When I joined Randstad in early 2019, I was new to the staffing industry, but excited to join a purpose-driven company with a mission to touch the working lives of 500 million people by 2030. Since then, I've spent a lot of time talking to our employees, watching them work and listening to our clients. As CEO, I view my responsibility as continuing to run a very high-performing business, but also to think about and prepare ourselves for the future. We owe it to our teams and to our clients to anticipate changes and be ready with solutions to overcome challenges and capitalize on new opportunities.
For 2019, Randstad anticipated key trends like digital disruption, continued shifts in how and where we work, new expectations for training and development and how those factors would reshape hiring and engagement strategies. And in 2020, we see a host of emerging trends stemming from the evolving expectations and preferences of today's workforce pertaining to several areas:
None of these are new trends — rather, they're concepts that are finally reaching maturity. Organizations that understand the importance of incorporating these focus areas into their business discussions and strategic priorities will pull ahead of their competition in the year ahead.
One area that I am particularly excited about is the growing use of new and emerging technologies to improve diversity and inclusion. Some organizations are already looking to AI-powered platforms to reduce bias from candidate screening and selection processes or to improve engagement and retention of diverse employee segments. Randstad is experimenting with the application of advanced technologies in the candidate-to-job matching process, a place where we feel AI systems can add significant value with the potential to open up job opportunities to more candidates who can be identified and reached.
For our clients, these technology means we can be even more responsive to their needs, engaging with and considering the broadest set of diverse candidates to find the best talent with the most relevant skills. At the same time, Randstad realizes that genuine relationships require human interaction and empathy. We have been and continually are cautious and prudent with the application of technology to ensure that it serves the best interests of our stakeholders. In 2020, you can expect to hear much more about the ethical use of technology and data in the world of work.
Read on to hear about all four of the 2020 trends from several of our senior leaders across the U.S., who represent various areas of our business, and each of whom provides a unique perspective based on their roles and interactions in the industry and in the greater business community.
I hope you find their insights valuable and that this sparks dialogue within your own organization. We look forward to providing continued guidance to support business leaders with building their workforce — and workplace — of the future.
CEO, Randstad North America
The demographic makeup of America continues to shift, and in order to stay successful, businesses will need to shift with it. Some, like Randstad, Johnson & Johnson and AT&T got ahead of this curve by making diversity and inclusion (D&I) a core tenet of their business models years ago. Meanwhile, plenty of others are starting to catch up. Broadcast giant NBC launched multiple diversity initiatives in 2019. But it's not just big household names that are making D&I a priority. Digital marketing platform HubSpot, for example, launched an updated diversity and inclusion webpage, along with its first annual diversity report, in 2019.
diverse organizations are more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians.
This increased focus on D&I isn't a feel-good move — it's a strategic business decision designed to increase innovation, improve messaging, enable better hiring and employee retention and foster connections with consumers. In fact, McKinsey found that today's most diverse organizations are "35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians." That same study also revealed that "for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent."
A Deloitte study found that companies with inclusive cultures are:
more likely to meet or exceed financial targets
more likely to be high performing
more likely to be agile and innovative
more likely to achieve better business outcomes
If these figures somehow fail to make a clear business case for D&I, this one should: A 2017 study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia found that Black, Asian and Native American populations in the U.S. had a combined buying power of $2.4 trillion in 2016 alone — 156 percent higher than their buying power in 2000.
"Figures like these are why leading companies today are investing in roles dedicated to improving D&I," said Audra Jenkins, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Randstad North America. "They're realizing that it's not just a part of one person's job — it's a full-time job for an entire team. Most major companies today recognize that they need to be inclusive in order to innovate and succeed, and they're investing in talent who can help do that."
With so much at stake, D&I will be a make-or-break priority for companies in 2020. Let's unpack what to expect for D&I at the start of the next decade.
To gain ground in 2020, companies will have to go beyond just the simple act of launching D&I initiatives to attract talent. In fact, they'll have to craft comprehensive D&I strategies that reach across hiring, employee engagement, training and development — and even retention.
