Predictions About the Future of Work: Technology, Trends, and the Role of Employers | Maher & Maher
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Predictions About the Future of Work: Technology, Trends, and the Role of Employers

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In this 32-minute episode, host Rick Maher is joined by Kristen Fyfe-Mills, Director of Marketing and Strategic Communications from the Association for Talent Development (ATD), as they discuss the report from ATD Research entitled “The Future of Work: Technology, Predictions, and Preparing the Workforce.” Discover the critical role that employers have in preparing for the future of work, and what workforce professionals can do today to begin to prepare for the workforce needs of tomorrow.

Episode Guest List:

Kristen Fyfe-MillsKristen Fyfe-Mills is the director of marketing and strategic communications for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). In her role, she works with an exceptionally capable ATD team to plan and execute marketing and strategic communication strategies on behalf of the association's business priorities. Kristen is a published author, coach, and speaker. She attended Northwestern University where she received a bachelor of science degree in radio-TV-film and a master’s degree in journalism.

Connect with Ms. Fyfe-Mills on Linkedin.

Full Transcript of this episode:

Narrator:             Welcome to Talent Talks, where 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:        Thanks for joining us today on Talent Talks. As we explore the world of talent development with our nation's most prominent thought leaders on workforce and educational issues, I've really been looking forward to today's podcast. We're continuing our exploration of the critical topic of the future of work, and I realize that some people think this is an overused term, but I'd respectfully disagree. I think the future of work may be a generational challenge to those of us in education and training and for those we serve for that matter. So it's a topic of conversation. I think that's critically important to all of our listeners and we're going to continue it a little bit today. So we're thrilled to welcome someone who has influence and perspective that perhaps few of us have. Kristen Fyfe-Mills joins us from the Association for Talent Development (ATD), perhaps the leading voice serving both government and the private sector in training and development. Today, ATD has been very forward leaning on the topic of the future of work and I love that they see the world from both sides, both public and private, which I think is important for our listeners. Kristen, welcome to Talent Talks.

Kristen F.:           Thank you. It is my pleasure to be with you, Rick.

Rick Maher:        Now. It's great. We really appreciate it, Kristen, and as ATD's director of marketing and strategic communications, I would guess that you're probably about the perfect person to tell our audience a bit about ATD. I think most will know you folks, but others may be a little bit less familiar with the organization and your mission, so could you just start us off by telling us just a bit about ATD, Kristen?

Kristen F.:           Sure. It's my pleasure. ATD, the Association for Talent Development; folks may have known us by our previous name, the American Society for Training and Development. We rebranded the organization in 2014. But we've been serving the learning and development space for more than 75 years. It initially started off focused very keenly on the petroleum industry back in 1943. Twelve training directors got together and thought to themselves, you know, there's more to this training thing than just standing up and teaching people stuff. We really need to come together and define best practices and move the field forward. So that was really kind of the initial heart of the organization and that remains our core guidepost today. So our mission is to create a world that works better, and we want to do that by empowering professionals to develop talent in the workplace. I think learning is the currency of success for organizations, and getting people into that head space where understanding that making the time to learn at work is important. The people that are facilitating that in organizations, public, private, nonprofit, for-profit, those are the folks that we support. So we are their kind of professional home, if you will, setting standards and competencies for what it means to be great at developing talent.

Rick Maher:        Well, and I'm not sure that your organization and its mission has ever been as important as it is today. Right? I mean, learning is kind of at the center of today's storm, but I suspect that not everyone knew you were representing government as well as the private sector. And I think it's important for our audience to understand. I mean, I've known ATD—not from 1947 or 43 whatever it was, but pretty close to that, Kristen—I've known you guys for a long time. When we spoke earlier, I was surprised, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was surprised to hear that you were so active in tackling the challenges of the future of work. You know, and I explained when we talked, you know, I've done a lot of reading now and I'm starting to get more literate on this subject and there's no shortage of punditry, right?

