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2020: The year of an ever-changing workplace… what to expect and how to navigate the professional landscape

In our latest guide, we explore what job seekers should expect from forward-thinking organisations as we move into the New Year. We hope that it provides an insight into the considerations affecting employers and provides you with practical tips which can help you to make the most of your next career move.

It’s hard to imagine that we’re almost living in the year 2020.

It’s always been looked on as the pinnacle of technical innovation, and revolutionary changes. A quick internet search brings up an array of predictions about what to expect from the year 2020; from Ape Chauffeurs through to putting people on Mars and vegetables grown by electricity. But as we head towards the dawn of a new decade, there is much to consider about the changing nature of the professional landscape.

In 1966, Time magazine declared that in the 21st Century “not only manual workers but also secretaries and most middle-level managers will have been replaced by computers. The remaining executives will be responsible for major decisions and long-range policy. Thus, society will seem idle, by present standards.”

In 1966, Time magazine declared that in the 21st Century:

‘not only manual workers but also secretaries and most middle-level managers will have been replaced by computers’

Should we still be afraid of emerging technologies?

Much has already been written about the continual development of technology and its impact on the jobs market.

In March 2019, the Office for National Statistics stated that approximately 1.5 million workers in the UK are at risk thanks to automation, with women and part-time workers deemed to be at most risk. On a global scale, the World Economic Forum has suggested that by 2022, more than 75 million jobs may be lost as automation, artificial intelligence and algorithms become commonplace. However, it has also predicted that up to 133 million jobs may be created as a result of emerging technologies.

At first glance, this may seem an incredible figure, but if we look back over the past 10-15 years, we can see where new job roles and entire careers have developed. For instance, job roles such as web developers, app developers, social media managers, Uber drivers, cloud computing scientists, and drone operators didn’t exist ten years ago, and now the jobs market is full of these fulfilling careers.

In 2020, we can expect to see employers paying close attention to the impact of technology. Skills gaps are emerging and it’s clear that those companies who do not take the time to invest in training and development for existing staff, as well as recruiting for new positions may start to see themselves falling behind their competitors.

We believe that technology will start from the very beginning of a job-seeker’s interaction with an organisation. Namely, that technology will an integral part of the recruitment and onboarding processes, helping to streamline systems and improve efficiencies.

Recruitment software specialists Wave believes that presently, “The traditional way of recruitment based on intuition and personal experience isn’t as effective in today’s market, however, the amount of recruitment tech available is vast and can overcomplicate the candidate journey.”

The firm believes that we can start to see a more “data- driven approach” to recruitment.

As a candidate, what does this mean?

To put it clearly, it means that we can expect to see the bulk of all recruitment activities taking place online where automation and analytics can be used by employers to improve their recruitment processes.

What is an Applicant Tracking system and how does this affect me?

You may have already heard about Applicant Tracking Systems; these are dedicated HR software programmes which allow AI technologies to screen CVs for specific keywords, automatically schedule interviews and ensure that both candidate and employer are kept up to date with each stage of their application. There has been a reluctance amongst some to admit to using ATS software, with an underlying belief that these systems are mere robots. But it’s a fact that when properly configured, an ATS can speed up the recruitment process significantly.

From a candidate perspective, we should welcome the use of these systems. We know from experience that job hunting is a lengthy process. Writing CVs and covering letters takes time to craft for every single job application and it can be disheartening to not receive acknowledgement of an application. In contrast, if an ATS is used, the software will automatically communicate with every job seeker about the status of their application, thus speeding up the process and providing a much more positive experience for all involved.

Whilst recruitment technology may seem like a new trend, in truth, businesses have been using digital recruitment for years – from the moment that spreadsheets became mainstream. Things may have changed slightly thanks to online jobs boards, social media, and mobile-ready technology but they have been improvements for the better. As we continue to look towards the future, we anticipate that we’ll start to see video technology increasingly used for interviews.

The technology is already freely available for both employer and candidate (for instance, Skype, WhatsApp Chat, Google Hangout, Facetime) and it can help to widen out the geographical net for employment opportunities. For senior positions, video conferencing is growing in popularity where the hiring panel (such as C-Suite executives) may struggle to coordinate diaries. The end result; A much faster and more efficient recruitment process for all concerned.

