Analytical and data-driven mindset. I like this saying: “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” It means that fact-based decision-making is going to balance gut feeling. HR needs to learn how to fuse all the experience with solid evidence. In today’s data-driven world, HR still has room to improve there.
There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Christian Vetter, CEO and Co-Founder at HRForecast.
Christian Vetter is CEO and Co-Founder at HRForecast, an award-winning German HR tech startup. He’s gained his expertise working at Siemens and Osram in the Sales and Supply Chain Planning divisions. Christian is an HR tech expert focused on data-driven decision-making, strategic workforce planning, and next-gen workforce management.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Hi! I’m from Germany, where Florian Fleischman and I founded the HR tech startup called HRForecast. Initially, I learned quite early that I really wanted to work with numbers in my life.
I was counting things when I was a kid. That was for sure the first life experience that shaped me. I turned that into action when I studied finance and controlling. And as you can imagine, back then, I never thought I would step into the HR domain at all. For me, HR was always something not connected with numbers.
I took some turns, and there was one life experience that shaped me. In 2009, my co-founder Florian and I worked for Siemens, and the company decided to release 2000 employees. We came from the finance world, but it was the time we realized that there are always people, families, and lives behind all these numbers that we were juggling around.
I saw the HR department accountable for being unable to plan the workforce capacity and allow proactive talent development. So that’s when I understood that numbers and people are a perfect match to enable a more data-driven and thus better HR management. That’s when the idea of HRForecast was born. In 2014, we built data-driven human resources approach that we then turned into the company HRForecast. This journey has been and remains a life-changing experience for me.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
The war for talents is troubling many HR managers and me out there. There will be a lot of transparency on jobs, employer quality, and salaries. It will become a pure employee market, at least for the trending jobs. The prominent disruption I see is that employees will dictate what works for them and not employers, work will become more remote, and the talent will become global. The role of the office will become collaboration spaces or meeting spaces rather than a place to work.
Virtual offices and remote-first is going to be the new normal. That also means employees’ attitudes and requirements will be a significant foundation of the company culture. It’s going to be about trust, not about control. It’s going to be about enabling experience, not about delivering results that are basically dictated.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
One of the main reasons we have one of the highest tax rates in Germany is because of education. College education in Germany is primarily free of charge (since it is paid through taxes). I’m aware that the tuition fee can be very high in the US. But I believe there is a positive return on investment.
Regarding these few millionaires and billionaires: they are for sure good role models, but not everybody is going to end up like them just because they won’t go to school. Also, most of these people went to schools or universities; it’s just their businesses skyrocketed before they earned a degree. In a nutshell, I believe that college is worth it: not because of the title you earn but rather for the skills you learn. For me, the labor market is still too title-driven and not enough skill-focused.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment but employment that fits their talents and interests?
There is a gap between job seekers and employers. Job seekers still have it way too hard to find employment that fits their talents and interests. Ideally, they must pick whatever works best for them. Luckily, technology already allows connecting job seekers to the job that fits well.
We’re also providing this kind of technology where it’s all about making sure the skill fits the requirements match. What can’t be done (yet) is detecting the culture or the character match. Recruiters could use much more technology already to assess the skill fit of a candidate. That would leave more time for the human factor that machines cannot do yet — assessing a candidate’s personal and cultural fit.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
Technology never stops changing, so that’s why careers will continually change. I think the worst thing a person can do is rely too much on the safety of their job. However, companies and economies are built on people, so we don’t want everybody to lose their job because technology changes. People should plan, be dynamic, and think more in scenarios to prepare for the future, whatever’s to come.
There will be low-range jobs as well as high-end jobs eliminated through automation. So even white-collar professions, doctors, and engineers will change. It’s always a matter of skills, in my opinion. If you adopt dynamically, always keep an eye open to what’s going to happen. There’s always a way to find a new opportunity.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
If the company has that as part of the culture, it’s a workable strategy. I do believe the all-remote trend will continue. Most people don’t want to come back to that old scheme, and I know large companies with thousands of employees that now start hiring everywhere because they, for example, cannot find the people in Munich. It’s a very competitive talent market out there, and being less local gives you more candidates.
There will be no way back once you have built this hybrid workforce of remote and on-premises employees. You can’t force half of your people to come to the office just because they live in Munich while the other half works from somewhere else.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
We need to develop a “leadership through trust” mindset to build a more inclusive working environment and empower equal opportunities and growth. Lately, we’ve seen drastic social changes across the world. People raise their voices; they want equal rights and recognition of their cultural background. Employers must keep their radars on those changes to quickly adapt and refine their policies.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
If there’s too much to accept from each other, then it’s not a good match. The companies of the future only function if there’s a culture fit besides the skill fit. Here at HRForecast, we’ve never really needed to accept anything we found difficult, and I hope our team members do not accept anything they dislike working with us.
