Resilience. During the pandemic, all of us — employees and employers alike — have realized the importance of being adaptable. People who can pivot quickly in the face of change. People who can take on new challenges. You can call it a “soft skill,” but it’s really critical. What that looks like depends on the individual, but it comes down to taking responsibility for getting things done, whether or not that’s in the job description.
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 Odalys Simmons.
Odalys Simmons’ life work is advocating for others: As a credentialed Global Career Development Facilitator, she has helped people of all ages and backgrounds to grow and succeed academically, professionally and personally. After graduating from Florida State University with a degree in Criminology, she began working with a variety of nonprofit organizations in the Orlando area. Today, she is a Job Connection Manager at Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, developing programs to drive economic mobility and help people achieve their goals through work.
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?
When I started my career, I had no idea my career would go in this direction! Actually, I received my degree in Criminology at Florida State University, because I wanted to get into law enforcement or the justice system. I even thought about working for the FBI.
Juvenile justice was especially interesting to me … however, I wanted to do more to prevent kids from entering the criminal justice system. After my first internship at a youth facility, I decided my place was on the other side — working in social services. I wanted to develop programs and initiatives designed to help people by giving them the resources they needed to navigate life and achieve success.
I got started with the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program, and after that I moved into career support services as an Employment Coordinator in the greater Orlando area. Eventually, that led me to my current position at Goodwill, where I work with both employers and employees to help people build stable careers. And I’ve never looked back.
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?
I think we’re already seeing the biggest disruption: A need for more flexibility in organizations. Employees are demanding more autonomy, and if you want to stay competitive, you must keep up with that. A good strategic employer is willing to try new things. You can’t keep clinging to structures that worked in the past.
Companies that stayed open-minded, weighed their options, and maybe even launched some pilot programs during the pandemic, are emerging with a better understanding of what worked, what didn’t, and what impacted profit margins. That data is giving them extra tools in their toolbox to move forward.
The choice as to whether 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 to go to college?
It’s really personal decision that depends on what you’re trying to achieve. I have experience with career advising and coaching for prospective college students — and what I’ve found is that if the parents are pushing them too hard into college, without considering what the child wants, it just doesn’t work.
More time should be invested in exploring the options. A young person should look at their skills, their aptitudes, and their desires before deciding to put in the money and time for a college degree. I won’t say that a degree is unnecessary — for some positions, it absolutely is. But it all depends on the individual’s desired goals.
What I can recommend is to get as much experience as you can, whether by volunteering, experiential learning, internships, and talking to someone in the field you are interested in. That can completely change your perspective on what you really want to do in life. (It did for me!) And knowing where you want to be is key when you’re deciding how to get there.
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?
You’ll always have a give-and-take situation, where you must prioritize some things over others: pay, location, benefits, flexibility, or just your general interest in the work. Then you must look at your own skills and talents and determine where you’ll be most valuable as an employee. So, the best approach is still a balanced approach.
Especially now, employers are looking for candidates who are open to trying new things and learning on the job — so don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. You might find that it’s a good fit!
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears 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?
It’s true that some jobs are going away, but we’re really not seeing a lack of options in the market for people seeking work. Even in fields like manufacturing, ostensibly most impacted by this change, there’s been steady, consistent growth in the number of open positions.
What is happening in some cases is that positions are becoming more skilled. For example, a manufacturing business might automate a manual assembly line, but they’ll still need someone skilled with that type of technology who can operate that computer system and keep the assembly line moving. More and more, you’re seeing vocational schools that can offer training for those production specialist positions.
Tech skills will always be in demand, whether it’s that kind of specialized training or simple familiarity with Zoom and Excel. Rather than placing your bets on a specific field, I think well-rounded candidates who stay up-to-date with new software will always be competitive.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Because people are realizing the benefits of remote work — not only to the employees, but to the company. It allows you to save on overhead, reach more customers, offer your staff more freedom in where and when they work, and so much more.
