4 Bold Predictions for the Workforce of 2030

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Aug 8, 2019

The world of work is shifting more rapidly than ever before. But while some trends are written about ad nauseum, other key trends may not receive the attention they deserve. We read about robots and work-from-anywhere and millennials as managers, not to mention skills-based hiring and all things “agile workforce.” We know tenure is trending down, “worktirement” is trending up, and that school curriculums are not keeping up with the ever-accelerating pace of technology. And in the U.S. on the doorstep is 10,000 Americans a day reaching retirement age — a demographic boom leading to a 20 percent senior population by 2035, the highest in history.

We can do better about looking at these trends holistically and anticipating the longer-term impacts.

Take school curriculums as an example. If programs are not adequately preparing students for the jobs of the future, then students may graduate with “useless” degrees. But there’s more going on here. Consider the student debt problem — $1.53 trillion and climbing, with the average student loan borrower carrying a $38,000 debt load (a $20,000 increase from 13 years ago). Take that ever-increasing cost of education, with skills that may be outdated by the time the student graduates, fast forward a decade, and what can we predict?

Keep this line of thinking as we take a look at four trends we can expect to see by 2030.

Traditional Four-year Degree Enrollment Will Drop by 15-20 Percent

NPR’s Planet Money podcast recently reported on declining college and university enrollment. Between 2011 and 2018, it reported, enrollment of both undergrads and graduate students at degree-granting institutions has declined by 1.7 million students — a drop of 9 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

This trend is expected to continue. A study by Nathan D. Grawe, an economist at Carleton College, predicts the number of students will fall by more than 15 percent after the year 2025. While he expects demand will likely persist for top 100 elite institutions, only a handful of states (including California, Colorado, and Utah) are predicted to see an increase in the number of students attending regional four-year colleges and universities between 2012 and 2029. The rest will see declines in students. In many states, including much of the northeast and Midwest, the drop in students may exceed 15 percent.

What factors are driving this decline? High tuition prices are the most obvious. Declining rates of enrollment from international students. The proliferation of alternative education paths such as online learning or nanodegrees may be another. Not to mention our booming employment market, which has lowered degree requirements, opening up more opportunities for those without a bachelor’s. And by 2030, the declining birth rates from recession-era families choosing to have less children is also expected to impact new college enrollment.

This trend leads us to wonder where the future of education is headed. If alternate forms of education continue to surge in popularity, and employers are willing to accept candidates with “non-traditional” educational backgrounds, how much further might enrollment numbers stand to fall? This will be a trend to watch closely in the coming decade and beyond.

Income Share Agreements Will Rival Student Loans

U.S student debt ballooned from $150 billion to $1.53 trillion from 2009 to 2019. But what if you could attend college without racking up debt in the first place? This is the idea behind Income Share Agreements,  a United States financial structure in which an individual or organization gives a fixed amount of money to a recipient who, in exchange, agrees to pay back a percentage of his/her income for a fixed number of years.

In other words: Frankie wishes to attend college without taking out a traditional loan, so the XYZ Foundation and their private equity partner ABC Capital front Frankie’s tuition money under the condition that he will surrender a percentage of his future income for a given time after he graduates.

Today, participants are few, numbering in the few thousands. But the idea is spreading. Purdue University’s “Back a Boiler” program is so far the only the traditional four-year university with its own income-share agreement program, which has disbursed $2.2 million to 160 juniors and seniors since it launched in 2016. Assuming success, investment experts such as FlowPoint Capital’s Charles Trafton believe the ISA market could grow from $20 million to a billion over the next five years.

Given the current climate, the bet is more and more people will hop on the bandwagon. This is a trend to carefully study and monitor over the next few years, as tuition costs and student debt loads continue to reach unprecedented levels.

Memories Will Be Harvested

One major implication of seniors aging in droves is the potential brain drain to organizations big and small. As reported by’s critical article, “How to Prepare for Leaders Leaving, we are on the cusp of a massive demand for knowledge transfer from Boomers to younger cohorts as Boomers decide what to do with the businesses they have built.