"It's not enough to simply attract diverse talent," Jenkins said. "Organizations will also need to focus on developing those hires, too. That's something that the best players recognize, but most others haven't — and they risk losing their diverse talent because of it."
In fact, Randstad recently joined hundreds of leading companies, from ADP to General Motors to Netflix, in signing the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge to improve outcomes in hiring, development and retention of diverse talent in the years ahead. One look at this list will tell you that today's biggest players see the writing on the wall when it comes to D&I — and they're taking action to do something about it.
attract then develop diverse talent.
Companies that haven't reached this point in their diversity and inclusion development will have a hard time keeping up, as they'll increasingly struggle to innovate, reach a broader audience and even attract quality talent.
"Companies with healthy D&I cultures better represent their buyers, and they're better able to serve all customers because they understand the wants and needs of the very diverse buying public," said Jim Link, Randstad's chief human resources officer. "Smart companies know this, and the gulf between those organizations and the ones that still don't 'get it' is only going to get wider. Sooner rather than later, that gulf will become too wide to cross."
The U.S. workforce isn't just undergoing ethnic and racial changes — it's experiencing a generational shift as well. A third of today's workforce belongs to the millennial generation, while the 61 million members of Gen Z are already beginning to enter the workforce. The expectations these employees have for diversity are vastly different than those of their older colleagues.
"With five generations working today, how we look at D&I is changing," Jenkins said. "Millennials and Gen Z are the most diverse generations in history. They grew up with more diverse representation in the media, so they expect to see diverse representation in their workplaces. In 2020, the challenge for organizations that don't have inclusive and diverse leadership is that they're going to lose top candidates from these generations."
"As these generations come to dominate the workforce, you can't just talk about diversity," she added. "You have to be about diversity."
While diversity initiatives once focused solely on race and ethnic background, that's no longer the case. The scope of diversity has expanded in recent years to include gender as well, and many organizations will strive to establish gender parity in the C-suite in 2020. After all, like companies that excel at racial and ethnic diversity, companies with women in the C-suite financially outperform their less diverse peers. However, in industries like technology, where 93 percent of developers globally are men, making measurable strides will likely prove easier said than done.
companies with women in the c-suite financially outperform their less diverse peers.
"Organizations continue to struggle to achieve gender parity at the leadership level — and especially in fields like technology. Transparency is another common challenge, even though the public at large is becoming more and more interested in seeing those statistics," said Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Global Businesses and executive board member at Sourceright.
One McKinsey study found that, even though gender equality is a top-10 priority for 75 percent of CEOs, gender-related outcomes simply aren't changing. Corporate America, it found, still promotes men 30 percent more than women during early phases of their careers. In fact, while women occupy 46 percent of entry-level roles, they make up just 19 percent of the C-suite. Women of color, meanwhile, experience the steepest drop-off over time, despite having higher aspirations for becoming an executive.
However, there is some reason to be at least cautiously optimistic: Among companies on the Russell 3000 index, the number of female CEOs has slowly increased, rising from three percent in 2012 to 5.1 percent in 2018. In 2020, expect that number to increase, albeit only slightly, as more and more companies begin to understand the true business impact gender diversity at the top can bring.
women make up only 19% of the c-suite.
B2B companies have largely avoided the widespread scrutiny around D&I that their B2C peers receive. But that will change in 2020 as they begin to face increased pressure from customers to improve their D&I efforts.
"Diversity used to be seen as critical for B2C companies, but less so for those in the B2B sector," Link said. "Today, however, there's a diversity imperative for both types of companies, and that's something that's changed recently — and rapidly."
For B2B companies, Link noted, both domestic and global clients will increasingly demand an investment in D&I in 2020 and beyond.
"They're not just looking to improve D&I internally. They're also looking for improvements from their suppliers," he added.
