Looking For Future-Proof Employees

One of my “must-reads” during the year is the annual IBM Global CEO Study. If you haven’t seen this year’s, you can get a copy here.

A concept mentioned in the report that intrigued me was the idea of the “future-proof” employee.

IBM, CEO, development, training, skills, skills gap, employees, future, future-proof

With unemployment still considered high and lots of talk about skills gaps, there’s considerable energy being spent in telling individuals to keep their skills current. If you’re a job seeker, you better be keeping up or you will be left behind. Staying relevant is important.

Keeping up with your current skills involves training. I define training as providing the knowledge, skills and abilities needed in current jobs. It should really be a no-brainer that individuals need training in order to successfully complete their current responsibilities.

But the answer to getting future-proof employees is development (not training). Development is about preparing people for future jobs (preferably at your company). And the concept applies to companies too.

  • Does your current workforce have the skills they need to keep up with the company’s plans for the future?
  • If not, how are they going to remain relevant for your organization?

I get that employees need to own some of their professional development. But if I’m an employee and I’m responsible for my own professional development, then won’t I choose the development that I believe gets me ahead? That may or may not be what the company needs to get ahead.

Companies are in search of future-proof employees – those who will be able to stay current and relevant no matter what organization they work at. This mandates an evolution in professional development toward a partnership between the company and the individual. Development becomes a blend of the employees’ and company’s needs.

In order for companies to meet the demands of the future, they have to continuously re-invent the way they do business. In turn, employees have to regularly re-invent themselves.

I’m curious. How does an individual demonstrate they have the ability to be “future-proof”? If you were a candidate, how would you respond to “Tell me about a time when you had to re-invent yourself to provide value in a new, emerging market for your company.”?

Whatever the answer… are you or your company doing that right now?

Image courtesy of Deirdre Honner


  1. says

    The concept of future-proof employees has been developed in France these last years under the name “employability”. Obviously it does not create jobs in these difficult times but it smoothes outplacement projects.
    In a “no-crisis” time it changes the relationship between the employee and the employer, the employee becoming more empowered to take charge of his future and the company sharing with its personnel the responsibility of keeping its workforce at its best. A very innovative practice which is gaining pore and more acceptance.

  2. Philip Mathew says

    This is true. The last decade has taught the hard fact that businesses are faced with lot of competition and mere sustainance is not the option.
    Has globalization really improved life for us? I dont think so. But human resources are becoming all the more key and critical to every organization. Emplowering people and the know-how factor is gaining prominence. Knowledge is so key to the economy, that every employee is on a learning curve. And the organization that partners for the development of the employee has a clear upper hand.

  3. says

    Thanks so much for the comments!

    What makes me wonder about this concept is when and how people will learn what’s right for them. Is this a conversation that should happen in school? In college? Or in the workplace?

    In fairness to those who haven’t been exposed to the idea, business might have to initially own it. Down the road, that could shift to education.

  4. says

    Aside from the obvious relationship to improving ourselves, I think leaders should ask, “Am I making my people future proof?”

    Forget competition and long-term views, this is vital short-term for two basic reasons:

    1. It will reduce turnover and costs associated with turnover. Employees give high rankings to the opportunity to use their current skills and learn new ones. In fact, it ranks above pay in most studies.

    2. Your own mobility. When you show you have a habit of making others successful leadership will value you. At a minimum, you cannot move up unless someone is capable of replacing you.

    The future is now.
    HRWhale recently posted..Employee’s Tweets Lead to Pennsylvania UI Claim Denial

  5. says

    Thanks so much for the comment. I love point #2. When I conduct training, I always tell managers “You can’t go off and do cool stuff if you don’t develop your team. Opportunities will pass you by.”

  6. Janice says

    “Future proof” employees are essential at all levels and commands a culture and business strategy that promotes development for each and every employee.

  7. Raamnaath says

    Dear Sharlyn,
    Since long I have a doubt that is HR working enough for the employee of a company or employer of the company. I always think that HR always work for employer not for employee. In this case what is meant by HR and why it is required. Is it exists to carry out only logistics of a company.
    What is Human resource for an individual employee of a company. In fact I am yet to understand the role of HR when it comes to an individual employee of a company.