Acknowledge you need human connections and your own networks to navigate change and manage mental bumps in the road.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Nicholas Wyman.
Nicholas Wyman is a future work expert, author, speaker and President of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation (IWSI America). He has been LinkedIn’s #1 Education Writer of the Year, too, and written an award-winning book, Job U, a practical guide to finding wealth and success by developing the skills companies actually need. Nicholas has an MBA and has studied at Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
I’m passionate about empowering young people and providing them with the opportunity to enter the workforce as qualified, skilled individuals — and that often means exploring routes and experiences beyond traditional academia. That passion is rooted in my background and own personal life experiences. Doors seemed to close for me in high school because I wasn’t academic. In fact, my school discouraged me from completing my final year because they were worried that my grades would drag down the performance statistics for the school of the whole. I had a problem with sitting at a desk and memorizing, but hands-on work appealed to me. That led me to cooking and I eventually landed an apprentice chef role. Even though it was challenging, I enjoyed it and was committed. My work paid off and I eventually won an award — national apprentice of the year — and then captained a gold-medal winning culinary youth team in Germany. I then secured a good job as a fish chef at a Michelin-starred Hotel in London.
Later in life, supervising apprentices let me to a management role in corporate human resources. By age 40, I was ready for university and received a Masters in Business Administration, along with studying further at Harvard and the Kennedy School of Government. I created two non-profit organizations in Australia, where I grew up, specifically to help skill up young people and help match employers with apprentices and trainees that my company would then manage for them. I also set up an international consultancy, IWSI America, to help companies and governments expand skills-based careers.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
I think that we will continue with remote work, work from anywhere approaches and hybrid office models. That is what much of the workforce is demanding and companies of all sizes are embracing these concepts more than ever before and whenever possible. I think we’ll also continue to turn to virtual apprenticeship, training and employee onboarding models, as when companies are able to hire employees from anywhere in the country or even the world, their talent pool is much wider.
I think what will be different, and a positive change for the better, is that industries of all verticals will start to prioritize the mental health of their employees. This will go for industries that we don’t stereotypically assume to be the most forward-thinking, such as the construction industry, where a recent study found that more than one-third of construction workers said they were often stressed by mistreatment, and had anxiety about unsafe job site conditions.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Get serious about apprenticeship to find the qualified employees you need to not only maintain your organization, but to grow, evolve and set everyone up for long term success in the future. It’s an extremely viable option for employers to create apprenticeship programs from scratch. Astute employers realize that navigating the evolving economic landscape will require building pipelines of workers with 21st-century skills, and they should look beyond conventional college grads to recruit the talent they need.
For businesses feeling wary about signing up for a four-year commitment to hire and train an apprentice, there are alternative models such as group training organizations. These can handle the logistical work of managing, mentoring, and even arranging for health insurance and other benefits for the apprentice who’s ‘hosted’ by the employer. It’s proving a viable and flexible option, especially for small businesses. But, we also need to really celebrate apprenticeships and traineeships as just as worthy career pathways as a college degree.
Apprenticeships are a uniquely adaptable model of skill development, and they’re relevant to all industries and markets, even STEM and not just hands-on trades. Modern apprenticeships allow employers to connect with students, recent graduates, military veterans, and workers looking for a fresh start, and then mold these candidates into the specific kinds of talent they need.
Businesses with apprenticeship programs often report higher levels of workforce productivity, innovation, and employee retention, according to “It’s Time: Using Modern Apprenticeships to Reskill America,” a report I released with my company, IWSI America.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
Many employees seek meaning in their work. But some companies still fail recognize this, and they persevere with pre-pandemic hiring strategies. These will ultimately fail. Recognizing that employees are seeking more than just a paycheck is very important. Employees are becoming immune to corporate spin and jargon, so companies need to think about messaging with employees authentic.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Some jobs can be undertaken remotely, while some can’t. And for those employees that remain remote, many enjoy this work from anywhere opportunity, but companies shouldn’t assume that all employees see this as a positive. Many employees miss face to face interaction with coworkers. I expect more companies will embrace a hybrid approach of working and offer employees the choice of whether they’d like to work in an office or not.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
The focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce is long overdue, but there is still a segment of the population being drastically overlooked: individuals with disabilities, which account for the most underemployed group in the country. According to recent data, the employment gap between people with and without disabilities is staggering — only 19% of people with disabilities were in the workforce, compared to 66% of people without a disability. Companies need to take the actual steps to truly revolutionize DEI in the workplace by opening more opportunities for people with both physical and developmental disabilities. This starts with the recruiting process and moves into onboarding, training, mentorship, as well as governmental policy changes to support opportunities for people with disabilities.
Learn more about these issues, and potential pathways to solutions plus case studies of companies successfully creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the report I co-authored with advocate and IWSI Senior Associate Sara Hart Weir, “Ready, Willing and ABLE: Why it Pays to Hire People with Disabilities.”
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Humanity will prevail. Get going on the right track for you by focusing on skills, aptitudes, and knowledge — your humanity. Don’t buy in to pessimists who warn of a ‘jobless future’ in which technology slashes jobs faster than our economy can produce new ones.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
The coronavirus health, economic and wellbeing crisis can leave us spiraling down a mental vortex. Allow employees time to spend time to nurture their own wellbeing and mental health. Even consider financially supporting your employees to take an online wellbeing class. For example, I have just enrolled in a 4-week program with Jacob Ellenberg on Meditation and Concentration. The class will focus on posture, directing attention, intensifying focus, and metacognition and offer ideas on how to correct common obstacles to sustained concentration.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
Companies need to take a long-range view of workforce development and investment in people. Allow employees to obtain a winning combination of skills and attributes to equip them (and your company) for the new world of work. Encourage a culture that develops a growth mindset amongst employees. Foster a modern frame of mind. These are the keys to employability and individual prosperity in the new world of work. They will help us as we encounter situations of ambiguity, challenge, and change.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Change is here The future of work will demand workers embark on a quest for lifelong learning, as well as embrace both technical and people skills, along with personal attributes. Make machines your ally.
- Acknowledge you need human connections and your own networks to navigate change and manage mental bumps in the road.
- Hone your technical skills, people skills and develop a modern frame of mind. Look to on-the-job experience to skill up for the future workforce.
- Job titles will come and go, which is why you need to focus on marketable skills. Focus on employability skills, not just job titles.
- Rise above the noise of modern-day life and find ways to focus.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
“In order to really find happiness, you need to continue looking for opportunities that you believe are meaningful, in which you will be able to learn new things, to succeed, and be given more and more responsibility to shoulder.”
― Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?
I had an opportunity to spend time with Clayton, and those encounters changed my focus on work and life.
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, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
Robert Reich, an American economist, professor, author, lawyer, and political commentator and 22nd United States Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton. He is an advocate for US workers to learn technological skills. I would like to get his perspectives on growing the country’s interest in apprenticeship programs and building a sustainable, quality driven system.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.