As D&I increasingly becomes a selling point, more diverse and inclusive companies will use it as a differentiator. "When employers focus on creating a socially inclusive and fair-minded culture for their workers, customers and shareholders, they simultaneously advance the greater societal good," Henderson noted. "As more organizations recognize and take action to reform inequities, we are seeing greater empowerment of workers around the world."
Jenkins' recent whitepaper covered the ways AI, robotics and automation are impacting diversity in the workplace — and not in a positive way. It, and the latest WEF Global Gender Gap report, concluded that automation is already having a disproportionately negative impact on women, and that's not likely to change in the year ahead.
"At least some of this can be attributed to gender and racial disparities in STEM," Jenkins said. "We need to look closely and holistically into what's happening there and identify avenues we can explore to close those gaps. If we don't, we're not only going to fail our employees, we're going to have shortages of the talent we need, too."
This change, she believes, starts with our education systems.
"We simply need more STEM in schools, both public and private, so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed in the workplace of tomorrow."
But the increased adoption of emerging tech isn't just changing the workforce itself — it's also changing how we view the concept of diversity.
"In the very near future, we may start thinking about diversity beyond just human terms," Jenkins noted. "For example, do we consider our automated tools and back-office systems as part of our diversity? Soon, diversity may not just be about the demographics of our human employees, but also about our tech stacks."
As demographics change — and as candidate expectations change with them — expect to see significant investment in D&I in 2020. Leading companies will continue to pull ahead of the competition, while those that haven't prioritized D&I to date will fall further behind. Those that make D&I a core component of their cultures will win the day in 2020 and beyond.
Artificial intelligence (AI) may be old news, but in 2020, human employees and AI-powered machines will begin to collaborate on day-to-day work across industries — and deliver business value — on an unprecedented scale. In fact, McKinsey notes that AI could deliver additional global economic output of $13 trillion per year. This poses risks and offers rewards, especially within HR functions.
AI can deliver value on an unprecedented scale — but there are risks.
From chatbots to virtual assistants to applications for mobile employee services and more, the HR function at many organizations is already serving as a testing ground for the adoption of new AI/RPA technologies.
These tools are already delivering value throughout the function, including shortening screening times, improving application completion rates and shortening inquiry response times. And as these improvements come to be more widely understood, greater adoption of these technologies will follow.
"AI and similar emerging technologies are empowering people to move upstream and deliver more value-added support, strategy and decision-making," said Greg Dyer, president, commercial staffing, in-house and enterprise strategic accounts at Randstad. "In short, these tools are enabling us to be more human and do more of the things only humans can do."
According to Link, another factor driving the increased adoption of these long-promised technologies is being driven largely by generational changes in the workplace today.
“AI is becoming more and more normal and less frightening to the overall workforce, especially as the workforce becomes dominated by millennials and Gen Z," he said.
But adoption is only the first step in the journey. Like D&I, the ability to leverage AI to its fullest will differentiate leading companies from the rest in 2020.
for AI to be effective, it needs to have a clear role throughout the organization.
"'Where can I automate processes?' is only the starting point," said Graig Paglieri, president, Randstad Technologies and Engineering. "To get maximum value out of AI, companies will have to commit to strategic, holistic initiatives that reach across functions. It's not something you simply plug in and turn on — it has to have a clearly defined role for every aspect of your enterprise."
"We're in the early stages of using AI to synthesize and draw conclusions from data," Link added. "There's no doubt we'll see more adoption of chatbots and AI, but the next big nut to crack is synthesizing the insights they can provide. That's where businesses will derive real value from AI and similar technologies in 2020."
Of course, making all this AI magic happen requires people — and those people are highly in demand. As more and more companies embrace AI, that problem will compound, leaving some organizations in the lurch when it comes to capitalizing on the latest tech.
"There's a crucial talent challenge in play here," Paglieri cautioned. "AI has a lot of momentum, but getting real value out of it requires the right talent. Few companies today have the people internally to evaluate and implement these solutions. You can build this talent over time if you have teams and people focused on optimizing your company's production and operations. However, you can get there faster and more efficiently by leveraging expert partners who have access to a broader pool of talent and experience placing that talent in the field."
