[Podcast] Future Trends in Workforce and Education | Maher & Maher
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Future Trends in Workforce and Education, the Age of Disruption

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In this 30-minute episode, host Rick Maher is joined by Emily Stover DeRocco, CEO/Principal at E3 consulting, who shares her thoughts on trends that are impacting the workforce and education systems, and the need for all systems to become nimbler and more responsive. Emily shares insights on what a future workforce might look like, and some of the key features that the next generation of workforce participants are looking for in a job or career. She also reveals some of the changes that will be necessary in the educational system to keep up with disruption.

Episode Guest List:

Emily Stover DeRocco is the Founder and CEO of a Washington, D.C.-based consulting practice focused on linking education, workforce, and economic development assets for competitive advantage.

Prior to her leadership in U.S. manufacturing, DeRocco was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Assistant Secretary of Labor in 2001. In that position, DeRocco was responsible for managing a $10 billion investment in the nation’s workforce. She created and implemented regional economic development initiatives in 39 regions across the nation during her tenure, using talent development strategies to drive competitive advantage for America’s businesses. Her responsibilities included implementation of Trade Adjustment Assistance for displaced workers, alternative educational pathways for the nation’s youth, the permanent and temporary foreign labor certification programs for employment-based immigration, the national apprenticeship program, and workforce development programs nationwide. She created and led Presidential initiatives to align education, economic development, and workforce development investments and to increase the capacity of the nation’s community college system.

You can connect with and follow Ms. DeRocco on LinkedIn.

Full Transcript of this episode:

Announcer:     00:03   Welcome to Talent Talks. Each month, human resources veteran Rick Maher welcomes America's thought leaders to discuss ways to reinvent America's talent development and education systems. Tune in and discover how we can drive global competitiveness for future generations. Talent Talks is presented by Maher & Maher and IMPAQ International, who together are delivering research and evidence-based solutions to workforce challenges. And now your host, Rick Maher.

Rick Maher:     00:34   Okay, hello again, and welcome to Talent Talks. We're so appreciative of you taking the time to join us as we explore the world of talent development with some of our nation's most prominent experts. Today's guest is Emily Stover DeRocco, CEO and Principal of E3 Consulting. Emily is a proud alumni of Penn State University, go Nittany Lions. Georgetown Law as well. She's a recognized national expert in economic and talent development strategies, and really among our nation's most sought-after thought leaders in this space. She served in both the Reagan and Bush administrations, in the latter as the Assistant Secretary for Labor for Employment and Training. Put simply, Emily is a force of nature in workforce development. She pushes the environment, not afraid to make us a little uncomfortable at times as she asks us to find new and better ways of serving customers. Personally, for me, she's a friend and a mentor. It seems like every time we talk, Emily, I learn something new, and I know our listeners are going to have that same experience. Thanks so much for being with us today, and welcome to Talent Talks, Emily.

Emily DeRocco:           01:48   Thanks so much Rick. It's always a pleasure and a lot of fun to talk with you. I too always learn something from the conversation. So, let's have at it.

Rick Maher:     01:58   Let's go for it. I marvel, looking at you from afar and watching your travels, it seems you get around a bit, from the Bush administration to a steady stream of projects, associations, organizations. Tell us quickly, what's new, Emily? What are you up to these days?

Emily DeRocco:           02:17   Well, I can say I'm accumulating a lot of frequent flier miles these days. I'm into three very interesting and quite frankly intersecting areas of workforce development, so let me just tell you quickly about those.

Emily DeRocco:           02:33   My first is I'm continuing to direct the National Network of Business and Industry Associations for Business Roundtable, and as you know that's 26 national trade or sector organizations that are laser-focused on developing an educated and skilled workforce.

Emily DeRocco:           02:52   My second initiative is really serving on the Australian Minister of Defense's Naval Shipbuilding Advisory Board. This really is the Australian government's audacious national enterprise to design and build new fleets of future submarines and future frigates, and guess what, they have to build a workforce necessary to be successful in this national endeavor. I am their workforce board member.

Emily DeRocco:           03:23   The third is I work as Education and Workforce Director for the Detroit-based Manufacturing Innovation Institute. There are nine DOD-funded Innovation Institutes around the country today. We are focused in Detroit on the defense and commercial transportation sectors.