Rick Maher:        And as I explained to folks, as I read about the challenges facing us in the future of work, it seems like there's a spectrum of opinion, right? Like on the one end, I call it workplace Armageddon, you know, there's going to be hundreds of people left, not just unemployed but unemployable globally, displaced by technology and literally unable to find work. On the other side, there's the kind of an "Oh relax, there's nothing to see here" crowd that says, they said the same thing when the printing press and the railroad came in the first industrial revolution, and this is no different. Yes, some people be displaced, but new jobs will be created, you know, relax, everything's going to be fine. And then in the center of that, those extremes, I call it the "retraining crowd" who says, yeah, there'll be disruption, but a lot of people will be able to find jobs by switching sectors.

Rick Maher:        And really what it amounts to is just a lot of people are gonna need to be up-skilled and one estimate was 15% of America's workers. And I'm thinking to myself, well if that's middle ground, that's quite a disruption, right? So I know you guys are, you know, have been really into this future of work research at a level beyond my capacity. So does that, does that spectrum of punditry kind of make any sense to you, Kristen, and where on that spectrum does ATD reside? What are you guys thinking about the future of work?

Kristen F.:           Yeah, I think that you are spot on in the spectrum and it's like with all things, right? It's very rarely in the far fringes; truth is usually a both/and. So I think that in some sectors we would say that yes, the disruption is going to be more than anybody can imagine, and that there will be a lot of people who have to get into new jobs. And in some sectors, there will be probably less disruption. I would say that when you look on those uniquely human skills that machines will not be able to do, in the sectors where that is more of what's needed, perhaps the disruption isn't quite as severe. But from our perspective, I think what we're looking at is, the pace of change is just astounding, right?

Kristen F.:           You know, from a technology perspective, you look at mergers and acquisitions and entire companies just vanishing because they weren't preparing for what the future would hold. It is the role, we believe, of people in the training space, the talent development professionals, to help organizations get their heads around what the future is going to require and to start preparing for it. Now the rub is that what we also hear from our members, again across all industries and sectors, is that, so I have to fix the skills gap that we have now. And my boss also wants me to figure out how to solve for skills that we don't even know what those look like yet. So it's the here and now and it's the future. And, the balance there is really important. But we do see a lot of organizations that are taking a hard look at this future of work idea and devoting real resources to help figure out what it looks like to be successful in the future and what skills are going to be needed. And then building the training programs around that. But that helped get the organization and the people there.

Rick Maher:        And that's why I want to talk to you, why I think you're an important guest for our listeners, Kristen, because I think on the public side, speaking for workforce folks for instance, that I've spoken to, they face the same challenge. I mean they don't know what's coming, and they seem to be so focused and busy on the challenge in front of them today. It's hard for them to even find the mental space, the capacity to think about the future. But as you point out, they need to, because the future's coming and it's coming at us fast. So you know, that's why this conversation is really, really important. When I look at the spectrum of work you guys have done—and you called out this one report to me that I want to commend to our listeners, the ATD research report entitled "The Future of Work: Technology, Predictions, and Preparing the Workforce." It's just an awesome resource. I thought it was amazing. It sums up your thoughts about the future of work, but also digs into practical advice about what folks should be doing now, which I get as really, really, really important. Tell us about the report just a little bit, Kristen, and maybe sum up some of the key findings and recommendations you guys are making in that.

Kristen F.:           Yeah, absolutely. It's my pleasure and this is one of our newer research reports. We do about 12 a year and they are really focused on kind of the broad spectrum of what talent development professionals need to get their arms around. We have one coming out shortly on measurement and evaluation that will look at the impact piece of talent development. But for this one specifically, as you mentioned earlier, future of work can be a big, buzzy, trendy perspective, but when you get down past the buzzwords, you understand that it is really about equipping people with the knowledge and skills they need to drive into the future and drive organizations into the future and break it down where we are. We're looking at it obviously from a talent development perspective because there's lots of ways that you could slice that sexy topic, but from a people perspective, what's needed.

