Workforces Turn Fluid: Ask what employees want from their employers and their work-life changes; the structures of work will change as well. Rigid workforces that are exclusive to one employer will make way for gig workers, side hustles, and contract or project-based work. The demand for greater flexibility along with a career, an increasing value being placed on education and skills expansion, and the virtualization of work will drive the need for new creative models of shared and temporary resources paired up with a critical core of more permanent employees.
There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Kim Curley.
Kim Curley is the VP of Workforce Readiness Consulting, a recognized leader in the business consulting and digital transformation space. Her career-long focus on the human side of business has enabled leaders and their organizations to do more, be ferociously curious, and thrive brilliantly through change. She loves to tackle new challenges and is passionate about helping others do and be their very best. An adjunct faculty member at Queens University of Charlotte, Kim is also a (currently frustrated) world explorer, book lover, National Parks nerd, and UGA Double Dawg.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Love this question! Who am I — I am an insatiably curious problem solver and people pleaser who loves nothing better than to see people and things grow! My mother instilled in me a fierce independence, my dad brought the problem solving, and the universe provided the nerd tendency and the curiosity. My parents’ divorce when I was a tween had a big impact on me — instilling in me both a serious drive to succeed but also a serious bent towards self-sufficiency. Asking for help is still hard for me — and I’m not done growing yet, so I get better at it every day. The other experience that had a huge impact on me was working for one particular boss, Anne. She, unfortunately, passed away way too soon, but that hasn’t stopped her influence on me as a person or as the business leader I’ve become. She’s a big part of how I care for the people I lead and why I’m as transparent as I am in every situation I can be.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
First, technological advances will continue to disrupt employers, employees, and businesses. Tech will drive new business models, will change what employers need, and will change what employees do. And this disruption will be constant.
Second, I think we’re in for a significant shift towards humanity. Technology will do so much that a renewed focus on humans is likely to show up. This might be in the form of employment laws, a renewed focus on the humanities and the trades in education, and an upswing in the value of philosophy and ethics, and Socratic debate and critical thinking.
Third, the global workforce is going to change shape. We’ll see greater fluidity across borders — whether those be departmental, organizational, or national — and we’ll see a continued decline in traditional career models and paths as they’re replaced with more temporary forms of employment that better meet the needs and desires of the humans.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
We could talk about this topic all day long! I guess I’d have to start with the skills that I think are the ‘no-brainers’ — in other words, the ones everybody needs to have. People need to know how to think critically, to solve problems, and most importantly, people need to know how to learn. Most colleges and universities produce students who know how to do those things.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment but employment that fits their talents and interests?
There are now and always will be a lot of jobs available! There’s lots of good news there. The jobs available tomorrow might not look anything like the ones we do today, but there will be jobs. So that’s the first point. The second point is around how do people find work that is meaningful and satisfies their needs? The pandemic has both provided an opportunity for and demanded that people take a good, hard look at what they really want to do in the work portion of their lives and what they want that portion of their lives to mean. And that’s fantastic because that’s the first part of the equation — knowing what we want and don’t want, and what tradeoffs we’re willing to make along that spectrum is critically important. Once we know that, we can go into the search with eyes wide open — and prepared to spend more time than we used to looking. My comment is less about the fact that it will take longer to find “a” job — because I don’t think it will — but it will take longer to find “THE” job. It takes time to understand if an employer’s values really line up with your own. It takes more than a couple of brief interviews to understand if the culture of an organization is what you’re looking for. It takes longer than a cursory browse through a website to find out if an organization’s policies and benefits match what you want from your employer.
I’m obviously glossing over the literal search process — a process that has been forever changed by technologies such as AI. The human touch of the employer is almost completely removed from the critical first step of getting your resume in the door. Complex job descriptions and often random keyword selections mean many qualified candidates never get past the technology to even be considered for jobs. So, while it may feel and sound awkward, make sure to use the exact phrases in your resume that you see in your desired job — without lying about your experience and capabilities! You might also want to spend extra time considering what keywords might be in the algorithms by analyzing the LinkedIn profiles of people who have the role you want.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appear frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
The key is the ability to learn and having a growth mindset that supports the learning. Those who will thrive are already and always learning the next thing. That could be as big as undertaking a certification course or course of study in a new or advancing field, or as simple as a tech hack. This will tell you just how much I am not a techie — but I was using macros to write paragraphs in Microsoft Word long before I’d ever heard the words ‘robotic process automation.’
I’d also encourage people to rethink their preconceived notions of a ‘career’. That concept has already changed a lot in the last few decades, but the careers of the future will look more fluid, less straight-line than they have in the past. That’s a good thing!
