SHRM All Things Work

A Look Ahead to 2021 with John Morgan

Episode Summary

<p>Host Tony Lee speaks with career services expert John Morgan of Lee Hecht Harrison on what to expect from the world of work in 2021 and beyond. They discuss how the pandemic will continue to impact recruiting, workforce planning and the changing role of HR.<br /><br />Subscribe to All Things Work on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or wherever you listen to podcasts. Check out <a href=""></a> to listen on your desktop. And be sure to rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts or on your podcatcher of choice.<br /><br />Keep up with SHRM by visiting the <a href="">website</a>, liking our <a href="">Facebook</a> page, checking us out on <a href="">LinkedIn</a>, and following us on <a href="">Twitter</a> and <a href="">Instagram</a>.<br /><br />Music courtesy of <a href="">bensound</a>.</p>

Episode Notes

Host Tony Lee speaks with career services expert John Morgan of Lee Hecht Harrison on what to expect from the world of work in 2021 and beyond. They discuss how the pandemic will continue to impact recruiting, workforce planning and the changing role of HR.

Subscribe to All Things Work on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or wherever you listen to podcasts. Check out to listen on your desktop. And be sure to rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts or on your podcatcher of choice.

Keep up with SHRM by visiting the website, liking our Facebook page, checking us out on LinkedIn, and following us on Twitter and Instagram.

Music courtesy of bensound.

Episode Transcription

Tony Lee:

Welcome to the All Things Work podcast from the Society for Human Resource Management. I'm your host, Tony Lee, head of Editorial Operations here at SHRM. Thank you so much for joining us. All Things Work is an audio adventure during which we talk with thought leaders and taste makers, to bring you an insider's perspective on All Things Work.

Well, there's no denying that the pandemic has changed talent needs all over the world. The number of jobs requiring an in-person presence has seen drastic reductions and many other jobs now feature a greater reliance on technology so that employees can work remotely.

Businesses have made hard choices about layoffs, service reductions, and other cost cutting measures during this difficult time. Likewise, there are many questions about what's in store for 2021, and whether jobs lost to the pandemic will return, even when economic conditions improve. So as we look ahead to the world of work, it's a good time for employers to take a step back and assess the effectiveness of their workforces and what changes they need to make to better adapt to the new economic landscape.

Joining me to discuss the year ahead is John Morgan, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Lee Hecht Harrison, an HR consulting and career services firm. John has more than 20 years of experience in the professional services industry and a record of leadership in management consulting, human capital management and change management. Over his career, John has worked with clients of all sizes and he has extensive experience in training design and internal communication strategies to help drive organizational and employee change.

John, welcome to All Things Work.


Thanks, Tony. Great to be here and hello to all your listeners.

Tony Lee:

Yeah, thanks so much. Well, so it's a downturn in the economy yet companies are being impacted very, very differently. You see some companies that are cutting way back, especially those in hospitality and retailing, and others that are actually doing okay, if not doing well. But historically we've looked at downturns as an opportunity for companies to assess their talent, look at their skills gaps, do some workforce planning. Are you seeing that going on?


Yeah, no, for sure. It's an interesting time, and I'd say it's a bit different than some previous recessions that we've been operating in. But no, most certainly Tony, what we see is in the kind of introspective look at a company's talent strategies right now. Because what we see is so many times right now, post pandemic and in the middle of this pandemic, companies are having to not only reassess talent, but in certain industries release talent.

In other parts of their business at the same time, they're actually hiring talent. So this sort of misalignment of skills is probably the thing that most of our customers are telling us about. They have, more demand in certain areas and under demand in other areas. And they're having to really get their arms around that.

Tony Lee:

So workforce planning is just a good strategy anytime. It doesn't matter whether this is a pandemic or a downturn, you need to know what to expect ahead for your workforce. And there are a lot of issues that are compiling on top of a down economy, such as demographics.

You've got a baby boom generation that's into retirement, if not approaching it. So how do you see companies planning for who's going to be taking roles in the next 10 years and what type of skills they need in their companies over the next 10 years?