If innovation is the catalyst for change, what can we expect in 2020?

Technology cannot function without innovation, and we know that changes in the technological field are inherently changing the way that we do business.

In simple terms, next year we can expect to see the proliferation of mobile commerce. Tools such as Apple Pay, and Google Wallet will continue to become more mainstream whilst an increase in 5G technology will make everything run much faster than ever before.

From a marketing perspective, it is likely that 2020 will see a decline in app technology in favour of mobile-first responsiveness. As websites becoming increasingly powerful there is no longer a need to rely upon customers downloading something specific from the app store. We can also expect to see growth in voice-recognition technology. The prevalence of Amazon Echo’s and Google Home technology in consumer homes means that voice searches will grow, leading to new challenges for marketers.

For HR professionals, we can continue to see the widespread use of analytical tools which will increasingly be used for competitive advantage. Forbes magazine believes that:

Companies that still aren’t investing heavily in analytics by 2020 probably won’t be in business in 2021. There is simply far too much valuable customer data to be collected, processed and turned into insights for any company to remain competitive without making full use of modern analytics tools.

If you are working in a role where data is important, it is wise to update your skills to gain an understanding of how to interpret and use this data. Candidates with this skill will find themselves more employable as companies seek to fill their skills gaps.

Could 2020 be the year of learning and development?

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

Benjamin Franklin

Today’s workforce is no longer satisfied to sit and do the same manual tasks every single day. Instead, we constantly strive to become professionally satisfied, and continual learning and development is a huge part of this.

As we’ve seen by the introduction of new technologies, jobs are changing and businesses need to invest heavily in L&D; not just to keep up with the competition, but to retain staff who are keen to improve their own personal development. Deloitte recently declared that “Learning is the top-rated challenge among 2019’s Global Human Capital Trends.”

In recent years, firms have been unwilling or unable to invest in staff training, but skills gaps are now emerging which could cause L&D to become more prevalent during 2020.

Professions such as HR and Marketing are rapidly changing thanks to the emergence of big data. Gone are the days when basic reporting was required; instead analytics is the new buzzword which is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. By taking a scientific or methodical approach to data analytics, businesses can start to understand why people behave in certain ways (such as staff or customers) and use this knowledge to inform or predict a wider business strategy. But this new approach requires new knowledge and new understanding – something which is highlighting the need for continual training.

“Reskilling has become a growth imperative for organizations, many of which have seen positions go unfilled for months or years for lack of the right talent to fill them.”

Source: Deloitte

In 2014, the World Economic Forum asked for predictions on how technology would change by 2020 and Alexis Ringwald from LearnUp, suggested that learning on the job will continue to be important.

Speaking at the time, he said:

“With widespread access to training and courses online and available on-demand, workers can be informed of skill updates while they work and will regularly top up their education with the skills, they need to remain relevant in the workforce.”

Alexis Ringwald, Co-founder, and CEO, LearnUp

Six years later and it’s as true today as it was then.

If anything, learning and development have become more important than ever before. Deloitte’s 2019 Millennial Survey shows that 49% of Millennial workers would quit their job within the next two years, with the top reasons including unhappiness with compensation, lack of career advancement and lack of professional development opportunities.

There is a clear difference in training opportunities across different sectors. Research released by the MPA Group at the start of 2019 showed that Finance (88%) and HR/ Recruitment (82%) are the professions most likely to offer employees the opportunity to learn new skills whilst the administration (62%) and Marketing/PR sectors (58%) lag behind.

So, if businesses need to invest in L&D to keep their staff happy and motivated, how can training become more accessible? Firstly, organisations need to change the way that they view training. It’s no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity that should be integrated with the working day. HR teams can now benefit from software solutions that allow for learning on the job. Taking the time to use video technology and online learning, businesses can empower workers to complete training programmes at a time that suits them, with minimal disruption to businesses.

As a candidate, there are also things you can do to improve your own skills.