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
100% yes. I’m not saying 100% of people will be working from home but I am saying that trend will continue. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we put to rest, once and for all, the old command and control management style that “if I’m not watching you, you won’t get the work done”. Most adults and most types of work do not need visual supervision for progress to be made and objectives to be met. That has been true for a long time, but I think it’s taken this protracted, significant shock to the system for the myths to be debunked. It’s not the remote worker that we should have been worried about — it’s the person who walks around the office all day and is seemingly everywhere but adds no actual value. Virtualizing work takes away the ability for that person to hide that they’re not really doing anything!
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
It all depends on which changes you’re focused on, but I think the biggest societal change pointed at the future of work is the new social contract that employees are demanding from their employers. Today we want to know that our personal values and purpose are in alignment with our employer’s values and purpose. We don’t just want to see them in the “about us” section of the website — we want to see those things in the actions the company takes, the leaders the company rewards, the ways it invests in communities, and in the policies and benefits it provides its employees.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
I think the toughest task for most employers will be to figure out the right way to handle and talk about social issues affecting their employees. Are CEOs willing to talk about Black Lives Matter? About mental health issues? The C-suite can no longer separate itself from the social issues that affect their employees, their stakeholders, and the communities in which they operate. The toughest part for employees is the resilience and growth mindset. We must constantly upskill. We must marshal the energy and optimism for constant change and transformation. This world will be terribly difficult for employees who aren’t interested in investing in themselves and even reinventing themselves several times over the course of a working life.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
I do believe that we have a duty of care to one another in a civilized society, especially in a society so rich in resources. That said, I’m far from deeply skilled in political science and public administration so the mechanics of the “how” escape me. If I had that full answer, I’d be running for office! But what I do know is that we need to better align our social programs that support the most fragile of our people with the financial realities of the current day — here I’m thinking about things like the minimum wage — and work a lot harder. We must create fiscal and tax strategies that don’t add an extra burden to those who can least afford it. Lastly, we absolutely must come together to help one another. All the social programs in the world can’t replace the value of connection and caring.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Hands down my greatest source of optimism is working with the generations who are following me. I love not being the smartest person in the room! I love learning from the same college seniors that I’m trying to recruit to come work with us. I love seeing what gets invented and repurposed by people who are convinced, deep down in their souls, that they can change the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are still people out there using their superpowers for evil instead of good, but I’m naturally optimistic enough to believe that they aren’t the majority and that with the right caring and conversations, we can win them over one by one.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
I think the speed of advancement in technology is in fact already shrinking this gap. Which is a good thing. But I don’t think our approaches to education or to life-long learning have kept up. We need to re-imagine who learns what, and where they can learn it, and when they can learn it. Blowing that space wide open by investing, truly and meaningfully investing in education, can change this dynamic and the future.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends to Watch in the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The Future is Human: For a while now, it’s felt as though the only important thing in the world is the latest technology. But the focus has begun to return to the humans, just as it should. Value is rarely created by the mere existence of technology. It’s created by what the marvelously messy and wildly creative humans DO with those new tools. That’s why we see artificial intelligence experts sitting alongside philosophers and ethicists as we design models to make the world better for humans.
- A Shift Towards Purpose: Gone — or mostly gone — are the days of the gloriously greedy Gordon Gekko. People want their lives and time and money to mean something. More and more organizations are investing in their communities and in social causes, and people are paying attention. Employees are drawn to the companies that support the causes they do, and so are customers.
- Hybrid Wins: All in-person isn’t the answer, and all virtual isn’t the answer. The answer is the much more difficult hybrid approach. Some companies have gotten rid of much of their office space, while others have kept it all and invested heavily in it. The “Great Experiment” of workspace is going to take a while to work out, and we’ll need to look at space differently no matter how it works out.
- Autonomy Wins: One of the most direct levers of motivation and productivity in the workplace is autonomy. Adults like to make their own decisions, and if you’ve hired them, they should be trusted to do so. Increasingly employees will decide both when and where their work gets done, and if you’ve hired the right resources, they won’t steer you wrong on the “how” either!
- Workforces Turn Fluid: Ask what employees want from their employers and their work-life changes; the structures of work will change as well. Rigid workforces that are exclusive to one employer will make way for gig workers, side hustles, and contract or project-based work. The demand for greater flexibility along with a career, an increasing value being placed on education and skills expansion, and the virtualization of work will drive the need for new creative models of shared and temporary resources paired up with a critical core of more permanent employees.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” A very famous quote by the wildly talented poet, Mary Oliver. When I’m scared, when I’m told I can’t do something, when the choice is between doing the laundry or spending time with someone I care about, the answer is clear. I only have one life — that’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s as wild and precious as I decide to make it. I take that to heart personally and in my work life. Your life is how you spend your time — choose wisely!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’m going to play right into the popular cliché and say I would love to break bread with Ted Lasso and the rest of the AFC Richmond team! I am a huge fan of what I think is the best programming in years. I have Ted’s “Believe” sign behind me in my Zoom view and love sharing that show with everyone. Of course, we’ll need to eat biscuits, but I’ll have to skip the garbage water.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.