Emily DeRocco:           03:43   As you can tell, I'm still firmly planted in the education and workforce development world.

Rick Maher:     03:49   Well, some things never change, and no doubt on the bleeding edge of what's new and important. I'm going to give you every opportunity to share as much of that as we can here in the next 20 or 30 minutes.

Rick Maher:     04:03   I'm interested, Emily, every time something starts to change in the world, I always look up and see 'What's she doing about this?' So, as I'm reading and watching what's going on in the world, and there's a lot going on obviously, I keep reading about people talk about the fourth industrial revolution and this new ... I read a thing the other day called The Age of Disruption that we're in. Obviously in the news every day we're in global wars of trade, and with that what we call a global talent war, right, the race to build the best talent development and education systems. It seems like there's just a lot of really disruptive kinds of language, a call to arms. I mean what exactly does all this mean to us? I mean what has changed, both really on the demand and the supply sides, that we need to pay attention to, and how should that be shaping the way we as workforce development education professionals are thinking about the future of workforce development?

Emily DeRocco:           05:05   Wow, those are huge questions, Rick, but let me give it a shot. I like to think quite frankly that these are extraordinary and challenging times in many respects, because of the prominence of workforce development on the national agenda, and I've waited a long time to see that prominence.

Rick Maher:     05:26   Me too.

Emily DeRocco:           05:26   This is our moment, right. This really is our moment to bring some bold and dramatic change. You mentioned the industrial revolution. Clearly the infusion of technology in all sectors of our economy, and virtually all workplaces, that has changed the way employers address both talent acquisition and talent development. I believe firmly that we have moved from a knowledge economy where the aggregation of knowledge was really the goal and the key, to a performance economy where employers want to be sure their workers can apply that knowledge. That's a very dramatic change on the demand side in what they're looking for from their workforce.

Emily DeRocco:           06:15   Then on the supply side or the characteristics of our young and incoming workforce, they've changed dramatically too. The stability and the salary and bonuses that were so important to we Boomers, according to the research and experience, those are not so important drivers for the younger Millennials and the Generation Zs, who want to make a contribution in their work. They want to continue to learn on the job every day. Quite frankly, we believe they're looking more for challenging projects for a year, versus a job or career for a lifetime. I would call this young workforce participants the disruptors that we really need to understand and then begin to educate and employ them differently.

Rick Maher:     07:08   Wow. It's so interesting. As I talk to people that I work with every day, we're all as managers and executives trying to figure these people out and trying to get them to conform to us, and I'm hearing you say basically maybe it's not they that need to conform. Maybe they have the right attitude for this new kind of age of disruption, and maybe we need to figure out how to align and best leverage them, right.

Emily DeRocco:           07:34   I think that's absolutely right. We're going to be putting together talent packages in order to successfully complete projects in a much more agile and flexible way than employers who employed individuals for 30 years and just expected them to advance on a progression of both learning and working. I think there is huge opportunity for this entrepreneurial instinct and independence of the younger workforce to begin to drive how we think about engaging them in our work and employing them, recognizing that that might not be for a lifetime career anymore, but seeing that as our opportunity to really find and employ members of the workforce who are much deeper in their skills and knowledge and their agility to adapt to changing times, and particularly new technologies, so that really means for our education and workforce development system and/or participants.

Emily DeRocco:           08:41   Some of the things we need to change in that regard are, number one, moving aggressively to competency-based education versus seat-time-based education. This relates directly to that performance economy I talked about, and you understanding what knowledge, skills and ability individuals can put to work in a workplace, or broadly in the economy.

Emily DeRocco:           09:05   A second change that I think we have to drive is ensuring that our education or learning pathways and our workforce development programs are demand-driven. We've talked about this for a lot of years, you and I, but that is critically important that business and industry really lead the way to the employment opportunities that they are making available.

Emily DeRocco:           09:32   Another aspect of this that I've become a huge advocate for is in incorporating we call 'work and learn opportunities' along the entire educational spectrum, from K12 to community and technical colleges and universities. It is really important that students in learning pathways have the opportunity to work in workplaces and acquire the employability skills as well as the performance capability against the knowledge they're acquiring. Front and center on the national agenda these days is we talk about expanding the model of apprenticeship, right.

Rick Maher:     10:11   Absolutely. Yup.

