Tech is NOT the challenge, CHANGE is.

A NewCo Shift Forum Conversation

Developing the Workforce of the Future

This February, I was invited to be a part of NewCo Shift Forum, the incredible brainchild of thought leader and change catalyst John Batelle. My role was to lead a group discussion on my passion — how people need to adapt to be relevant and valuable in the future.

My group consisted of experts in Artificial Intelligence, Educational Reform, Biotechnology, Social Change, Blockchain and Bitcoin, and Tech Talent Development. We also had a Futurist and a University student. Although diverse in industry and racial background, there was only one man at the table.

This is the question I posed to my group:

Beyond learning tech skills, how do we need to adapt to be competitive in a rapidly changing future?

Below are 5 highlights and 3 conclusions from the discussion, which may help illustrate why The Future of Work warrants, and is getting, the attention of world leaders from all industries:

Conversation Highlights

1. A new set of skills are needed in the future.

Globalization and digitization of work is changing the skill sets we need to develop to be valuable to employers. Amazon’s Leadership Principles, Googles Leadership Principles, and the World Economic Forum’s Top 10 most needed skills in 2020 all reflect a similar set of core skills.

What are they? In a 2012 Ted Talk (yes we have been talking about this for a while), Tony Wagner did a great job outlining 7 traits most needed by companies of the future:

- 1 — Critical thinking and problem-solving

- 2 — Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

- 3 — Agility and adaptability

- 4 — Initiative and entrepreneurialism

- 5 — Effective oral and written communication

- 6 — Accessing and analyzing information

- 7 — Curiosity and imagination

Why these skills? Because many of them are skills that computers struggle with, but humans are uniquely capable of doing. Although there was some disagreement on how adept machines would become at filling our emotional shoes as well as our intellectual shoes, most at the table agreed it’s our human skills that will be most valuable in the future.

2. We aren’t teaching these skills

Although you could argue that our schools teach skills #1, 5, 6, and possibly 7, our culture and educational system fails to develop the others. Instead, our educational system reinforces a belief that our time for learning, growing and producing is finite, that it is bad to fail, and you should do only as you are told. It’s difficult to keep pace with change with these attitudes.

During our discussion, it was pointed out that if hiring managers continue to look for the traditional candidates, Universities hands are tied. They have to continue delivering candidates with more traditional college experiences and competencies. Consequently, the entrance requirements at these schools don’t change, which forces K-12 schools to stick to their old standards for performance. The demand for change has to come from the top as well as the bottom, and all have to work together.

3. We aren’t hiring for these skills

Most at the table were in agreement — we are still blinded by old ideas of what a successful employee looks like. Most of us look for someone who looks like us, has been to the best schools, received the best grades and has all of the technical skill knowledge needed for a particular job.

Some more progressive companies are beginning to understand the disconnect. Much of Amazon’s and Google’s hiring processes, culture and internal structures are designed to cultivate the new skills listed below and weed out old attitudes. Additionally, we are seeing hiring tools like Koru offers that help companies get around personal bias and hire for the actual traits that are needed to be successful in a job.

However, I can testify even progressive Amazon’s recruiters are susceptible to age old biases and beliefs we have about who is a “great hire.” My own clients have experienced this as they watched attitudes / reactions to them change as certain pieces of information was revealed. Recruiting friends have also regaled me with tales of conversations behind closed doors where hiring managers ask the recruiters to hire for specific physical traits! Because these hiring managers pay the bills, the traditional stereotypical “perfect candidate” continues to be selected more than others.

4. Millennials Get It and GenXrs / Traditionalists Don’t

Several people noted that millennials will look for different candidates than older generations. They look for fit and an attitude towards self-directed learning and a growth mindset, believing that if they have a candidate has the right attitude, they can learn whatever they need to learn. Since the world comes to them on their screens more today than it ever has, it’s believed that millennials were more welcoming of diversity and wanted to see the values they held reflected both in the companies and individuals with whom they worked. It was also noted that millennials, having grown up in a world where technology was always a part of their world, they believe that tech skills can easily be learned on the job.

In comparison, it was noted that GenXrs and Traditionalists place much more emphasis on the skills, school and education a candidate comes in with. They held traditional views about the quality and attributes of a candidate and wanted them to come in being an expert in the field in which they will be working. It was believed that since GenXrs and Traditionalists didn’t grow up with technology in their lives, they saw tech as being more of a challenge, something you had to intentionally focus on learning.

5. Humans Do Not Handle Change Well, But We Must Learn To

I speak frequently with people about the impact technology is having on core philosophies about work and how you need to shift the way you think to be relevant tomorrow. This idea is often challenging for anyone older than 30 to understand because they feel competent and secure in what they are doing today, and believe that to remain relevant all you need to do is keep up with the latest technology. The more confident someone is in their expertise, the harder it is for them to change. In my work, I have seen that the hardest part of learning to be relevant in the future is not learning new tech skills, it’s learning the skills needed to thrive in change — letting go of what we know and opening to new ways of thinking.

This observation was at the foundation of the question I asked to the group. Reinventing your career, forcing you to start at the bottom, after reaching an age where all norms claim you are “done learning” and “should be THE expert”, attacks our sense of self-worth and our belief in the meaningfulness of our lives, igniting fear and resistance in even the most open minded.

