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Preparing For The Future Of Work: Sandra Slager of MindEdge Learning On The Top Five Trends To Watch In The Future Of Work

An Interview with Phil La Duke

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — More and more companies are recognizing the need for proper oversight regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organization. The lack of comment about a company’s policies on DEI speak volumes to incoming applicants and new hires. Employers are well served to add DEI-focused leadership to ensure the voices of all staff are heard, and all hiring and HR practices are free of bias.

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 Sandy Slager.

Sandy Slager is President of Skye Learning and COO of MindEdge Learning. Ms. Slager works closely with the new business, editorial, and technology teams to ensure the smooth delivery of MindEdge systems and programs for both higher education and professional development segments. As President of Skye Learning, Ms. Slager is the strategic leader selling credit-based courses, certificates, and certification exam prep to new workforce entrants and mid-career workers interested in upskilling and reskilling. Ms. Slager is a writer focusing on the importance of effective business communications in negotiations, management, and leadership. As a twin mom, she also enjoys discussing the parallel structure between parenting and management, as new parents re-enter the workforce.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. 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?

I was born and raised in Massachusetts, and attended college in upstate New York for my bachelor’s degree in applied math. After starting a career in financial services in Boston, I quickly drew toward a more entrepreneurial work environment and joined MindEdge as employee number 4 in 1999. Edtech was a fledgling concept then, and over the last 23 years I helped design MindEdge’s business model, build its early-stage products, manage the architecture of our technical systems, and strategically scale our staff. Currently, I’m MindEdge’s Chief Operating Officer and the President of Skye Learning, our direct-to-consumer web presence. After all this time in business, the experience that has most shaped my current self is being a parent to twin girls. They teach me constantly about what’s most important, like making sure your career doesn’t become your identity.

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 expect employers will need to adjust to a much more demanding and global workforce in the coming years. Employees expect their employers to reflect on values, such as their company’s impact on climate change, the representation of minority groups in leadership, the flexibility of work arrangements, or the ways the industry itself evolves. The pandemic and the great resignation that followed demonstrated the power of the employee and employers must recognize, accept, and embrace this power to survive and to thrive.

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?

It’s true that college degrees are becoming questionable in value relative to the student loan debt many students incur. In Skye Learning’s 2019 survey about work confidence, 52% of certification holders responded that certifications were more valuable than their formal college degrees in terms of one’s ability to perform their jobs successfully. Young people need to properly pair their career goals with what that industry may prefer or require to ensure their efforts are meaningful. Seeking a state college education and being educated within your financial means is a first step toward recognizing this shift, while also being mindful that many jobs do require a college degree.

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?

Job seekers will likely find more skills-based hiring in the coming years, which is a shift from the way a resume is currently structured. Job seekers should capture their prior work experiences in terms of the skills mastered, and strive to fill any skill gaps that might prevent them from their dream job with training. This growth mindset related to one’s professional journey is critical to staying current, staying positive, and staying employed over the length of a career.

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?

There will always be a need for uniquely human skills in the framework of a fully functioning world marketplace and economy. If workers want to future-proof their careers they can do so by shoring up those softer skills, which include critical thinking, creativity, leadership, and teamwork. Hard skills such as driving, using a cash register, and even warehouse tasks are low hanging fruit in terms of automation. In addition to sharpening soft skills, employees can focus attention on skills that are more difficult to automate and in high demand, such as computer programming, data analysis, digital marketing, cybersecurity, project management, and of course healthcare, which is projected to grow 16% from 2020 to 2030. Further, MindEdge’s 2021 fourth annual future of work report found that the global pandemic has accelerated the use of advanced automation in the American workplace. A majority (52%) of survey respondents report that their companies have increased the use of robotics or other forms of advanced automation in direct response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

According to MindEdge’s 2021 survey, half of employees want the remote work trend to continue in perpetuity. Depending on the industry and the impacts of remote work on the productivity of staff, I suspect remote work, especially in a hybrid environment, is here to stay.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

I suspect the biggest societal change necessary to support the changing world of work will be an acceptance that childcare is a very real and significant issue for many working parents. Parents have had a small taste of a flexible work schedule that might allow them to pick up their kids from school, pay less for after school programming, and even be consistently present at dinner time. But is society ready to admit that parents need ongoing and permanent flexibility from their employers?