Emily DeRocco:           10:14   Then finally, the big change, which is not new to you or to me, is the importance of linking economic development, education and workforce development in regional economies, what I call 'boots on the ground,' because it is there where we can create the ecosystem that will allow us to engage, educate and employ individuals, as ultimately that's our goal.

Rick Maher:     10:39   I got to tell you, some of what I'm listening to you here talk about, it sounds a little bit like WIRED to me, Emily. I believe that I'm having flashback. My eye is twitching here, remembering the early days when I first heard you say demand-driven. Frankly, most of the people in our system didn't know what it meant, and that wasn't that long ago. How do you sit there and reflect on the history of Wired and how it relates to all of what you just started to unpack there?

Emily DeRocco:           11:09   Well, it does seem like a lifetime ago to me. For those who might not recognize that term, WIRED, it was our major initiative in the Bush administration. It meant Workforce Innovation and Regional Economic Development, and we were just bold enough to believe and then to act on the premise that talent was the single most important asset that we could develop in any regional economy to both keep and attract job creators and new jobs, meaning improving the quality of life in those regional economies. So yeah, those changes that I articulated a moment ago were pretty much what we tested in WIRED, and certainly we learned a lot in that initiative all across the country. I do believe they define what we need to look for in our workforce, work and system today.

Rick Maher:     12:07   And not coincidentally, by the way, I note that most of those things that are keeping you busy, that you talked about at the front end of this discussion, were sector-based kinds of partnerships, the concepts of which were piloted in WIRED. Everything old is new again, and again I keep reminding myself, it isn't that old. I mean we haven't been at this that long, and while we have a lot of progress to make, Emily, there's been a lot of progress made as well, in part due to the piloting that happened back in those days with WIRED.

Emily DeRocco:           12:40   I think that's very true. But I also, particularly when I talk with so many of our colleagues in these fields of education and workforce development, our partners whether they sit on workforce boards or it what we call the one-step career centers, or in the continuum of education, we all know the rhetoric around demand-driven regional economic focus, and the important sector relationships and public/private partnerships. I just want to say two things before we get too complacent. Because we know the rhetoric doesn't mean there's any room for complacency, because the fact of the matter is, for example public workforce investment system, it really needs to be much more of a private/public partnership than a public/private partnership. The strength of the private sector engagement is not at all clear in that system as it stands today, and the public sector is clearly still setting the rules. That's one of the things I think we have to be bold enough to figure out how to change. Demand-driven really does mean putting the job creators in charge, not asking them to sit on a board that meets every quarter of the year.

Emily DeRocco:           14:03   The other thing is speed, agility and flexibility are not inherently governmental traits. You and I both know that, everybody knows that. Yeah, it's still the government that in large measures, administers our resources and the methods quite frankly that we use to develop our workforce and to educate our population. So, I'm still a little bit of ... I'm willing to have some controversial discussions about how much or how little government needs to play in these systems going forward, if we are to be successful in really making them all that they can be.

Speaker 1:       14:48   You're listening to Talent Talks, presented by Maher & Maher and IMPAQ International, who together provide research and evidence-based solutions integral to planning, developing and managing America's workforce development system. For more information on what is being done to position America's workers, employers and communities for future prosperity, sign up for our newsletter at mahernet.com/talenttalks. That's M-A-H-E-R-N-E-T.com/talenttalks.

Rick Maher:     15:23   Yeah, I mean I hear you loud and clear. I think some of our listeners, probably some of us in government, would agree with you as well, right. But in everything that you're talking about, until your idea here of while you're willing to recognize some improvement, you caution against complacency. I mean that brings me to something that's near and dear to me. I mean I keep thinking with all the change that we've seen in our work here in this country, and with all the changes we see, I mean literally we are in a global race here. We're talking about, in terms of trying to develop talent, it's happening around the globe. Global competitors have figured out that talent is the new differentiator, and he who gets the best talent wins the war. Everybody is in this race to figure it all out and to get better and to do it fast, and we're in this potentially disruptive, competitive, challenging environment.

Rick Maher:     16:26   It seems to me that our system just needs to get a whole lot more nimble, and really fast. I'd just love to hear your thoughts, if you were say, "Emily, you know, what does the future workforce system look like? What should our system leaders be focused on now, and how do they need to behave in order to fashion this future system that can compete and win in this global economy?"