Taking the time to invest in your own learning and development opportunities can pay dividends when
it comes to boosting your career prospects. Joining professional networks, engaging in online conversations with peers or investing in your own online training opportunities can help you to develop new skills. We live in an age where we expect information for free, and the wealth of blogs and websites dedicated to specific professions can help you to learn new techniques that will boost your skillset and improve your employability.

The only way is up... or is it?

In years gone by, employees generally expected to see a linear career progression. Starting in a junior role, and moving up towards senior positions was the norm, and in some professions still is. But today’s workforce has begun to change their understanding of career progression. Success is no longer judged in terms of just job title and wage; there are more nuances than ever before. For example, is success dictated by the number of hours worked or money earned or is it shown by the ability to have a positive work-life balance?

Next year, 50% of the workforce will be the Millennial generation and we know that this group is looking for more from their employers. They want to be professionally challenged, they want to be recognised for their achievements and they want to feel that they can advocate for their employers. Success to them isn’t about one factor, it’s about a mix of everything combined.

What is clear is that whatever type of career you have imagined, it’s always important to take time to reflect on what it is you want to do, and how you plan to get there.
It’s an old-fashioned view that career paths need to continually push upwards towards senior management. There are many instances where a sideways step or even a (seemingly) backward step can be just as fulfilling. These days, hiring managers are more open to diverse CVs which showcase a candidate’s career history and we expect this to become increasingly prevalent in 2020.

As experienced recruiters, we spend time working with our candidates to craft a CV relevant to a specific job, and if your experience has led you to the desired attributes, you will be viewed positively. To help our candidates understand the flexible nature of career progression we focus upon these areas:

1. It’s not all about the job title. If you’re considering a new challenge, then try to avoid being hung up on specific job titles. Think about where you want to go in your career and look at the steps that will take you there. You may find that you move into specialist areas or move into similar functions to allow yourself to get greater expertise and knowledge.

2. Take an introspective look at your personal career. Creating career goals for yourself may sound twee, but it’s a great way of holding yourself accountable for what you want to do. Use constructive feedback sessions with line managers or even other colleagues to establish what it is that you do well, and how to continue to improve your development.

3. Consider how transferrable skills can make you more employable. As we move into a new era, employers are paying close attention to transferrable skills. They are looking for team players, organised staff members and those who simply ‘get the job done’. Your CV needs to showcase your qualifications as well as what makes you stand out from the crowd.

4. Educate yourself. If you’ve been limited with L&D opportunities, then make them for yourself. Use sites such as LinkedIn to connect with peers; read blogs and articles and find ways to continue your learning. This will not only improve your skills and knowledge but if you have a passion for what you do, it will be apparent to hiring managers, making you much more employable.

5. Collaborate with peers. In sectors such as HR and Marketing, the opportunities to learn from and collaborate with peers are endless. Take advantage of opportunities that allow you to build networks with fellow professionals. You never know where they may lead you.

Can changing management structures allow for open communication?

If career trajectories are moving away from linear routes, then so too are management structures.

Modern workforces have moved away from hierarchal organisations towards systems where honest and open communication is key throughout the whole business. Senior management teams and C-Suite Executives are no longer hidden away in offices, they are sat amongst frontline employees gaining a greater understanding of the business development.

“Flat” management structures may be symbolic of SME’s, but they also have their place amongst larger organisations. The proximity to management means that all workers are aware of the business vision, communication is improved, and decision-making processes are easier. Big-name brands such as Nike, Zappos, and Buffer are all proud of their flat structures.

“Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company.”

Elon Musk, Tesla

Deloitte notes in their 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report that “The shift from hierarchies to cross-functional teams is well underway.” The research demonstrates that workers believe that the ability to “lead through influence is a requirement for 21st-century leadership.” What’s more, 53% of respondents noted that they saw a significant improvement in performance for those who have transitioned into a team/network-based management model.

“If we look at some high-performing organizations such as Cisco, Google, and others, they are promoting teaming and networking within their organizations. While they have many senior leaders and functional departments, they move people around rapidly, they spin up new businesses quickly, and they have the ability to start and stop projects at need, moving people into new roles to accommodate.”


