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December 17, 2020

The Role of Technology in Our Changing Workforce

Technology has changed the way we learn about careers, hire, and manage our day-to-day work. Khalid Kark, Managing Director of the CIO Program at Deloitte, led a conversation about new approaches to leverage technology to help prepare for the future of work. He was joined by tech industry leaders Jake Hirsch-Allen, System Lead of North America Workforce Development and Higher Ed at LinkedIn, and Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies.

Shifts in Labor and Shaping Jobs

Matt Sigelman acknowledged the headlines advertising the disappearance of jobs, “But here's the thing.. It's not about a third of jobs going away over the next three years. It's about the pace of skill change within jobs and our data are providing a very real glimpse into that we've seen that in some jobs as much as 40% of the skills are different today versus what they were a decade ago.”

He added that job shifts signify that people who are doing or have been displaced from a job might not be ready to do that same job in the future, even as the economy starts to recover because companies don't necessarily just rehire the same people they let go. “They start to think ahead to what are the skills they will need for a future workforce and unfortunately, people who may have been in a job for 20-30 years may no longer have those sets of skills,” he added.

“On the one hand, we've got an imperative around our existing students, those who are going to graduate in 2021 or 2022, potentially into this stream of the economy. What kind of skills they need to have, and what we can do now before it's too late to make sure they have the sets of skills that will give them relevance and currency,” Matt said. “But then it's also a question of how do we unlock some of those skills that are being taught in a lot of curricula and make them available to a wider community of learners, to people who are out in their careers, who have been working in fields now of a sudden need to learn new things that are often orthogonal to the careers they've been in.”

Khalid Kark agreed with Matt’s sentiments, adding, “Not all of those jobs are going away by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’m talking to many of the technology leaders that are putting in multi-million dollar programs to rescale their workforce.”

Jake Hirsch-Allen, from the perspective of LinkedIn, agreed that the jobs aren't disappearing, “But there is a competition for them. In fact, for the past few decades, everybody has been talking about moving from an industrial age to an internet age, but the revolution was accelerated and happened during this pandemic. This also suggests that a marketing individual could actually now be based in Europe, Latin America, or India, instead of being based in the U.S., to an even greater extent than before.”

He then turned to the trends they are seeing on LinkedIn, where they’ve found that there's more remote work in existence, more people are learning online, and the way jobs are going to be done is going to involve technology to a greater degree than before the pandemic. “And what that means is people need those technology skills in order to do maybe the exact same job they were doing before,” Jake concluded.

Current Impacts on the Marketplace

Jake thinks the pandemic has accelerated trends of jobs changing, but hasn't dramatically changed them. “In many ways, inequality is the same way: it has hit those who are disadvantaged in one way or another far worse,” Jake said. “Skills-based hiring is where we have to go if we are going to take full advantage of our workforce.”

He then went on to describe the importance of language and, specifically, transitioning to a language focused on skills-based hiring instead of a language of hiring based on relationships. “If we can teach faculty members and employers at c-suite at companies, all the way down to recruiters, to speak in that language instead of the language that we have basically spoken in for human eternity, which is that of relationships, I think we'll do a lot more,” Jake added.

Jake further explained, “And that's hard for somebody coming from LinkedIn to say. I was all about relationships and that's honestly how I've gotten a lot of my career, based on relationships, but that's a problem. That means that those who have those relationships will continue to do better. That is human nature.”

The solution to use, for example, is technology to move individuals from thinking about relationships and degrees, which he says help tenure track faculty members far more than they help students these days, into a world in which we're preparing students to describe the skills they're learning. “It needs a combination of motivation on the part of employers, community colleges, and others and a sort of ethical or values shift in the direction of skills-focused hiring,” Jake concluded.

Matt added more explanation about the specific types of skills that are needed in the workforce, “There are a set of software skills, a set of data skills, which are increasingly valuable. But there are also human skills, which are becoming of actual real premium in the market and it’s worth talking about both of those. What we see increasingly is actually a hybridization of work. We see that jobs are increasingly picking up sets of skills from domains that are far outside of what those jobs would typically have been about.”

Matt went on to highlight the present instance of employees rapidly shifting careers and not staying with their employers’ long term and noted that, since it's hard to get a return on investment on an employee who might need to be taught skills and is likely to leave quickly, employers focus on hiring people who bring those skills with them when they start. “The good news is for students who acquire both sets of skills, who come with the intensive data skills, but also frankly a range of other specialized skills in a given field, along with the core human skills, they're in very good stead.”

Jake added some final actionable advice for applying these concepts in the classroom: “For the faculty members or the college administrators who are on the call, I think there's a way of taking what we said making it really concrete. The first is to use the labor market information as it's now available in a wide variety of forms from lots of different companies,” he said. “And build that information into your course, no matter what you're teaching. It could be english, it could be software development, or abstract mathematics. Next, learn to communicate that to your students and most importantly, teach them to communicate it to employers.”

Doing Good in Engagement, Interaction, and Curricular Planning

Matt thinks there are a few dimensions of ‘good’ and that some of them are about evaluating programs effectively, some are about empowering students and faculty, and some are about engaging with employers. His advice is to continue to reassess whether you have the right programs and gave an example of schools “who have done a fabulous job of leveraging labor market data to be able to evaluate where their curriculum is lined up with success and where there may be gaps and how to then fill them out.”

Jake added that it’s important to think creatively, especially when selecting who to hire. He went on to conclude, “The point is to focus on career development and skills from day one. Schools like Broward have forever had a reputation for being amazing at training disadvantaged populations, but their recent ability to engage employers to a much greater extent than other schools nearby, and to build, again, career development throughout their programming, I think is both unique and something from which others can learn.”

This blog post is part of a series of recordings from the College Promise Careers Institute. In November 2020, College Promise held the virtual 3-day summit convening hundreds of our nation's leading practitioners, educators, employers, and thought leaders for sessions tackling the most complex challenges American workers face -- from the rise of artificial intelligence to the role free college plays in maintaining a competitive edge.

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