This is why, Paglieri noted, we expect to see leading companies looking to strategic partners to help them find the talent they need to get these initiatives off the ground in 2020.
In theory, adopting AI should free up our overworked HR teams to do more "human" work, like building relationships within an AI-built talent pipeline and developing stronger internal partnerships with other business units. But there's also risk involved, which could make increasingly automated HR functions unreliable, robotic or just plain dysfunctional.
AI is only as smart — and accurate — as the data you feed it.
"Overreliance on AI," Link said, "poses a massive risk to companies today, especially those that view it as a 'magic bullet.'" But AI is only as smart — and accurate — as the data you feed it, so trusting it implicitly can cause serious errors and impact your bottom line."
In 2020, most companies venturing into these waters for the first time should do so with tempered optimism: Yes, the rewards can be vast, but so are the risks — and those risks may come to involve human safety in the year ahead. Interestingly, a PricewaterhouseCoopers report puts "transport" and "manufacturing" at the top of its list of industries likely to be most affected by this new kind of collaboration between humans and machines.
In that context, there are clear risks to employee safety to consider, like employee interactions with autonomous vehicles. Interestingly, a report on self-driving car accidents in California found that it was humans — not the cars — who caused almost all the accidents, largely due to the fact that human drivers didn't trust the onboard AI to do its thing. There's clearly a learning curve in play here.
"Companies in this space that are preparing to implement AI simply must understand the value and importance of preparation," Dyer said. "How do you best align human functions and processes with machine capabilities? How do you incorporate AI into your workflows without causing confusion or distraction? If you don't answer these questions up front, AI has the potential to be too disruptive, to the point of damaging an organization's ability to grow."
Dyer added that, since most companies are in constant pursuit of creating higher-quality products and services at a lower cost, those that get the right mix of AI/machine learning with properly aligned and inspired human talent will be the ones that win in 2020.
We've spent nearly a decade talking about AI, but 2020 will be the year most companies finally find ways to derive meaningful value from it. While many will implement it to automate manual, repetitive processes, those companies that use its capabilities to drive smarter decision-making will be the biggest winners.
who’s responsible for upskilling?
One Pew study — as well as Randstad's own research — reveals a paradox at the heart of current debates around upskilling. On the one hand, the vast majority of U.S. workers believe it's imperative to train and develop new skills in order to keep up with changes in the workplace. On the other, the majority of workers also say that neither government nor employers bear primary responsibility for providing them with those skills. So who needs to step up? That question won't be put to bed in 2020, but it's almost certainly going to come up, in one form or another, as a talking point in the 2020 presidential election.
"According to Pew's recent survey, over the next 30 years, Americans will look to the education system (39%) and to individuals themselves (39%) to bear the responsibility of having the right skills and training to get a good job," said Scott Gutz, CEO of Monster.com.
Interestingly, however, Monster's 2019 State of the Candidate report found that millennials believe the onus for upskilling is on employers. They say businesses (30%) have the greatest responsibility for preparing workers, followed by educational institutions (24%).
This subset of workers in particular, Gutz explained, has been most affected by job and workforce evolution over the last decade, to the point that they can no longer rely on their previous education to prepare themselves for future success.
This means millennials and Gen Z will continue to self-educate about work-related topics and skills. This also means companies have a major opportunity to improve hiring and retention by offering upskilling opportunities.
Our tech impact report showed that upskilling is something younger employees, and Gen Z in particular, are both hungry for and largely starved of. Why the disconnect?
young professionals don't just want new skills — they want new challenges to go along with them.
"Today's younger generations learn so rapidly in their personal lives, in high school, college and beyond, and that's the norm for them," said Jodi Chavez, group president, Randstad professional staffing group. "They're accustomed to learning and adapting to new things constantly. Newer generations work in a different way, and they're constantly adapting to new tools and platforms — far more quickly than more experienced workers. It's almost second nature."