It's funny if you've been in the HR industry and training industry for a long time, you grew up in this needs analysis world. And I think today what our customers are telling us is that they're obviously shifting to really sophisticated workforce planning models. So what we see in our work is using lots of different AI tools to help companies actually do that workforce planning so that they can make the best decisions possible with their labor.

I'd say one of the most common things that companies are doing right now is they're looking to identify the impact of robotics and automation on the jobs that will be automated in the future. And so that's a tricky thing. They're really trying to say, "What's the workforce that I have now? What's the workforce that I'm going to need in the future."

And through some of these amazing AI tools, one of the ones that we use is something called Fathom. It actually gives companies insights into the likelihood that the jobs that they have today will be automated in the future. And from that AI model, you can actually then start to identify what are some of the adjacent skills that you have in your organization today that could be reskilled and upskilled into the jobs of tomorrow.

And by and large across industries, the jobs of tomorrow are going to be the ones that involve digital and data. So the real key thing that companies are doing right now is trying to identify those reskilling pathways. How can they take groups of employees that they have, whose skills might have become saturated and then put them through targeted reskilling programs so that they can put them into the jobs that are emerging in their company. And that obviously, is a really economical model, but also a very humane model because it's much more efficient, much more economical to reskill folks than it is to having to, for example, lay people off and then hire them again.

Tony Lee:

Do you think companies are equipped for that? You've got a lot of companies... Remember, 80% of all companies in this country have 100 employees or less. So are smaller companies equipped to be able to take the person who's been working on a manufacturing line for 30 years and teach them a new skill, a new way to handle their job, or is that asking a lot?


It is asking a lot for small cap companies, for sure. And I think they have unique challenges and don't always have the resources that the Fortune 1000 have. But I would say that the emergence of certain technologies helps feed, it really helps bring new content to scale for smaller companies that they maybe couldn't afford in years past.

And so when you think about the advances in certain online learning academies and lots of different educational platforms that are at a cost basis, where you can actually consume them and afford them, where they make bite size learning available to employees at all levels.

Certainly a challenge, a bigger challenge for smaller companies, but lots of great learning resources available for the small companies where you can simply take and repurpose talent as these companies start to change their business model. So I think there's great opportunities for small companies, not only the large ones.

Tony Lee:

So if I'm an HR professional and I'm looking for guidance here and I'm thinking, okay, I don't really know how to put a program like this together. Are there any industries, or even companies you would point to say, here's an example, this is how change is starting, how it's being addressed in the early stages.


My advice for any HR practitioner is always that you have to start with your skills ontology, and that is whether your small, medium or large company, quite frankly, right?

You need to understand your business model. You then need to understand the skills that you have today, the skills that you think you're going to need in the future. So in years past we used to call that job analysis. Today we call it skills ontology, but it's really no different, where you have to understand what are the key requirements of the jobs that you think you're going to need.

And then, the advice that I always give of our clients is, again, there's so much around AI and software packages out there that you can take advantage of, that can give you a roadmap of what the different types of jobs that will be in demand by industry are.

And then you need to start to build a reskilling funnel, so you need to be constantly assessing the talent that you have both soft and hard skills, by the way. It's not just about the hard skills that you need. It's the soft skills that you're going to need as well in the future, and start to identify and carve out for those critical roles that you think you're going to need.

Where do you have the skills in your company today? And then to start to put together learning pathways. And there are lots of good learning partners that are out there, again for companies of all sizes. Everything from on the on-demand side, through things like LinkedIn Learning, which is an amazing resource because you can really get deep certifications through courses on LinkedIn Learning, to then longer reskilling programs through companies like General Assembly, which is a sister company of ours, where they put people through deep digital boot camps. And then also companies like Guild and EdX, who offer partnerships with different academic institutions, again, where you can put people through targeted reskilling programs.

Tony Lee:

So let's talk a little bit about the demographic shift that's going on. Prior to the pandemic, you had incredible talent shortages, companies couldn't find the people that they wanted. And now in the pandemic, you see the layoffs of certain types of folks, but there's still high demand for frankly, new college grads with cutting edge skills who can hit the ground running when they come in, all the way up to senior level folks who have the experience of going through a downturn before. So how is that kind of background being rated by companies, being evaluated by companies, to decide who to keep and who not to keep?