In the realm of small-to-mid-sized companies, the numbers are staggering: 12 million Baby Boomers own their own companies, and 70 percent of them will retire over the next two decades. This unprecedented shift has potential to wreak havoc not only within the smaller companies, but larger organizations with older workforces as well. A mass exodus of tenured personnel will most certainly result in knowledge flight. For decades this has been a primary factor in why knowledgeable employees are often brought back from retirement as contractors or consultants. Not having properly prepared for the departure of its finest (or in some cases, its work horses), companies become desperate to keep the flow of operations undisturbed.

In terms of business continuity, individual contributor, supervisor, and mid-level manager retirements are one thing. Plant manager, heads of operations, founders, and C-suite level retirements may be quite another. “Succession planning” has been a popular corporate buzzword for decades; good in theory but in practice not carried out entirely well. In cases where an external leader is brought in to replace a longstanding CEO or CFO, their transition period may take place over the course of a mere few months. Retiring executives often make themselves available to continue the knowledge transfer, but it’s not the same as having them around for day-to-day guidance.

What if that wasn’t the case? What if you could tap into the brain of that CEO or COO or CHRO whenever you like — day or night, in this life and beyond?

Augmented Eternity aims to do just that. Created by entrepreneur and researcher Hossein Rahnama (based at Ryerson University in Toronto), the application lets you create a digital persona that can interact with people on your behalf … after you’re dead. (Source: MIT Technology Review, The Precision Medicine Issue, “Never Let Me Go”, Courtney Humphries, Nov/Dec 2018, print edition.)

A CEO, then, can have a digital avatar built on an artificial-intelligence platform that analyzes their personal data and correspondence. A future leader would then be able to tap into that CEO’s knowledge bank on any number of topics — from mergers and acquisitions to product pipelining to new Board appointments. The previous leader needn’t be dead, either. The sheer simplicity of having advice accessible right when you need it, via a chat-type application, may in itself prove invaluable to struggling incumbent leadership.

While still in its infancy, the memory-harvesting industry has enormous potential for leaders, doctors, scientists, heads of state, and average Joes alike. Indeed, startup Eternime (founded by Marius Ursache), which uses your personal information to create “an intelligent avatar that looks like you,” has over 40,000 people signed up on its waiting list. (Source: MIT Technology Review, The Precision Medicine Issue, “Never Let Me Go”, Courtney Humphries, Nov/Dec 2018, print edition)

We can expect more startups to proliferate in this space, with the promise that your avatar self — along with your memories — will live on forever.

Employers Will Pay You to Leave (aka the “Resignation Bonus”)

As reported by The Penny Hoarder, some companies are so committed to the idea that the best employees are the ones who really want to be there that they’ve created programs that offer cash to people who quit their jobs.

The logic is simple. Those who dislike their jobs will take the money. The ones who love their jobs will keep coming to work every day.

Here are at least five companies that will pay you to quit your job:

  • Zappos
  • Amazon
  • AdoreMe
  • Riot Games
  • DealDash

And according to The

“Online retailer Zappos is known for being a pioneer of this pay-to-quit trend. At Zappos, new hires are given what is known as “The Offer,” and is officially called the Graceful Leave Policy, CNN reports. If new hires are realizing that they are not a good fit for Zappos’ notorious cult of commitment, they can opt out and are given a month’s salary to leave within three months of starting their job. Amazon, which bought Zappos in 2009, offers a similar program, making it an annual offer. If you are unhappy at Amazon, you can get offered up to $5,000 to leave once a year.”

The quit incentive demonstrates that these companies are prioritizing commitment over mindless output. We can expect this trend to continue.

Preparing for 2030 — and Beyond

The 2020s will present exciting opportunities in the realm of work and education. Rapid change will force new organizational and educational models that may result in a more democratized learning landscape, opening up opportunities to historically disadvantaged populations. But how will we get there? Who is responsible for steering the ship? And how do we navigate to a place that is less of a destination than an ever-moving, ever-evolving entity we must constantly chase?

While CEOs, executive councils, and strategy teams are ultimately responsible for the vision, the onus of optimizing — and executing — this future falls largely on HR and learning organizations. We need to build teams armed with the capability to research and predict the future — teams with strong analytical skills and a sharp eye to the macroeconomic trends we may be missing. As author Yuval Noah Harari has said, “It is an iron rule of history that what looks inevitable in hindsight was far from obvious at the time.” Let’s think big and boldly about our future and open ourselves up to the possibility of enormous change — it may be the only way to survive it.

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