Job descriptions often use the words “teamwork” “agile workforce” and “digital working” to describe their ethos. These can only be maintained when there is clear and consistent communication throughout the business. Over the next few years, we believe that we will see more businesses reduce their hierarchal management philosophies as they see the business benefits of having a more agile and responsive company.

Why are flexible workforces more than just remote working?

We’ve spoken about how technology has changed the way that we work, and remote working is a big part of this. Having the opportunity to incorporate flexible working practices is a big incentive for today’s workforce. But flexible workforces aren’t just about choosing your own hours or having the ability to work from home; it’s about taking control over your career choices which is where temporary working factors in.

Historically, ‘temp’ workers were deemed to be low cost, low skilled workers, simply covering for permanent staff members. But there has been an evolution in recruitment, and contract workers are now often highly paid professionals pulled in to ‘hit the ground running’ and focus upon specific projects before moving onto the next task.

At Allen Associates, we have a long history of recruiting for temporary positions and short term contracts, and we recognise that employers are now increasingly using a highly skilled and flexible workforce to fill any skills gaps that they may have. Whether it’s focusing upon imminent deadlines or testing out new roles ahead of permanent recruitment, we expect to see contract work increase throughout 2020 and beyond.

For candidates, this is interesting because choosing to focus on short-term contracts means you can take control over your career. You can decide what opportunities to focus on, and what skills to develop whilst still retaining a positive balance with your outside interests. It also means that you can manipulate your career trajectory in a transitory way, giving you a greater variety of work and independence.

What can we expect from the Flexible Working Task Force?

If we move back to the ‘traditional’ form of flexible working, i.e. the ability to work from home, then we know that next year this will continue to grow in importance.

“Working flexibly helps people to balance their work and home lives and is vital in creating an inclusive economy and diverse workforce. It also gives employers access to a wider pool of talent and enables better matching of applicants and jobs.

We will be considering a duty for employers to consider whether a job can be done flexibly, and to make that clear when advertising a vacancy.”

Kelly Tolhurst, Business Minister, January 2019

The Flexible Working Task Force was launched earlier this year by the UK government as a way of helping businesses to understand why flexible working opportunities should
be made available. Despite all workers having the right to request flexible working hours, the CIPD has noted that the number of formal arrangements has stalled since 2010.

The CIPD believes that many employers miss the potential benefits of flexible working because of outdated attitudes, a reluctance to invest in remote working technology and negative assumptions about flexible working practices.

If we wish to encourage more flexible working practices, then it’s important that employees feel empowered to exercise their right to request flexible working patterns. We believe that in 2020 and beyond, this will become more common amongst all employers at all levels of seniority. The workplace is changing; the traditional 9 am-5 pm office hours are no longer required so it’s important that employees feel that they have the right to request a working pattern that suits their lifestyles.

Will data protection continue to be a key consideration in 2020?

At the start of 2019, much was written about the prevalence of the GDPR legislation, which was brought in to give individuals greater control over how their personal data was being used. Although the political landscape is unclear at the time of writing due to Brexit, we do know that after Britain leaves the European Union, a new Data Protection Act will be drafted to ensure that the GDPR principles remain in effect.

From an employment perspective, GDPR has had bigger implications than merely who you can contact via direct marketing emails. It has been about understanding how businesses store personal employee data and a worker’s right to request to see what data has been stored. Data protection is everyone’s responsibility; employers need to educate their staff about what they can and cannot do and ensure that each worker understands what to do if they suspect a data breach.

Next year, the issues of data protection will continue to be a key consideration and as part of every company’s L&D strategies, they need to be confident that every staff member is aware of what constitutes personal data.

“Employers should ensure staff are aware that any personal data they have in their possession will also be subject to the regulation. For example, if a manager has a written copy of contact details for their team or an employee keeps customer names and numbers on post it notes on their desk.”

Source: ACAS

For HR departments using technology to monitor workforce performance, the GDPR regulations have implications for what constitutes lawful monitoring. Whilst most workplaces will have policies declaring that employees have no right to workplace privacy (especially in connection with IT systems), the ICO have clear rules regarding what is allowed when it comes to monitoring.