Emily DeRocco:           16:57   Well, I'm not sure I have all the answers again to that really big system question that you raised. As you know, during our tenure, inside government we tried very hard to make substantial changes in the government side of business, and that's just more difficult than it sounds. I guess my thoughts would be for characteristics of a future successful approach or enterprise, number one, I am a huge believer in the fact that the job market exists in regional economies and that talent development should really be focused in regional economies. People might be questioning: well how is that different than the workforce investment areas today or what we do today? Well, we are totally constrained by geographic boundaries and it isn't the geography of our counties or our states even that really define a regional economy, and in that region what the labor market can and should look like.

Emily DeRocco:           18:02   So we have to figure out how to get a regional economic focus. Quite frankly, we need probably some new people and probably folks who can change, so that they are looking at workforce development through an economic lens. We have not traditionally brought a lot of economic experts into the workforce preparation or education [inaudible 00:18:29]. They tend to come more from the social services side of our economy. But in order to understand what is needed in workforce preparation, what knowledge, skills and abilities are in fact in demand, it really isn't good enough to be able to read BLS data. You really have to understand what is happening in the economy and in that region, what are the legacy, emerging industries to which you aspire to bring into your economy, so aspirational industries, in order to be able to both define your workforce development, vision and your strategies. I think we have to put that economic lens on this, not a social services lens.

Emily DeRocco:           19:20   I spoke earlier about competency-based education. I am a huge proponent of competency-based education, and yet in this country we still really are married to seat-time-based education, if you think about it. It is K12, plus 2, plus 4, or parents of university students would say plus 6. [inaudible 00:19:45] think in seat-time-based mode, we still in many, many locations have our educational system pegged to what was an agricultural system calendar, when we're in a performance-based economy. Our classrooms in many cases are from the industrial economy when we're in a knowledge- and performance-based economy. We haven't changed our thinking around learning, to assure that individuals are gaining the competencies required to be effective participants in today's 21st century economy.

Emily DeRocco:           20:25   Then the other thing I also have mentioned previously is this concept of work and learn. I happen to believe that we have to marry our thinking and our systematic approaches to and the opportunity for every individual at every level of preparation or education in our country, we have to marry the concepts of work and learn so that they understand how to apply the knowledge they're gaining and apply that in a way that is gratifying to them as individuals in terms of their contribution, but is also productive in the course of some employment and has the ability to contribute broadly to the nation's economic strength, and that will lead to our national security as well.

Emily DeRocco:           21:17   Those are big-ticket items, but those are the things I would be looking for in the future.

Rick Maher:     21:22   Well, you know what, we are in a disruptive age, and it's going to take big-ticket thinking to live and to win in that age, because not everybody is going to be confined to tweaking what we've done in the past, all right. If we're up against disruptors, we need to be a little willing to be disruptive ourselves. It sounds like from your answer, if I could paraphrase what I just heard from you, and I think you did a great job crystallizing really big issues in a few thoughts, one, get really data-driven based on regional economies, not political jurisdictions, regional economies. Then two, get really competency-based in our understanding of the performance economy you're speaking of, and frankly be willing to really reform some of our educational system to be more competency- not seat-time-based, aligned to what employers need, and frankly integrated into technologies and methodologies like work and learn. And that doesn't sound like the September, beginning of the semester, four years and then I get a job, kind of educational system. It sounds like we've got some disruptive work to do, right?

Emily DeRocco:           22:38   Absolutely. So important now when this is our moment to begin to innovate in workforce development and in education. One of the things I was fond of saying during our WIRED days as we counseled ... We actually left a lot of money with our WIRED partners in regional economies, got them started on the development of their vision and strategies, and made it clear what the metrics were going to be, what they were going to be judged on, but then from my government position at that time, my advice to them was always, "Now, proceed until apprehended, because we will always be too slow to catch you." We wanted them to be bold, we wanted them to disrupt the systems, we wanted them to innovate, and many did. As I said, it was a learning experience, but now more than ever I would call upon our colleagues in education and workforce development again to not be bound by what we've done in the past, and proceed until apprehended, and otherwise, see the possibilities in the future.