As that trend continues, one thing I hope we’ll see more is work-from-home resources and support. Last year, many workers were thrown into remote work unexpectedly, and that was a difficult transition. Having more support and more resources can ease that process, and I think it would prevent lost productivity as well.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
For many years, we’ve had a very fixed idea of how work is supposed to be. We’ve decided that it must be at least eight hours a day, 40-plus hours a week, and that it means going to an office in the morning and coming home at night. It’s that ethos where you look bad if you don’t answer your work email after hours.
Now we’re taking a closer look at that question. Is work really about the number of hours? Is maximizing short-term productivity more important than the larger issues of customer service, employee wellbeing, or personal time? So, I think we need to be taking a more holistic approach.
The pandemic especially has started pushing more of the ideas that were already out there about a new way to work. We’re starting to realize that the workforce is tired, that people have been tired for a long time, and that they want more from their careers than the way things have always been.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
“Opportunity.” We’re seeing solutions to problems that people have always faced. For a long time, parents had to choose between staying home with kids or going to work. Either you took leave or worked part-time, or you sent your children to daycare or a caregiver. Now, as things become more flexible, there are opportunities for people who struggled with a lot of limitations previously.
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 the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
It depends what you mean by “we”. At Goodwill, we focus on helping people achieve their goals through work. We connect people to develop new skills and experiences that they can use to become more adaptable and marketable. Filling the gap with the opportunity to learn and gain new skills will help reduce the length of the gap.
Now, I don’t think training is a one-size-fits-all solution. And I’m at times hesitant to recommend someone pay for a course or certification, because that may not always be a good short-term investment. But as a philosophy, it’s always good to build experience whenever you can, whether that’s a free Excel online course, a volunteer experience you can talk about in your next interview, or practicing to become a better interviewee.
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.)
- Remote work. We already touched on this, because it’s really the most obvious change stemming from the pandemic — but a lot of people, both employers and employees, are rethinking the way they work. Do they need to come into the office? Are they more productive at the office? How does that impact their work-life balance — or their flexibility? Many employers are finding that it’s actually a better value proposition than they thought, and it’s a valuable benefit for employees, too. There will always be a place for in-person work, of course. But it’s becoming clear that remote and hybrid models can be a win-win.
- Globalization. This ties back to the same root issue as above. With remote work, companies have realized that they can have more reach across the country. Enterprises that used to be limited to doing business in the region have learned to do calls and meetings at a distance … and they can start selling products and closing deals at a distance, too. At Goodwill, we’ve been able to provide social services virtually to people we couldn’t have reached through a physical office. Now people don’t have to catch a bus or drive to our location — they can make a call, send an email, or jump online for a near-instant connection.
- The new face of the “front line”. Now that companies are doing more business online and at a distance, we’re reassessing where we need frontline workers. Some businesses will still need receptionists and clerks, but not all. Others might outsource those jobs to specialized companies or call centers. On the other hand, there’s a growing need for frontline workers in other areas, like manufacturing, warehouse work, transportation, hospitality — the jobs are out there, but they may not be where they were in the past.
- Tech expectations. Our workplaces continue to get more high-tech, and that trend is only going to pick up the pace as the years continue. But that doesn’t mean you have to be in IT or programming to have a successful career. For several years, the advice was “computers are the future, so everyone should learn how to code.” And as a result, many people enrolled in coding or programming courses. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not for everyone. Most people will find that familiarity with everyday software and the ability to learn quickly is just as valuable.
- Resilience. During the pandemic, all of us — employees and employers alike — have realized the importance of being adaptable. People who can pivot quickly in the face of change. People who can take on new challenges. You can call it a “soft skill,” but it’s really critical. What that looks like depends on the individual, but it comes down to taking responsibility for getting things done, whether or not that’s in the job description.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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 would’ve loved to have had lunch with Maya Angelou. She’s no longer on this earth, but her influence remains in my life as I learn more about her, her success, and how she navigated life.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
Maybe not my work personally — but if you head to www.goodwillcfl.org, you can learn about all our resources and programs in Central Florida, and how you can get involved!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.