Alison Woods, an employment partner at CMS suggests that:

“Employers need to be transparent about the way they process data. Workers need to have a clear understanding of what the monitoring entails. Notice can be provided to the employee in different ways: through an employer’s email/internet policies, its data protection policy or employee privacy notice.”

Source: People Management

How will these changes impact wages and earning potential?

Throughout this guide, we’ve looked at what candidates can do to make themselves more employable as well as what will be the main priorities for the business, but how do these changes equate when it comes to earning power?

It’s impossible to state whether wages will increase for workers in the UK. The uncertain nature surrounding Brexit and its implications will rage on for a long time, however, we do know that for those on a lower wage, they will benefit from an increase in the National Living Wage. The government has committed to raising it to £10.50 per hour by 2025, and at that point, it will be two-thirds of the median wage. The BBC reports that it will affect one in four employees.

We also know that despite all the uncertainty of the past three years, basic pay for British workers is growing at the fastest rate for more than a decade.

According to the ONS, the average weekly earnings increased by 4% in the year to reach £542 in July 2019. When broken down by sector, the ONS discovered that pay growth in the construction sector was highest (at 6.2%), following by the finance and business services sector at 5.3%.

To us, this shows that the British labour market is robust and well-prepped for anything that 2020 has in store. With the growth in the temporary and short-term contract market, UK workforces can adapt quickly and effectively to changes in the economic situation.

Are we heading towards a level playing field?

The final point to make as we head into 2020 is to expect to see continual improvements to level the playing field when it comes to pay gaps, with a specific focus upon women and minority groups.

For the last two years, large organisations have been legally obliged to provide a public breakdown of their gender pay gaps in order to establish the scale of the problem. Unfortunately, much of the reporting is left without commentary so it’s still difficult to understand why the problem exists or how it can be fixed.

On a global scale, the World Economic Forum suggests that it will take 202 years to close the economic gender gap.

Although many countries are well-placed to maximize women’s economic potential, they are failing to reap the returns from their investment in female education. In addition, too few countries are preparing to meet the challenges and harness the gender parity opportunities posed by the changing nature of work.

Source: WE Forum

However, looking closer to home there are numerous initiatives launched which have been designed to help reduce the pay gap, notably the #MeTooPay initiative which was launched in October 2019 by some of the biggest names in corporate Britain. Notable supporters include Dame Moya Greene (former chief of the Royal Mail), Emma Walmsley (GSK) and Dame Minouche Shafik, potentially the Bank of England’s next governor.

The UK government is committed to reducing the pay gap, and they have published new guidance to help employers to do what they can to generate equality.

“The gender pay gap is at its lowest level on record, but that is still not good enough if we want to achieve real gender equality in the workplace...We want employers to understand the causes of their gender pay gap and create action plans that will close those gaps for good.”

Minister for Women, Victoria Atkins

Whilst much of the discussion surrounding pay gaps focuses solely upon women, it’s also important to remember that many ethnic minority groups are also disadvantaged and next year should see more emphasis upon equality for these groups.

According to the 2017 report “Race in the Workplace” equal participation and progression across ethnicities could be worth an additional £24 billion to the UK’s economy per year.

The latest data from the ONS shows that employees of Chinese, Indian and Mixed or Multiple ethnicities all had higher median hourly pay than White British employees in 2018; while employees in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups had lowest median hourly pay.

We believe that in 2020, more work will be done to address these inequalities. As HR technology becomes more mainstream, businesses will be able to continually run reports at the touch of a button throughout the year, allowing them to see when and where pay gaps start to emerge.

We hope that you have found this guide insightful. As you can see, there is significant change ahead in the professional landscape in 2020,and we hope this guide will help you to understand and navigate it as you continue your career journey.

At Allen Associates, our dedicated team is here to help you through every step of the process. If you’d like to find out more about the support that we can offer our candidates, please contact our Oxford or London offices.

01865 335 600

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Allen Associates

Allen Associates

Shining a light on the latest news and trending topics for employers looking to recruit or candidates needing help and advice within the industry.

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