Rick Maher:     23:53   I love it. Emily, you know this because we've done it for years, I could talk all day. But I've got to honor your schedule and our listeners' time. We've talked really big-ticket stuff here, all of which needed to happen, and you're the right person to explore big ticket things with, so honestly, I'll have to say I did that intentionally. But as we move to close here, maybe you can distill this down for the folks that are listening here today, not all of whom have the standing to change everything at once. If our listeners are walking away from today and they're looking for one, two, three things they can do leaving here to start on their journey of disruption if you will, you got anything to offer them? What are the three things somebody might walk away with from this conversation?

Emily DeRocco:           24:45   Well, I probably would tell them the three things I do with every new contract or consultation activity that I pursue for a region for a governor, or in the case of Australia for a nation.

Emily DeRocco:           24:58   Number one, I start by studying. None of us really know the regional economy in which we reside. It's a legacy emerging in aspirational industries, the demographics of the current and future workforce. We think we know that because we look at a lot of black and white data that somebody hands to us, but this is more than relying on that data. This is really getting to know the community or the region in which you are going to work. So, number one is just study hard and gain that depth of knowledge.

Emily DeRocco:           25:35   The second is become a convening expert. By that I mean, even the workforce board to envision, they were supposedly inclusive of many stakeholders and some truly are, but others have never achieved that vision. I think the table around workforce development and education has to be said, it's a very big table, and in order to really create the best vision and strategies for your workforce in any area, it has to include and probably not be limited to business and industry, organizations and individual company representatives, economic development organizations, education at all levels, other learning providers that are nontraditional, philanthropy, state and local government, community and faith-based organizations. You hear me, the list goes on, but they all need to be there, they all need to invest in the vision and strategies and they all need to participate. Otherwise it becomes a win/lose proposition within the regional economy, and that doesn't benefit anyone. The convening power is huge and it's hard. It is not an easy job.

Rick Maher:     26:51   Yes, it is hard work, you're right. Yup.

Emily DeRocco:           26:53   It's very hard work. And last ... The third, it's certainly not last, there are probably 30 of these points as opposed to 3, Rick, but the third that I would emphasize again is now is the time to move beyond the traditional institutions and methods of learning. We have a world-class education system in this country, don't get me wrong, and I still believe reform is necessary in that system, but what excites me are the advances I'm seeing in learning options, again largely driven by technology. Things like virtual reality and digital twinning, those offer extraordinary portfolios of workforce preparation models and methods that we're just beginning to test, and they are the kinds of models and methods that excite the younger generations that are our including workforce. So, I want to see that innovation parsed very quickly by those of us who are looking to create a more effective and efficient system.

Rick Maher:     28:02   That's awesome. You're right, there are 30 or 300 things, but those 3 things, study the date, learn your regional economy, connect to employers, get to be great at convening, and then innovate and reform around all of the options in our educational system, technology-based and otherwise, those are 3 great things for people to focus on. Until we get you here again someday to opine, and we'll move to the next list of things, but that's a great place to leave our conversation.

Rick Maher:     28:37   Emily, I just got to tell you, I love always talking to you. Again, I always learn something. I know that you're busy, so I wanted to thank you again for your time and talent. I know our listeners appreciate the opportunity to peel the onion and get inside your head. If they wanted to follow you or get more information about what you're doing or track you, where in the world is Emily, how would they connect with you outside of today?

Emily DeRocco:           29:05   I would just encourage anyone to find me on LinkedIn. I am extremely good at networking through LinkedIn and in-person relationships being built around this topic where we have passion and camaraderie and both a willingness and a desire to make it better. So, I'll see you all on LinkedIn.

Rick Maher:     29:27   That's great. Again, thank you, Emily. To our listeners, until next time at Talent Talks, this is Rick Maher thanking you for listening and reminding you that at Talent Talks we hope to explore, inform and inspire you, because we are all actors in a global war for talent. One where talent is seen as a new global currency, and where the one with the best talent will be the victor in global prosperity. We hope we've inspected you to take a risk, to make a difference. We hope you'll dare to be great, as Emily says, to proceed until apprehended. Break something, make it better, try, fail, but for God's sakes fail fast and try again. Thanks again for listening, have a great day, we'll see you next month on Talent Talks.

Announcer:      30:13   Thank you for listening to Talent Talks, presented my Maher & Maher and IMPAQ International. For more information on what is being done to position America's workers, employers and communities for future prosperity, sign up for our newsletter at mahernet.com/talenttalks. That's M-A-H-E-R-N-E-T.com/talenttalks.

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