These "more experienced workers" Chavez refers to are often in leadership roles, and by not understanding or addressing the upskilling imperative, they're not only depriving their younger hires of much-needed training, they're also causing a turnover problem — whether they realize it or not.
"We know the number-one reason people quit is the inability to learn and grow at their current organization," Gutz said. "Without meeting this employee expectation, companies lose money and time recruiting and replacing the employee, as well as unnamed dollars lost operating with vacancies and then ramping up new workers."
"Millennials and Gen Z saw their parents and grandparents struggle through the Great Recession," Chavez added. "They saw people who were loyal to companies for 20 or 30 years lose everything. This impacts what they want for themselves and how they see the employer/employee relationship. They're going to teach themselves, even if their employer doesn't — and they're willing to take those skills to greener pastures."
Speaking of greener pastures, today's young professionals don't just want new skills — they want challenges. And if those challenges don't materialize, they'll look elsewhere.
Chavez noted that most employers recognize their millennial and Gen Z staff want new skills and new challenges, and some have started to address it. Most, however, are struggling to provide constant challenges.
"If a job doesn't really provide a constant challenge, what can they do?" she said. "If they do nothing, they're going to lose these folks to more challenging opportunities. In 2020 and beyond, companies will have to rethink how they frame the most basic tasks in order to provide a challenge."
If it's so clear that younger professionals want new skills and are looking to their employers to offer training in order to get them, why are so few companies actually doing that? The answer, it seems, is twofold.
upskilling comes with costs, but it can be a worthy investment.
"It's both generational and cost-based," Chavez said. "Baby boomers struggle to understand younger generations' mindsets regarding upskilling because they tend to see work and learning as separate entities. Simply put, workers used to aim to be the right fit to attract the employer. Now, the employer is aiming to be the right fit for the employee."
Boomers, she believes, also often see upskilling as a cost, not an investment.
"It's also hard to put a dollar amount to the benefits of upskilling," Chavez said. "Companies that have figured this out — how to show ROI on their upskilling initiatives — are seeing great retention rates. Those that haven't are seeing the opposite."
In 2020 and beyond, companies that understand the bottom-line impact of providing training and opportunities for challenging, meaningful work will attract and retain the best candidates. Those that don't, however, will find it harder than ever to persuade candidates to join — and they'll find it almost impossible to convince them to stay.
To get the most out of your staff — and to keep them on staff — companies will have to make training, learning and providing challenging, meaningful work a priority in 2020. They'll also have to think beyond the day to day and anticipate skills that will be needed in the future.
"Just as jobs continue to evolve, training needs to evolve from company-wide to job-specific to develop new skills and capabilities," Gutz noted. "Plan not just on existing positions, but project the company's needs over the next five years. What types of skills will be needed for these roles? What skills are currently available and where do you need to help fill in the gaps? Can these roles be hired externally, or will you be more successful shifting resources internally?"
The latest tech is creating new ways for companies to tell compelling stories about their employer brands. And in 2020, companies will increasingly leverage these new channels — alongside traditional ones, like compensation and benefits — to land skilled workers in a tight talent market.
2020 will be the year employer branding finally grows up and takes its (rightful) place in smart companies' marketing mix. Engaging videos that spotlight current employees are already a core part of the employer branding strategies at most large companies today. Look for this trend to become even more prevalent in 2020 — and as it does, the importance of primarily visual communication channels like Instagram in companies' recruitment efforts will likely increase as well. Meanwhile, organizations across the board (including the U.S. Navy, General Mills and Jaguar) are developing VR experiences to help drive recruiting efforts.
Again, these are examples of leading companies pulling ahead of the competition, which will only continue throughout the year ahead.
"Employer branding has become so digitally focused, if you're not out there in every digital channel, you're going to be left behind — if you haven't already been," Link noted.
But it's not just the channels they're using that have changed. What matters most to today's talent — and therefore what makes for successful messaging — has changed as well.
94% of today's employees want benefits and perks that enhance their quality of life.