I think fundamentally companies are looking at how can they acquire data and digital skills in their business. And so from a demographic standpoint, yes, younger workers will tend to have those skills, by and large, but also companies do still need certain levels of experience.

And so to give you an example, what we're seeing companies really look at is what we call hybrid roles. And so if I can contrast some of the skills that they need for a role that's pretty common, let's just take product manager for example. Some of the core skills that maybe an older worker might have in a product manager role around things like business planning and merchandising and sales, these are core skills of the job, but new emerging skills of the job are things like AI, scrum data analysis.

And so what we're seeing is like any good recruiting strategy, you want different demographics across your business. So certainly having targeted recruiting programs to acquire younger generation who would have those new product manager skills, but then also pairing them with more tenured employees who have more experience in the traditional skills that are also needed for the jobs.

Because again, it's not that new jobs are being created. It is a lot of existing roles which are now becoming hybrid roles, and need data and digital skills. And so your recruiting strategy has to be not to rely on simply one demographic, but to really make sure you have a strategy in place where you can bring together demographics, multiple demographics to fill these open roles. Because what we're finding is you need a blend, but these traditional job skills with the digital and data job skills.

Tony Lee:

That's great insight, John, thank you. So I have to call on your experience here. You've been in the industry for a while. It used to be the outplacement industry, now professional management industry. So the great recession of 10, 12 years ago, how is this downturn the same? How is it different? What things are coming back to you?


It's very, very different. And we can remember back in 2009, I was at Lee Hecht Harrison then, and we were doing a lot of career transition support during the Great Recession. And I can tell you looking back on that now over 10 years ago, companies fundamentally cut too deep then, companies really cut very deep and very quickly. And we were very busy at that time, helping people try to find new employment. What I see now, in this space, is definitely a fundamental difference. There is a much more focused effort on redeployment and reskilling than there is on simply transitioning large number of employees out of the business. And I think it's because people realize now that the fundamental way that you would do restructurings was just broken.

Think about it, you have large companies who, and you read about them in the press all the time. Company X have to do a downsizing of 5,000 people, but if you go on the job boards, they're hiring on other parts of their business. That's very different than it was back in 2009.

And so what we're seeing now is this real focus on how can you... Every company during a recession has to adjust their workforce. It's not to say that downsizing is not a viable strategy. You're always going to have to recalibrate your workforce. But every one of our customers now is saying, how can we carve out a bit of that population that we might have to release and actually point them into the new roles that we have open in the business again, through very targeted assessment and reskilling programs? And that is top of mind in every client conversation that I have.

Tony Lee:

That makes perfect sense. So the role of the HR professional then is different this time around too, right? How are you seeing HR react?


And it's funny because I mean, HR, I'd say if you talked to them, 10 years ago, they would've been saying the same thing. It's like, how can we save jobs was always top of mind to an HR professional. But now we need, I think HR professionals to really be focused on the workforce planning more than ever, and to really be driving that at an executive level at the table, having those workforce planning discussions. And again, as I said earlier, a lot of the traditional jobs now have new requirements in terms of data and digital. It's the same for HR.

If you're an HR leader, whether you're employee relations or whether you're head of talent, you really have to be well versed in these different software packages and partners that are out there on the marketplace so that you can bring two of your stakeholders that are running the business to say, "Hey, listen, let's work with this tool to give the business some insights around what are the skills that we have that are clearly obsolete? Which jobs do we have in the business that we can, with a high level of prediction, say are not going to be here in two years? And again, how can we then map out what those transition paths are internally to move them into new roles?"

And that's a very different discussion I think for HR professionals, but that's absolutely where the profession needs to get to in this next economy.

Tony Lee:

No, that's great insights. So let's talk specifically about how the workplace is changing given the pandemic. You still have the majority of employees are working remotely. As companies start to bring employees back, you see a real return to the workforce. How does that change employment strategies, workforce strategies? Do companies start to look for different skill sets because of where they work or is it really not that relevant?