Kristen F.:           And so we surveyed several hundred organizations to help us understand where people were in terms of looking at what was important and what, beyond technology, the future of work actually means. You know, there's great work coming out of the world economic forum, that whole fourth industrial revolution and what that means. But we talked with some folks from the banking sector, we talked to some folks from telecommunications, we've talked to some folks at Accenture and Hewlett-Packard. So these are big companies, you know, and they probably have resources that a lot of other people wouldn't have. But the way that they're looking at it, conceptualizing the future of work, is understanding that it's more than just talking points, right? That this is going to have real people perspective and just doing a pulse check on what is important. And so you know, we have the findings of what they're doing.

Kristen F.:           We get some anecdotal information from some companies, but we really kind of broke down our recommendations and I think this would apply to any company of any size, any agency, any sector. I think this kind of framework is helpful. And the first piece is really are you having formal discussions about preparing for the future of work? Are those discussions happening and is talent development at the table where those discussions are happening? Because we also know, sadly, that a lot of people will look at the talent development function as more kind of an order taker. You know, we need you to put a class together to solve this problem versus inviting the strategic aspect of talent development to kind of map what it looks like to close skills gaps and stand up new abilities in the workforce. That's done at a strategic level because it is aligning with the organization's goals. So having those conversations and then starting to identify what those re-skilling needs are. One of my favorite pieces of anecdotal evidence is the fact that Accenture has an actual re-skilling team in place. They are going and having conversations with real human beings about the job that they're currently doing, which they think will probably be going away, and what other jobs in the organization they may be interested in contributing to, and figuring out how to get from A to B.

Kristen F.:           It is super cool to be that intentional about it. And then starting to map what those future skills look like and developing plans to get people there. One of the things that we also know is that when you have a culture that's focused on growing skills—when you have a talent development culture that tends to impact retention and engagement and we all know that those are equally important things, especially in what we have now where it's such a tight job market and having people stay and grow with companies being focused on how to make that happen—I think that actually becomes a differentiator in the hiring game. I think that when you can really show that you are committed to helping people be successful in an employee life cycle, that you want people to stay and grow, that that becomes a differentiator on the hiring side.

Rick Maher:        Absolutely. It makes a lot of sense. Didn't think of it that way, but that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. I love the first two things in your recommendations. You talk about beginning the conversation formally and then having an intentional conversation and starting discussions about the future of work is and what it means to us as an organization. And then the anecdotal share of, you know, Accenture literally having a re-skilling team. I want our listeners to understand as an educator or as a workforce development entity, those recommendations ring true for them as well. I mean, we've got to get beyond the people in the reception area looking for a job who are critically important to the mission—obviously—and start to focus on the future, lest they creep up on us and surprise us.

Rick Maher:        So I love that. And again, one of the most surprising, maybe heartening things I hear when I talk to you, Kristen, is that I've been most impressed to learn about how really you're seeing employers buying into their critical role. You know, there's this perception in some parts that employers are just going to automate people out of a job. And you know the story from Accenture, but others I've heard, you know, your findings are different from that, aren't they? You seem to see employers as taking some real responsibility for up-skilling their employees. Can you talk to that topic just a bit?

Narrator:             You're listening to Talent Talks, presented by Maher & Maher and IMPAQ International, who 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 That's M A H E R N E talks.

Kristen F.:           I think employers who know that developing their people is as important as developing their infrastructure, for instance, those organizations with that culture of learning, as we call it, are actually positioned better in the marketplace. They are outperforming. Because they are looking at their people as not just "human capital." When you throw that name out there, and I know it's a common term, but when I hear it, I'm kind of like, it makes them sound like a piece of property. You know, these are folks that are really focused on that knowledge empowerment piece and growing people. It's why I think things like, I call it "apprenticeship 2.0," are looking at redefining how we're talking about up-skilling people in the workplace—taking it out of just "I'm going to send people to a boring compliance training class because they have to do that so that I can check all my OSHA boxes."