"Employees have evolved from being enthusiastic about bean bags and cool places to work," Fiatte said. "They've shifted to a place of personal and professional fulfillment. Health and wellness, mental health support, development opportunities, tuition reimbursement and the like are all tangible benefits that matter to today's employees. Fun is still appealing, but it's no longer making people enthusiastic about work."
In fact, Randstad research has revealed that 94 percent of today's employees are more focused on benefits and perks that enhance their quality of life, especially when those perks are tailored to various stages of life. For example, student loan repayment assistance for millennials and Gen Z or paid healthcare for boomers.
But the smartest companies are going beyond the methods traditionally used to showcase employer brands. Instead of posting only about mission statements, company culture or office amenities, companies like Johnson & Johnson are showcasing actual employees making real-world impact — and talking about what it's like to work there.
"The best employer branding today is actually employee branding," Link stressed. "Identifying intrapreneurs, 'skunk works' and digital labs, highlighting innovative behavior and how you harness it to drive engagement and retention — that's what successful employer branding looks like in 2020."
Meanwhile, changes in U.S. demographics mean D&I will also play an increased role in employer branding in 2020 and beyond. Just as these changes drive urgency around D&I initiatives, the success — or failure — of those initiatives will be evident in employer branding, creating a further divide between employers of choice and those left behind.
"The overall population is shifting," Chavez said, "and if you don't understand their wants and needs by having those perspectives internally, you can't sell to them or engage with them. Successful employer brands will be the ones that truly represent the U.S. population."
But even though we've been talking about employer branding for the better part of a decade, some companies are still struggling with the very concept, and fewer have been able to successfully execute it. Many have yet to even implement an employer branding website, let alone venture into sophisticated, employee-centric storytelling efforts that differentiate them from the competition.
"We're still seeing companies struggle with employer branding because it's always changing," Chavez said. "As generations change, employer brands have to change with them. It's not a one-and-done thing, and it's no different from external marketing."
despite its importance, many businesses still struggle with employer branding.
As consumers and preferences change, Chavez noted, messaging has to change with them.
"What that message is and where you share it is also changing, and there's a wide gulf when it comes to companies' sophistication with that," she added.
In 2020, expect to see companies that are capable of successful employer branding win the war for talent, while those still playing catch-up flail and fail as the shot clock winds down to zero.
If employer branding wasn't already complex enough, the proliferation of online review sites and social media have only increased the difficulty level. Now that current and former employees have multiple platforms to share insights about their workplaces and company cultures in real time, employers have real skin in the game when it comes to employer branding.
employer branding can be a powerful talent-attraction tool.
"Companies simply must have strategies for employer brand management," Fiatte said. "They need to focus on their employer brand as much as they focus on their external, customer-facing brand. If you're not walking the walk, people will find out."
If you're somehow still skeptical that reputation and employer brand matter, recent research found that 94 percent of job seekers said they would likely apply for a position with a company that actively managed its employer brand. Meanwhile, 72 percent spend at least an hour researching a company before applying to an open role. But perhaps the most staggering stat is the fact that 69 percent of candidates wouldn't take a job with a company with a poor reputation — even if they were unemployed.
All told, companies that are successful at managing their reputations and curating positive candidate and employee experiences in 2020 will have a far easier time hiring the people they need to stay competitive. The rest, however, will only see hiring quality candidates get even harder.
Expect to see the most sophisticated employer brands explore new channels and leverage employee ambassadors in new ways in the year ahead. Also, expect to see companies that are behind the curve struggle to catch up. In both cases, significant resources will be allocated to employer branding efforts in 2020. The only question is how much ROI those dollars will deliver.
In 2020, a host of emerging trends will force businesses to become even more agile in how they approach the changing world of work. Organizations that make significant strides with diversity and inclusion management, AI, upskilling and employer brand initiatives will pull ahead of their competition. None of these are new trends — rather, they're concepts that are reaching maturity after years of fits and starts.
The organizations that keep their eye on the ball and continue to invest time, talent and energy into these will enjoy meaningful upside at the start of the next decade!