Very relevant for sure, Tony, I mean super relevant. I think a couple levels we're seeing our customers look at. One is sort of obviously the safety element of it, and so obviously HR plays a role with a lot of other functions in the company to make sure that return to work is set up in a safe way.

I think safety first, clearly is the priority of all of our customers. Clearly we are seeing our customers rationalize the real estate that they have and will need in the future. I think there's a general acceptance that folks will be returning to work, but that the nature of virtual work is going to continue post pandemic at some level. Depends on what industry you're in, but I'd say almost every industry is, at some level, reducing the footprint that they have, not eliminating it, but certainly rationalizing it.

Then the level is around okay, from a skills perspective, not only how can HR help, but what are the sort of skills that leaders and employees need to be developing and acquiring in this world? And this really does come down to a lot of the soft skills. When you think about leading virtual teams, that is probably the number one request that we're getting right now in the leadership side of our business, where we help leaders improve their effectiveness. It's around how can you lead your team in a virtual environment?

How can you stay on task with your deadlines, with your projects when you're not being able to have that informal chat down in the office? Or when you're not being able to get folks in the day long brainstorming in person? And probably the number one request that we get on the leadership development part of our business is how can we help leaders work with virtual teams?

And by that, I mean you have leaders that are now leading their teams, trying to keep them on task when they can't physically meet with them in many cases. So how do you optimize Zoom? How do you optimize WebEx, et cetera? How can you really make sure that you're staying close to your team, increasing the level of communication, probably tenfold, that you normally would because you don't have that informal way to communicate anymore.

And then also the soft skill of collaboration. How do you still effectively collaborate with your colleagues in a virtual manner? And so we're running lots of different programs for HR professionals and also business leaders to help them really fine tune this soft skill that's going to be needed even more in the future.

Tony Lee:

So none of us really know what the economy holds for us in 2021, but you're on the cutting edge in the sense that you're hearing from your client base as to what they're planning. Any insights you can share? Are we looking at continued or additional layoffs in the New Year? Is it too soon to tell? What are you seeing?


I think from an economic standpoint, the Jobs Report that just came out, there are a fair amount of jobs added in the economy. And certain industries are still really hurting, particularly in travel entertainment, leisure, but we see other industries certainly hiring, particularly in healthcare, business, finance, operations, computer and mathematical. Consumer spending is probably the biggest indicator right now. It's obviously a bit flat.

I would say that in terms of layoffs specifically, yeah, sure. We're going to expect definitely into the first quarter to see pressure on companies because now we're really finally starting to see the profit and earnings forecasts come in and they've got to get back to year-on- year growth next year. And so certain industries and companies are certainly going to have to continue to look at rationalizing their workforces into next year.

But I think none of us has a crystal ball for sure, but we watch Europe closely. Europe is certainly going into now more advanced lockdown measures. We haven't seen that happen in the U.S. just yet, but over the winter we might see a sort of sporadic lockdown measures and that has a trickle effect on the economy, right? For sure.

So from my perspective, you can't see GDP growth coming out of the recession, until at least the second half of next year. And in terms of our customers and what they're telling us specifically, overall, the number of mass layoffs are certainly up in 2020, but again, not at the levels that they were in 2009. I think that's because so many companies are really focused on these reskilling and redeployment programs.

Tony Lee:

And I think it's probably fair to say that a lot of folks learned lessons that as you mentioned earlier, when cutbacks are too deep, it makes recruiting that much harder when the economy comes back. And boy, we sure went through 10 years of very difficult recruiting.


Absolutely. And employees remember this, right Tony? Employees remember the way businesses were run during challenging times. And that brand sentiment is, and then that promoter score, those things really matter, and I think employers are really conscious of that right now.

Tony Lee:

Now that's a great point. Well, unfortunately we've run out of time, but a big thank you to John Morgan for joining me for our look ahead on 2021. And before we get out of here, I just want to encourage everyone to subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, wherever you listen to podcasts. And while you're at it, be sure to give us a five star rating and leave a review.

And also please be sure to check out SHRM on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and you can find all of our episodes and more podcasts on our website at Thanks for listening. And we'll catch you next time on All Things Work.