Talent Matters More Than Ever in the Digital Age

Whether it's the rise of ChatGPT, the ongoing development of the Metaverse, or algorithms that impact everything from what we see on social media to how we order food, there is a technological layer around everything we do that enables access and increases efficiency.


While there are immense benefits to the implementation of technology like AI, the current state of the tech is not yet advanced enough to deliver nuanced results, products and activities that meet the needs of diverse populations. That shows us that, amidst the growing digitisation of work and the workforce, humans remain the catalyst to the future.


In ManpowerGroup’s 2023 workforce trends report, The New Human Age, we’ve identified 14 key trends shaping the future of work and impacting today's employers and the people they employ. These include four key forces: shifting demographics, individual choice, tech adoption, and competitive drivers. The report also provides guidance on how employers can attract and retain talent in this new age.


Shifting Demographics 

The rise of the Gen Z workforce has forced organizations to take a long, hard look at how they cater to younger workforces. Employers need to adapt to the shifting expectations of this new generation, who will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025. Working and living more consciously, Gen Z continues to question and drive change around issues ranging from diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)  to climate change - with 52% of Gen Z workers saying companies are not doing enough on environmental issues.


While Gen Z is in the driving seat, ageing populations rapidly reaching retirement age leave a skills and experience gap, resulting in reduced labour force participation in many countries. Countries with early retirement rates, such as France, Switzerland and South Africa, are finding their talent pool drying up. In South Africa, Statistics SA reports that approximately 9,2% (5,59 million) are 60 or older. According to the Trading Economics' global macro models and analysts expectations, the average retirement age for men and women in South Africa is expected to reach 60 years by the end of 2023.


Only 19% of hiring managers are actively looking to hire returning retirees, creating another disadvantage for older adults. This shows that focusing solely on one generational age group or demographic will severely limit a business's ability to recruit talent from a wide range of diverse and skilled talent pools.


Individual Choice 

In the wake of the pandemic, people of all ages and genders seek employers who acknowledge and actively support a healthier work/life balance. Most surveyed workers (81%) say the pandemic has affected how they think about work, while three in 10 workers and nearly half (42%) of millennials want more work-life balance. 31% of workers would take another role in the next month if it offered a better blend of work and lifestyle. Yet, despite the growing importance of candidate and employee voices in the workplace today, 66% feel their employers have all the power to determine where they work. That dynamic is creating a power struggle as 64% of the workforce would consider looking for a new job if required to return to the office full-time.


On issues of gender, this is paramount. According to Deloitte, nearly six in 10 South African women (57%) feel less optimistic about their career prospects today than before the pandemic. This is higher than the global average (51%). A 2020 report by the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) revealed the gendered effects of the pandemic. Women accounted for two-thirds of the approximately 2.9 million net job losses that occurred between February and April 2020 among all adults aged 18 and older.


During the recent Women in the Post-Pandemic World of Work panel at the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, ManpowerGroup Chief Commercial Officer and President of North America Becky Frankiewicz addressed directly what women are now looking for at work. “Women believe companies should be doing more. They are burned out. They're feeling undervalued and underappreciated. They want autonomy on their terms,” says Frankiewicz. “They want equal pay, fair pay for fair work, and fair pay for the same work. And they want empathetic leaders and managers who take the time to get to know their challenges both in and outside the workplace."


Work is no longer one-size-fits-all, it’s now one-size-fits-one, and organisations need to understand and recognise just how different the needs are on an individual, case-by-case basis.


Technology Unleashed 

People are beginning to acknowledge how much technology and innovation have improved the world of work — it’s no longer accurate to think of ‘human vs automation’. Most workers (63%) say technology has made work better. In fact, 63% of frontline workers are excited about the job opportunities technology creates, with workers in executive or senior roles (74%) and American employees (71%) reporting feeling most positively about technology in the workplace.


According to a BrandMapp survey, more than 40% of South Africans earning above R10 000 a month have returned to the office following the pandemic-induced work-from-home trend - but rates of return to full-time office work differ significantly between middle-class South Africans and top earners. Slightly more than a third of South Africa's middle class is splitting their work between home and the office, following a hybrid approach, while 46% of high earners are doing the same.


The challenges now lie with organisations, who need to use the power of technology to rehumanise — not dehumanise — the workplace. As work during the pandemic showed, less than half (46%) of employers believe in-person brainstorming generates the most creative ideas. That’s in line with what people reported since their main motivations to return to the office are for social interaction (39%) and efficient collaboration (26%).


As tech helps to remove barriers and borders to work and accessibility, employers must recognize the benefits of augmenting their workforce with tech. Doing so will open up a world of possibilities to find new and exciting ways of working in the coming years.


Competitive Drivers 

Skilled workers have always been highly sought-after, but today the demand is more acute than ever, with 78% of South African companies reporting difficulty recruiting, 3% above the global average of 75% - a 16-year high. In ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions’  (TWI), the top three overall markets for skilled talent are the United States, Singapore, and Canada. Meanwhile, South Africa is rated 14th in Total Workforce Index™ Global Ranking, not to be confused with the Total Labour Force. While the Total Workforce includes all individuals engaged in work activity within a workforce market, the Total Labour Force describes both employed and unemployed members of the population who are of working age and can be engaged for work.


Additionally, one of the three most important strategies for growth is managing geopolitical risk, and 90% of companies are planning to invest in onshoring or nearshoring manufacturing facilities as they seek to de-risk supply chains with alternative sourcing.


In an increasingly borderless world of work, staying competitive in a digital-first global economy, access to highly skilled talent is a distinct competitive advantage. And organisations will need to meet that talent wherever they are.

Technology May Be the Great Enabler, But Humans Are Still the Future 

“Humans have always adapted to new technologies and better ways of doing things. As the saying goes: ‘history repeats itself’,” adds Lyndy van den Barselaar, Managing Director, ManpowerGroup South Africa. "The pandemic taught us again that we can make extraordinary progress if we come together — the combination of innovation, technology, and human ingenuity will help us overcome the biggest challenges."

As we embark on a New Human Age, people are utilising technology and digital tools to enhance human connections, be more productive and live more meaningful lives. By equipping people with the skills to leverage technology, we can create a future of work closer to what workers of the future want; it is how we will build a path for all to increase prosperity for the many, not the few.