Kristen F.:           It's more than that. And so I think an opportunity you're talking about, for the workforce development side of the house and the education side of the house is, what would it look like for people in those roles on the workforce development boards? [They could] convene a regional conference around the skills gap in the future of work for their area, bringing employers together with education and with workforce and having that holistic conversation. Because as you know, you talked about before, there's no one solution to this. It's going to have to be a collaborative approach to looking at things beyond even the boundaries of your own company or your own community college or your own slice of the public funding pie—to say, if we're serious about competing, and I'm talking now as America or as any entity, [we need to be] looking at it beyond just a siloed approach and expanding the conversation to include all of the people that could possibly be part of the solution.

Rick Maher:        That's so insightful, Kristen. And I think that's one of the reasons that this conversation was important for our audience; because again, you guys kind of straddle this public and private membership that you have, and it occurs to me that even if the middle of the rotors are right, the outcome here is that 15% of America needs to be retrained. I mean, public or private can't do that alone. Neither side can do it alone. And it's going to take a real joint effort. The fact that employers are taking on that responsibility is great. But I love your idea of a workforce board—instead of being reactive, saying, you know what, we're a central player in this. We have the public side of this equation. We have a lift to contend with, why not get in front of it and be a thought leader, convene our regional leaders, and say, what's going to happen here?

Rick Maher:        What parts of our community—the lowest skilled, perhaps—are the parts of our region that are [under] the most serious threat? And as jobs are re-skilled, where are there opportunities for these folks, and how can we work together to get them there? Our listeners don't know, but I'll say for the record, Kristen and I met working as a part of a project related to apprenticeship. And apprenticeship 2.0, as you put it, Kristen, all forms of work-based learning are probably directions that we're going to need to think about taking so that the most marginal parts of our communities aren't literally left in the scrap heap of history here. I really appreciate your perspective again as a leading voice that does straddle both public and private membership. Getting our listeners thinking in that direction, it occurs to me, I want to take it just one step further. I did not know, and again I've been a member of ATD and ASTD, I did not know the extent of your reach internationally. Would you share with me, anecdotally, some of the evidence you see of the international community's interest in you guys and in this topic? I wonder if you could share just a few minutes, Kristen, with our audience about that. I think people need to get that they're in a race for talent here and the rest of the world is engaged in this. Tell us a little bit about what you know and what you're seeing internationally.

Kristen F.:           Our membership spans about 35,000 members worldwide in 120 countries, which is really awesome to think about. And it was one of the drivers for when we did rebrand, because we literally have offices in China, we have events that are around the world coming up soon. There'll be one in Peru, India, Japan, Korea, Brazil. I will have our large China summit at the end of the year. We'll do a conference in Taiwan that's focused on the Asian Pacific engine of development. From that, and in a role that I have had previously here working with our awards programs, I'm privy to some kind of "inside baseball" stuff. That is super cool. And one of the things that we were chatting about briefly was what Tata Consultancy Services is doing. They are focused on a digital transformation effort in their organization, several hundred thousand employees.

Kristen F.:           But the commitment, again from the highest levels of the organization, is that every employee, regardless of what they do, will be digitally literate. They built out an entire talent development portfolio, based on role in the company, of beginner, 101-type courses and then further on up. But one of the other things that they are doing, and I'm seeing this in countries, in India specifically in a couple of companies, is that they are actually also offering programs for professors and universities where they are teaching professors what it means, what digital transformation looks like. Because it's often very challenging at the university level to know what's cutting edge right now. And so they have a program designed specifically to up-skill professors so that the content that they're teaching is actually producing students that come out ready to work in this digital transformation space.

Kristen F.:           So when you look at forward-looking things, looking at that business and education partnership, what would it look like to also involve from a domestic perspective, a company that was focused like that with a workforce board and regional higher education institutions to say, all right, what do you guys not know? What can we bring to the table, and can we get some more meaningful graduates coming out of your programs? I think one of the things that we do hear a lot from business is the lack of readiness for a lot of people coming out of college. And given the student loan debt—and having just finished paying my last tuition payment from my second child—it's like, please be employable. What did I just spend all that money on? Yeah. So, I think that that becomes maybe the 30,000 foot conversation about the future of work: Are we teaching what we need to be teaching throughout the K-to-college pipeline? You know, the true fact that a lot of kids actually don't need to go to college to be able to make a really great wage. Getting moms and dads to get on board with that is a little bit of a different conversation. But again, looking at that and zooming out, and saying, what is right for our area, our country, our world to get people right-skilled for what the future of work looks like?

