arrived

Everyone has a personal brand now, and aims to be the master of their niche. It’s no longer a mid-career move. You begin the journey of becoming the master of law AND code, or economics AND science, at 18 instead of 36 or 45. Another model is the ‘T shaped professional’, who is an expert in one topic, and knows enough to be dangerous about many others. They learn these skills from online resources and other courses and listen to podcasts in their spare time.

All of the above means there is “huge pressure on people to invest more in their skill development and to identify skills that are both valuable and unlikely to be substituted by technology,” according to Professor Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School.


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