Of course, it’s always a bit negotiating here and there. But let’s face it: if you want to have people work in the office every day from 9:00 to 5:00, soon you won’t have anybody left in your team. There’s a good employer out there for everybody, and there’s a good employee out there for every employer. It’s just a matter of finding each other.
The only thing employees and employers need to accept is continuous change. Otherwise, they shouldn’t accept too much because then they wouldn’t fit well.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
Let me speak about Germany’s experience. As I mentioned earlier, part of our high taxes not only goes into education but also to social insurance. So, what was happening here? Maybe it’s interesting for Americans to see that people over here didn’t lose jobs this time on a large scale.
German companies may be slow compared to US companies, but they learned one thing during the last global crisis in 2008. Once you release people, you’ll have difficulty finding them again once the economy goes back up into acceleration mode.
So how do we fix it? There’s something like short-term work we have here in Germany. Employers and employees pay into social security for years and years. And then, if events like COVID-19 happen, you shut down factories, and you don’t send hundreds or thousands of people home. Well, you do send them home, but they keep their job, and it will be paid by the employment agency. All that money you’ve spent over the last year is now unfortunately gone, but it was spent for a good cause because nobody needed to leave the job.
Even though employees make less while they stay at home, it’s much better than losing a job. Besides, employees were able to stay home and take care of their health.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
At the beginning of the interview, there’s the quote that almost 73 million jobs will be gone by 2030. I believe that you can put any time stamp on a headline like this, and we’re still around. Most of us hopefully have a good job. That’s optimism to me.
And hopefully, humankind gets smarter with every crisis, so I’m optimistic about that as well.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
I can’t judge this gap between the job losses and growth of new jobs since I don’t have the statistics or some proof. I think the problem is that when companies transform — which is natural — they’re losing, let’s say, 1000 people on one end, and somewhere else, they’ll build up to 1000 different jobs. It’s much better to say that transformation is normal.
In my opinion, to reduce that gap, employers must become more proactive. That goes hand in hand with what I said earlier that people need to become more dynamic. It’s not a good idea to wait until the day you shut down the factory. Instead, you should think in scenarios. For example: “How is my organization going to react to a global pandemic, and what can I do now to mitigate some of the risks?”
There could be several scenarios you can think through, and they might be extreme or more realistic. In the end, they all help you prepare for unforeseen events like Brexit or pandemics. These questions (or “stress tests”) should be done occasionally to ensure that you’re ready for whatever’s to come.
Your internal talent market will help you save HR costs and efforts put into closing vacancies. Moving one person from Job A to Job B avoids two external moves — hiring and firing –, thus saving you 50 percent less effort and costs.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Analytical and data-driven mindset. I like this saying: “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” It means that fact-based decision-making is going to balance gut feeling. HR needs to learn how to fuse all the experience with solid evidence. In today’s data-driven world, HR still has room to improve there.
- Redefinition of employee benefits and engagement. When #WFH becomes a new normal, so do change employee benefits packages and engagement techniques. For example, employers start to pay more attention to equipping their employees’ home offices and providing them with services like deliveries/cleaning/babysitting to ease the stress of handling home and work simultaneously.
- Shift to become a strategic enabler. Administrative tasks become more and more automated, which leaves time for more value-adding tasks. Thus, we come to a point when HR has to prove that it can drive business strategy and empower strategic workforce planning.
- Soft skills to the spotlight. It’s understood that technology won’t replace humans. However, to build those technologies and use them for good, we’ll need people with strong soft skills like analytical mindset, problem-solving skills, and communication skills.
- Skills-based hiring. Skills, not education degrees and testimonials, are becoming an asset. Businesses will follow a skills-based hiring approach to reach out to the right talents and hire people with exact hard and soft skills required for a specific role. This will make the labor market more dynamic since fewer people are stuck in their career path silo.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
“Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.” I believe this quote makes even more sense in the light of the events like pandemics, lockdowns, and dramatic socio-economic changes. Life constantly throws its lessons and challenges at us. What’s left for us is to handle all those challenges with gratitude and grace, and never stop adapting to a new reality.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I have always drawn inspiration from people of other domains. So, rather than talking to a well-known CEO or business leader, I’d have a look into sports. I would pick the former race car driver Michael Schumacher. He’s my role model and somebody I admire the most. Even though he’s not from an HR-related field, his life journey with wins and fails could keep a conversation going for many hours. He came from a very unusual background and made it to the top in a highly competitive environment to become a global champion and inspiration for millions. Unfortunately, he is apparently in ill health, so that talk will not happen anytime soon.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.