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8 HR and Workforce Predictions for 2017

Posted on December 16, 2016

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, it’s pretty obvious 2017 will bring drastic shake-ups for both business and government. Whether you view the change favorably or not--it’s here and we’re all going to be impacted in some way or other.

So we asked the Vocoli team to consider the major HR issues facing employers in 2017 and to come up with a few predictions given the generational, political, social and technological landscape we’re witnessing.

So here goes...

1. A return to domestic manufacturing and a refocus on skilled blue collar workers

From what we’ve heard, the incoming administration plans to implement extreme financial incentives for US companies to do more manufacturing domestically. We’ve already seen arm twisting on an individual basis with Carrier, and it seems possible US trade policies will change to provide more broad incentives for companies to manufacture in the US again.

Even Apple is studying the idea.

While relocating overseas factories back here, or reversing course on a long trend of closing US plants can only be accomplished as part of a long-term strategy, we think you’ll see more opportunities for domestic manufacturing companies in 2017. As a result, HR professionals will play a major role in finding talent to fill those jobs, identify training and skills gaps and develop strategies to address them.

Led by nationally known commentators like Mike Rowe and Wade Thompson, there’s a national conversation taking place on the dearth of skilled tradespeople. With the average age of a skilled tradesman in the US now about 59 years old, domestically we’re looking at a huge skilled trades gap. This gap, combined with the incoming administration’s announced plans to rebuild US manufacturing infrastructure (see #1), means companies will embrace blue collar and hourly workers. Larger companies and unions will begin to put skilled labor training in-house as well as creating apprenticeship/contract to hire agreements. US employers will do well to look to the success in Germany of promoting the manufacturing trades through vocational education and apprenticeships. We also expect to see efforts to rekindle vocational training in high schools and work to rebuild partnerships between employers and our school systems so the supply of tradespeople can be replenished.

2. Preparing for the "future of work"

What does Future of Work mean? Ask 10 people and you'll get 10 answers.

What is consistent is we're seeing a drastic change in what work means not witnessed since the Industrial Revolution. A massive generational shift led by retiring Boomers and Millennials moving into leadership positions is one factor. Combine that with an increase in the gig economy through Uber and AirBNB, as well as cultural and generational changes in how work is approached, much of it tied to collaboration, open workspaces, massive automation and an increased need for meaningful work.

We predict 2017 will see a drastic increase by companies (mostly larger ones) to position how they communicate with their workforce. This might be through technologies such as Vocoli, Slack and/or Facebook @Work, and will need to be done without alienating generations more accustomed to working in silos. We also predict future thinking companies will create positions specifically designed to lead  change and adapt accordingly, such as Chief Employee Pulse Officer or Head of Employee Engagement Programs. They'll need to position these roles within senior leadership as opposed to simply staff-level with little authority or voice.

3. Strategies to address working conditions of low-skilled, hourly workers

While there's a healthy debate taking place as to whether state and national minimum wage hikes are beneficial, some companies, such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s have preemptively raised worker pay. As the linked articles highlight, early results show the strategy has worked for them by producing improved customer service and sales. We expect more companies will take a proactive look at wages, benefits and working conditions in 2017 because, even as the incoming administration is unlikely to be pushing for a higher federal minimum wage, state initiatives in this area remain. Further, the discussion around the pay, hours and benefits of the hourly, low-skilled workforce has reached the national consciousness in recent years. For companies employing large numbers of hourly workers, addressing this issue is now as much about good public relations as it is about the threat of impending legislation.

4. Robots in the workforce

The greatest generation and baby boomers among us remember a time when the vision of robots in the workplace was viewed as a highly positive feature of a “Buck Rogers” future that would shorten the workweek, reduce menial work and eliminate dangers in the workplace. More recently, as we’ve seen with recent announcements from Carrier and McDonald's, robotics have become more controversial and are now seen by some as a threat to traditional hourly jobs. So, even as we look to bring more manufacturing jobs home, advances in automation threaten to erase some of the very jobs we’re trying to protect and create.

In 2017, we predict forward looking employers will seek to find the problem solvers and offer incentives for them to gain more technical/hardware knowledge so they can learn to program, operate and maintain robots that will to continue to play an increased role in the workforce.

5. Creative benefits

The incoming administration has pledged to work with Congress to overturn and replace The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. While it’s too soon to say what the replacement will look like, it seems likely there will be more emphasis on individual choice and financial responsibility (and healthcare savings accounts will be part of the strategy). We’ll also most likely see creative benefits that aren’t driven by legislation. Companies such as Fidelity and Aetna have pledged to help new employees pay off student debt, and as always in tech we see perks such as concierge services and employee housing.

6. Throw away the annual review

It’s no secret many companies have come to see the annual review process as a failure. It’s a failure on many levels because it’s a poor use of management resources, it brings needed feedback too late to impact performance and it's counter-intuitive to the new generation of workers who prefer to receive real time feedback on their performance. 

In this new light, many millennial job seekers may look for organizations that provide ongoing feedback instead of the annual review. We predict even more employers will be influenced in this area by the example of titans like GE, Microsoft, Adobe and Accenture. Faced with the need to improve both engagement and results many companies will move to eliminate annual reviews in favor of more active, ongoing review and feedback processes.

7. Updated drug policies

As more states legalize recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, many corporate drug testing and tolerance policies will need to be re-examined. This may affect collective bargaining agreements as well, as labor unions look to protect workers who may now legally be using formerly banned substances, yet are

8. Renewed focus on security training and protocols

It’s been a rough few years for cyber security. All the hacked emails, personal information and, yes, even government secrets. When major organizations like Target corporation, US Steel and even the DNC lose critical data to hackers, it’s clear our data is at an all time high risk. Further, those risks can be catastrophic both financially and politically. As the linked articles above show, many cyber attacks start with an employee unknowingly opening a phishing email, accidentally exposing their login credentials. With state sponsored hackers upping the sophistication of the threats, it’s clear, corporations and government agencies need to do a better job on both building more secure technology and training employees on how to better detect and avoid security breaches. To do this, HR and Tech leaders will have to collaborate on formalized training to be sure employees are more knowledgeable and vigilant about security.

As HR professionals work to address these challenges, one constant will remain--any strategies they develop and implement will be better if they informed by solid base of employee feedback. As both McDonald’s and Amazon learned in recently publicized events, understanding your organizational culture is an important prerequisite to effective decision making.

The Vocoli team hopes 2017 is a great year for your organizations! If you feel like you could use some help in better connecting with your employees in the year ahead to get their feedback, input and ideas, we’d like to help.

To learn more about how to give your employees a voice, contact the Vocoli team at 888-919-5300 or email us at

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