Waiting for the future workforce to turn up is 'dangerous' – it's already here.

People need to acknowledge the 9 to 5 workday is a thing of the past, a leading business innovator says.

Silvia Zuur, a director with the business advisory firm PwC New Zealand, says the advent of the gig economy (a market of short-term contracts and freelance work) means we are now "beyond the one career life".

She says there is a need for our education system to teach people how to thrive in this economy because "if we only educate for cradle to grave security our future workforce will be unable to navigate the working world.

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"A gig economy that values and empowers individuals without relying on traditional hierarchy is liberating," she says. "It enables people the freedom to innovate and move beyond the constraints of the one career life, yet without a safety net it can also be brutal and inaccessible.

"How might we make working in this way safer and more caring than the 40-hour one career for life ever was?"

Her comments come ahead of this month's PwC Herald Talks event looking at the issue of the future workforce.

Zuur believes the future has already arrived: "It can be dangerous to think of 'the future workforce' as something that will turn up suddenly. It has started already; my career is drastically different to my grandparents.

"My generation is not motivated by a gold watch and a handshake, it is driven by purpose, we are recruited and contracted on human skills, not job titles."

Zuur says she has already seen a shift towards workers being more purpose-led and impact-driven, meaning they want to work by contributing to society on issues such as the environment, the economy, climate change and justice.

"People are no longer brand loyal, they tend to be problem or impact loyal," she says. "I have a friend whose passion is to impact climate change and she has now worked on this issue for three different organisations.

"I myself am also an example of this," she says. "I am a social entrepreneur and in the last 10 years I have worked with different organisations helping people set up businesses and operations – and at each place I've ensured the 'brand' aligns with my moral compass.

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"I'm driven by exploring different organisational structures and shifting them towards creating value in society. This has seen me work in smaller organisations (like Dev Academy) through to PwC now.

"I don't fit in your normal career box; my career might be considered an outlier thus far, but this may soon become the norm as the future of work changes."

Silvia Zuur, Director, PwC. Photo / Supplied
Silvia Zuur, Director, PwC. Photo / Supplied

Working across issues rather than for a 'brand' is about trust. A recent PwC report – Preparing for Tomorrow's Workforce, Today – found 91 per cent of those surveyed (1246 businesses and HR leaders in 79 countries) see that an organisation trusted in society both by its customers and the employees it attracts is important to their future.

Zuur says there is also a greater emphasis on collaboration in the 'future' workplace, a factor 79 per cent of those surveyed said was important.

"This does not just mean open plan offices," she says. "It means building organisational structures that support cross functional teams, agility and creative ways of working.

"Solutions that are needed can no longer be developed by one person, one organisation or even one style of thinking; we need diverse voices and experiences around the table and diverse organisations working in partnership."

She says a good example is the need for more women in decision-making. A gender intelligence insights report conducted by creative agency Double Denim in New Zealand in 2017, found an estimated 80 per cent of daily consumer decisions are made or influenced by women, yet 91 per cent of women say marketers do not understand them.

Zuur says another report - The Case for Change conducted in 2018 by Dr Candice Harris, associate professor, business at Auckland University of Technology - shows the benefits of greater diversity both in gender and ethnicity.

The report revealed that companies with at least one female executive outperformed the stockmarket by 37 per cent, those with at least a 30 per cent of their executive team made up of females did so by 173 per cent, while companies with female board members are 26 per cent more profitable than companies with all male boards.

The report also showed that companies in the top level of ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to financially outperform their industry and are 33 per cent more likely to have a higher than average market share.

Zuur says human skills such as leadership, creativity, empathy and curiosity are also becoming more important as robots and automation take over time-consuming and routine tasks previously done by humans – qualities 87 per cent of the PwC survey respondents said were important.

She says the three core things future organisations need to focus on are:

•Organisational structures that support people to thrive
•Purpose that motivates a person's potential
•Cultures that foster collaboration

Zuur says PwC is in the unique position of being able to provide a suite of skills and services from financials through to culture change across most sectors of society.