At dinner parties and family get-togethers, I am often asked about my job in IT Staffing Services. My mom and dad and aunts and uncles mostly refer to me as a “Head Hunter,” never fully understanding my job even after the fourth or fifth explanation.
Recently, one of those family members asked me if “staffing will be around in twenty years?”
I didn’t have a response then and there but the question provoked me to try to answer. Here is my opinion…
With Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Machine Learning all being at the forefront of Information Technology, the big concern is whether or not we will all be out of jobs someday. If computers can replace humans, then the IT Staffing Industry will certainly be useless, right? Not only will recruiters be replaced by software but so too will much of the demand for skilled IT laborers that those companies currently recruit.
The truth is that computers can never, and will never, replace humans. They can augment some tasks that humans perform, but the gap is in the need for human decision making, which will always be needed. Peter Thiel explains:
“Men and machines are good at fundamentally different things. People have intentionality—we form plans and make decisions in complicated situations. We’re less good at making sense of enormous amounts of data. Computers are exactly the opposite: they excel at efficient data processing, but they struggle to make basic judgments that would be simple for any human.” – Zero to One, pp. 143
While computers will certainly augment many of the data processing tasks that people are doing today, capable workers will still be needed in order to make the difficult decisions that continue to help businesses grow. The automation of these tasks won’t eliminate the need for humans, it will simply give them more tools to excel.
For example, the invention of the automobile didn’t eliminate job opportunity for skilled buggy drivers, it just changed the demand for the type of work they needed to perform. So too will automation and machine learning change the way the workforce works, rather than eliminating the need for the workforce altogether.
Additionally, as technology changes so too does commerce (whether it is chicken or egg first is irrelevant here). This change is already happening. Businesses must focus more now on customer engagement, quality of service, and branding. The economy will become less about making cheap products fast and more about building partnerships. Humans will be needed to continue to assess the marketplace and make pivoting decisions as the economy brings on new demands.
In regards to recruiting, as technology moves faster so too do the changing requirements for new skillsets. Whereas mainframe programming languages, like COBOL, may have lasted many years, new programming languages and infrastructure technologies are being invented more frequently and they are creating new and intense demand for cutting-edge skillsets. Just look at the names for some of two of the new automation technologies: Chef and Puppet. Both technologies are helping companies advance at a rapid pace but one can’t help but acknowledge the quirkiness of their product names. Technology is moving so fast that companies are even running out of names for their innovations.
If companies are to keep up with the rapidly advancing technology, they will need to leverage service providers that understand the fast-changing landscape and can locate, vet, and recruit these new skillsets. In order to keep pace, companies will need to leverage the experts in the field who know what Chef and Puppet are, and can go out and procure those individuals who possess the respective skillsets. And when I say “service providers” here I am referencing staffing and consulting firms.
In addition to rapid technology advancement, the economy and buyers’ habits also play a large part.
As the world economy changes and consumers adopt new buying-habits, consumer desires change also. In the last five-to-ten years, the Owning Economy became the Sharing Economy. Instead of owning your own stuff, for example CDs or MP3 files, disruptive platforms such as Naptser and Kazaa created a new breed of consumerism that would rather share than own.
This Sharing Economy pushed into transportation with ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft and then into home-sharing services like Airbnb and VRBO. This same Sharing Economy made IT Staffing and Consulting businesses more successful than ever because large corporations sought partners to assist with their labor needs and to help in their overall mission. The labor was shared between the services firms and companies doing the work.
However, a new economic shift is closely upon us. The Sharing Economy has come quickly and is already showing signs of being sunset. New Consumerism desires not ownership or sharing, but rather membership. This new way of buying was brought on by Salesforce.com when they broke the Software as a Service (“SaaS”) model. Fifteen years ago, if a company wanted a software system installed, they had to pay a software company an exorbitant amount of money to have them come onsite and install the technology into their systems. Now, SaaS companies everywhere are offering low-cost monthly membership options that can be conveniently integrated into company systems and canceled at any point and time. This has expanded beyond the corporate walls to the individual consumers too.
Services like Netflix, Spotify, and other consumer platforms have given us comfort in the membership model. We no longer need to physically own our music and we no longer care to share it or have it shared. We now seek membership, and with this comes social connection, through the sharing of experiences and ideas. New technologies are only as successful as much as they allow their users to interact with each other.
Furthermore, the automobile industry is already discussing what the new transportation systems will look like when self-driving cars are on the roads. Rather than selling cars to car owners, autonomous car companies will likely offer membership plans to riders. These riders may, for example, pay a $200 per month fee for a membership “mileage plan” (like a mobile phone plan).
With this new wave upon us companies and organizations will need to re-evaluate how they leverage technology staffing service providers to keep up with these changes.
Of course, in the recruiting and staffing world alone there have already been revolutionary changes reflecting the Membership Economy with services like ZipRecruiter. These technologies are no doubt making our world a better place, but they pose unique challenges relating to employment law and benefits. Studies show that employees often value benefits and being part of a team more than they do pay.
In hiring, companies will also have to navigate a changing healthcare landscape. Less than eight years ago the healthcare laws in the United States were changed and it appears they will remain mostly intact for the time being. Corporations now need services firms to help them carry the costs of employment, such as rising healthcare premiums. As healthcare becomes more social, staffing and consulting companies become more valuable when they are willing to share the cost of employment and offer “membership” benefits to their consultants and contractors.
Lastly, as technology advancement enters its “hockey-stick” phase of advancement, as some have called it, technology will move so fast that project and product lifecycles will be shorter. Look at the Agile framework, which has taken over corporate technology, and you will see that every objective is done in iterations called “sprints” with small, nimble teams that can assemble, accomplish, and disassemble very quickly. Not only will workers need to become malleable to keep up with this pace, but also skilled service providers will be needed in order to augment quick project teams made up of niche skillsets.
As the Membership Economy gains traction, staffing and consulting services firms will need to rethink how they engage their customers and employees will need to continue to adapt. Firms like the one I work for will be increasingly more valuable to our clients, but we will need to innovate and stay ahead of the curve in order to keep up.
My humble opinion, in regards to the future of the IT workforce landscape, is that we should embrace the shifts and see the ever-changing economy as exciting advancements, rather than threatening ones.
So the real answer to my family at dinner is that I don’t know at all if my job will be around in twenty years or what it will look like if it is. I can speculate, but in reality, it may look very different. In fact, I hope it is different. If technology never changed then we would still be buying CDs. Wouldn’t that be terrible?
In the meantime, it’s up to all of us individually to keep honing our skills, learning new ones, and seeking to provide value to others.
“In this world, you’re either growing or you’re dying, so get in motion and grow.” – Lou Holtz
(My opinions here are my own and not that of my employer’s.)
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