Discussion resulted in some confusion and then understanding, as stories emerged of the struggles companies have had with getting employees to change. “People don’t want to change, so they eventually just leave or are let go.”

Where do they go is the question. Perhaps they can find another company before it has transitioned to a new way of working, but eventually the call to change will ring again.

What does this mean? It means that GenXrs and Traditionalists that won’t embrace change will struggle to find a job soon…many already are.

My Conclusions

1. Education and Hiring Practices are Outdated

The skills needed to thrive in the future are very different than the skills colleges currently develop, and most hiring managers currently recruit. Like many systems that have failed to keep up with the pace of technology, the talent management pipeline is broken. It continues to produce and deliver top candidates as defined by generations old standards for performance. Unfortunately, these standards for performance no longer map to what employers need to remain competitive in this rapidly changing world, whether they are aware of it yet or not.

Forward thinking companies like Google and Amazon have very intentional hiring practices aimed at letting in only those people with the capacity to flex with change. If you are too set in your ways, take pride in your title rather than your results, or are focused more on salary than the work you do, you won’t get in. Why? These are all indicators of people who see work as an identity rather than an incredible opportunity to make the most of life. What does that mean? It means you will place your own reputation before the reputation of the company, and you will choose to look successful over choosing the right decision for the business. It indicates you will choose your own advancement over the advancement of others. It means you will choose to avoid failure over the opportunity to learn. In short, it means you have a fixed mindset and struggle to hear other ideas — neither of these traits are going to cut it in a business world that demands innovation to remain competitive.

Job seekers, take note.

Lastly, our obsession with technology is not only blinding us from seeing the need to develop other skills, it’s also preventing us from developing the very human skills we need. Depression and suicide rates are dramatically on the rise in teens since the advent of smartphones because teens aren’t developing the human connections and the coping mechanisms (aka human skills) needed to navigate life while they are sucked into interacting on their phones.

2. Tech is not the issue, CHANGE is

Learning new technology is only a surface level approach to remaining relevant. The changes that are happening in our world go much deeper. They are changing our very belief systems and the way we engage in some of the most fundamental human behaviors — how we learn, work and communicate. These changes are changing our expectations for performance and behavior. However, very few people see this, because they are blinded by their focus on tech.

People of the GenX and Traditional, and even some of the older Millennial generations are struggling to keep up with new expectations for performance because the belief systems they grew up with are at direct odds with the belief systems of today. What am I talking about? Where we once believed that only perfect product should leave our desk, we now are encouraged to release imperfect product and iterate. Where we once believed we could reach a level of expertise and then be respected for decades as an authority, today experts are made novices by tech advancements daily. Where learning used to have a defined linear path, kids are jumping ahead sporadically thanks to the internet and an endless supply of learning and information. There are many ways beliefs have changed, you just need to #lookbeyond the tech to see it.

3. We need to be Change Masters

We are not fond of change, but we need to learn to love it. Most of us will only do it when the pain of not doing it is so great it feels as though we have no other choice. I’m not talking about the kind of change where you adopt a new clothing style or learn a new skill, adding it to your already impressive collection. I’m talking about the kind of change that asks you to make real alterations to the way you engage with the world, challenges your belief systems and forces you to see the world from a different perspective — the kind that feels a bit like pulling the rug out from under you.

Ever since the Lego movie, all I can think of is that we all need to become like the Master Builders — able to work with whatever pieces are thrown our way to create something AWESOME. We need to become Change Masters.

Final Thought

We are on the cusp of a very big problem — a large portion of the workforce won’t have the skills employers need. At the crux of this problem is this idea — humans fight change.

I don’t care how intelligent you are, how accomplished you are or what your title is. The chances that you are good at change are not in your favor. It’s in our biological make up to not want to disrupt everything in our lives. We like our rhythms, our patterns and our beliefs — they help us stay safe and function more efficiently in a confusing and seemingly threatening world.

However, to be valuable in the future, we need to get over our resistance to change.

Questions To Consider Still…

- How do we quickly assess for new skills? What metrics do we have / can we use?

- What competencies should we be measuring?

- How can we get business leaders, universities and K-12 school districts all aligned on the types of skills and mindsets we should be developing in preparation for employment?

- What kind of experiences develop the growth mindset that is so critical to future success?

- What can be done to help people thrive in change? Can we prepare them? (The answer is YES — reach out if you want to know more.)

I encourage you to start asking these questions with your teams and connections. Reach beyond your industry and collaborate.

This problem is so big, we will need each other to solve it.

Change Masters Unite!

“Can we change that? Yes we can!”

Check out…

General Take Aways and Lessons from NewCo Shift Forum 2018

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Julia Freeland is an entrepreneur and a catalyst for change. She has been pushing boundaries, and inspiring others to do the same, since she first discovered they were limiting her from getting to where she wanted to go. The antiquated perspective of what parents do when they step away from their careers to care for their children is one of those boundaries she is working to break. Interested in learning more about her passion for reinvention or just wondering how she inspires people to change? Please connect on LinkedIn or or follow her on Instagram @REvolveYOU.



Founder of Revolve You, creator of the Breakthrough Compass and author of the best-selling book “Take Your Shoes Off First”

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Julia Freeland

Founder of Revolve You, creator of the Breakthrough Compass and author of the best-selling book “Take Your Shoes Off First”