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?

For any employers who must have staff working in person, or who are asking staff to return to in-person work, I think the biggest struggle will be with vaccination policies and CDC guidelines related to minimizing the spread of COVID-19. The data suggest now that COVID-19 is unlikely to go away in any real sense. Vaccinations and spread prevention protocols will help contain the virus, and corporate management will be in uncharted waters as they enforce such protocols across their organizations. President Biden just mandated that all employers with more than 100 employees must require them to get vaccinated or get tested for the virus weekly. Meanwhile, I suspect employees’ most difficult change could be any shift back to in-person work. Commuting to an office, to many workers, feels like a major inconvenience after getting settled into this new remote routine. If hybrid work becomes the norm over the long-term, employees will have another major adjustment: managing a changing work reality on a day-to-day basis.

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?

It’s true that the pandemic has revealed significant social shortfalls, such as childcare, social isolation, equitable pay, and access to affordable healthcare. Employers can, in some cases, contribute to the solutions to these issues by allowing flexible working hours, fostering the feelings of community among staff, drafting and enforcing equitable pay policies, and of course ensuring that staff have access to the healthcare they need. However, workers in the gig economy are outside of these solutions. According to Statista, almost 65 million workers in America worked freelance in 2020. Employers will likely need to be a focus of the Labor Secretary to ensure these freelancers are getting the compensation and benefits they deserve.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I believe optimism comes from within. There is always a dark side of the moon. But if you’re looking for it, the future of work has disruptive innovation, creative solutions, meaningful change for work life balance, and significant employee-driven industry changes for more socially responsible corporations with more diverse leaders. I feel optimistic about all of these movements.

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?

While it’s difficult for me to address the employment gap on a macro scale, I do feel that training and education are often necessary to bring employment from one field that may be losing jobs to another market that may be growing. MindEdge’s goal has always been to help keep workers relevant in their market or reskill them to be successful in another. Of course, it’s up to the workers themselves to seek this training, to understand their industry, and to pair these with their abilities and interests.

Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Automation

All employers need to look for ways to automate processes, whether the motivation is to cut costs, improve precision, or stay ahead of technological advances. Automation will continue to be a major theme in the future of work in the coming decades.

2. Flexible work arrangements

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the need for flexible work arrangements related specifically to childcare needs and employee mental health. Employers will face decisions about how their staff work best and what the company will require about work locations and schedules. In the face of hybrid or dynamic work arrangements, companies will begin hiring heads of dynamic work to ensure leadership is considering all work arrangements in their policies and strategic decisions.

3. Skills-based hiring

College degrees are already being packaged with hard certification-based skills that graduates can use immediately after graduation. Employers will see a shift toward skills-based hiring more so in the coming years, evaluating applicants and staff for the skills they can demonstrate they have, over the college degree they may have earned.

4. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

More and more companies are recognizing the need for proper oversight regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organization. The lack of comment about a company’s policies on DEI speak volumes to incoming applicants and new hires. Employers are well served to add DEI-focused leadership to ensure the voices of all staff are heard, and all hiring and HR practices are free of bias.

5. Carbon neutrality

Corporate America’s role in climate change is undeniable, and corporations will be asked to step up their game in carbon neutrality in the coming years. If not by governmental regulations, then likely by consumers and employees.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” This quote is credited to Oprah Winfrey, but I’ve heard it from others as well. Sometimes life is completely random, and luck is very real. But more often, success in life takes preparation and practice. Every day I remind myself that life is not about perfection, but about progress. So that when an opportunity presents itself, you’re just scared enough to know it’s worth it, but not so scared to believe you can’t achieve it.

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 love to sit down with Gloria Steinem, the mother of feminism, to talk about her fight for women’s rights going all the way back to the 1960s. As a mother of daughters who truly believe at 6 years old that they can do or be anything, I have a deep appreciation for the life’s work of Gloria Steinem.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandydiodati/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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