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Disruptive Technologies and Future Staffing Needs

Assembly line machine

This article originally appeared in Lēad Magazine, Issue 15: The Value of Brand Attraction.

By Peter Andersen, PhD, Economic Forecaster Andersen Economic Research Inc.

New employees bring skills, aptitude and experience to companies, and in exchange, they are offered incentives to come on board. A company’s culture is likely to be a key attraction for new hires. If applicants find that the company’s approach to doing business suits their personal profile, a strong attraction can be created at the outset. This can be reinforced by an outline of potential career growth within the organization. Such incentives are more effective than entry-level salary and benefits.

However, there needs to be a close alignment of expectations and reality for job applicants and employers. For example, not all new employees with high-level technical skills will be a perfect fit for all technology companies. Corporate cultures can be vastly different with different histories, core values, and management styles. The same applies for companies in any industry.

Job applicants have a responsibility to research and understand the ways that companies operate before deciding whether they have the personality make-up that would be a good fit. Otherwise, they could find themselves wasting a year or two of their time, as well as the employer’s, before they move on.

In addition, the hiring company needs to be acutely selective in identifying exactly the kinds of people that they are looking for. Doing so will help bridge the gap between expectations and performance. Such practices appear to be more common today. Job market data shows a growing discrepancy between job vacancies and actual hiring. The implication is that companies are being much more careful in their selection procedures.

However, for many companies, events are moving so quickly today that it is difficult to determine where things are headed and how they’ll look five to 10 years from now. It is therefore not easy for companies to identify what their staffing needs will be in the not-too-distant future. The end result is that it may be difficult for many companies to live up to the employer reputation that they would like to present.

This difficulty has arisen because innovation has taken on such importance in a world of intensified competition. Clayton Christensen’s concept of the innovator’s dilemma is a powerful warning of the disruption and opportunity presented by innovation. Companies that decide to resist disruptive technology – innovations that disrupt existing markets, even creating new ones, by displacing older technologies – because they want to avoid undermining their core business are at risk of falling behind the needs of tomorrow’s customers.*

The process of such technological change can be either discontinuous or continuing. The organizational changes that are produced are more than just the result of technology itself. The fundamental driver is always found in its application – the manner in which technology is applied, which is highly unpredictable. It can take decades before a new technology can be effectively put into application. However, in some instances, advances elsewhere will have an overnight effect on what is possible. The advent of cloud computing is an example of such an accelerator. In the end, technology has to be profitable in order to be disruptive. Once profitable, technological innovation will then change companies, industries, markets, and the economy itself in fundamental ways.

The job market therefore faces fundamental adjustments. Disruptive innovation will play an economic role sooner than you expect. It will be a powerful force this decade in North America. An evolution in assembly line production is already underway as a result of 3D printing. The next phase will be industrial-grade systems to produce metal parts. In addition, advanced robotics will provide the dexterity and intelligence to substitute “low wage” equipment for people. The capital costs of robots have declined to the point where their equivalent wage per hour is becoming competitive with low wage developing countries. North American manufacturing will become more competitive as distance and time become more important issues for design, engineering, production, and marketing.

*The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business Review Press, 1997.

About Peter Andersen

Peter AndersenPeter Andersen is an independent consulting economist specializing in applied economic forecasting. He obtained his doctorate in economics from Harvard University. Peter provides strategic economic advice to management through boardroom meetings, video conferencing, economic reports, email commentary, and telephone calls. He is a regular keynote speaker at industry conferences in Canada and the United States. In addition, Peter taught financial economics as well as money and banking at the University of Texas at Austin from 2001 to 2010.

About Lēad

Since its first issue in 2007, Adecco Canada’s Lēad Magazine has been keeping employers on the cutting-edge of developments, trends, and breakthroughs in workforce management. Featuring articles from some of Canada’s foremost economic, legal, diversity, political, and HR experts, Lēadis an invaluable guide through the dynamic and ever-changing world of employment affairs. To view past issues, please visit our Lēad archive.

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