Rick Maher:        I love the label "right-skilled," and I think that our audience is getting better educated about this and probably knows a lot better than many in our economy that we should stop talking about degrees and start talking about skills. It doesn't mean that there aren't any values in degrees or credentials there. There's great value in both; if we can start to talk about skills, then we can start to make sure that we're getting the right credential, the right degree for the right person at the right time, the right place. And you're quite right. Obviously not everybody needs college. I was just in a conversation the other day in a regional economy where 65% of the open and high-demand occupations do not require a degree at all, but only some kind of post-secondary credentials. So you know, we're going to need to rethink this from the ground floor up, and talking about skills rather than degrees is probably a great way.

Rick Maher:        A great suggestion for folks. And you know, before I wrap this—and I know that you've got other things to do, and again, I do so appreciate this conversation. I think it's really going to be a catalyst for our membership, Kristen. Here's an organization, and you guys have been around forever, you're a leading voice in the country on the subject of learning. You do it in both public and private settings and serve membership from both those settings and of course internationally. I think it's important for people to hear that. I mean, you're being called to China and India. We are in a global race for talent and that race has got another level of uncertainty in that we don't even know what that means in the context of the future of work.

Rick Maher:        And we've just got to start the conversation and we've got to start listening and asking the right questions. I want to just return quickly, before we move to wrap this, to your recommendations from that report we mentioned before. I know two of them: "develop employees in future skills," you talked about how Accenture is doing that, and another one, "train employees in new technologies." In the context of our audience and our system, the educational community, the workforce community. I'm thinking about our community college instructors, our business engagement people, even our career counselors that are working with folks in starting their career plans and trying to find them employment. Wouldn't it be great if we could get those people even basic skills on what AI means? What is machine learning? I mean, just speak to that for a moment—even getting our ourselves internally more, better understanding of what the future of work even means so that we can explain to the people we talk to. Does that make any sense?

Kristen F.:           Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And I think sometimes, I know for me even, people will start throwing out things like, oh, machine learning and artificial intelligence and virtual reality and mixed reality. And I'm just like, I am having a hard enough time with my reality.

Kristen F.:           I can't get my head around it, you know? But when you look at things like roles—I remember I had a job once where I was literally shuffling papers to put them in numeric order. Yes, I had a paycheck. Yes it was great, but really, was it the highest and best use of my time or my ability at that time? No. There's a lot of things that can be automated. There are a lot of things that can be done more efficiently and effectively, and being okay with that, I think, is step one. And then understanding that we're already using things like artificial intelligence and machine learning. It happens every time you go on your device and you ask Siri a question—we're already using it. Or seeing the benefit of it. I think it's taking those kinds of applications and saying, what would this look like in my workplace?

Kristen F.:           Are there things where I could free up those uniquely human skills that are not going to go away, the developing of emotional intelligence and critical thinking and all of those important things that are part of being successful at work, allowing people to do that and freeing them from some of the mundane and rote tasks. I think when you put it in that perspective, it's like, oh, okay. It's not a big hairy, scary monster.

Rick Maher:        Kristen, this has been a great conversation, and it's exactly what I had hoped it would be for our listeners. You've given us both resources to look for, and again, I recommend the ATD research report, "The Future of Work: Technology, Predictions, and Preparing the Workforce," is a great resource for folks. There's all kinds of resources on the ATD website. And Kristen, you've done a great job kind of giving us perspective from ATD, which again is a unique and important voice for people to hear. We, all of us, thank you for your engagement here and your partnership. If our listeners want to learn more about your work, track your progress, or if they just like to connect with you and network, how would they best do that, Kristen?

Kristen F.:           Well our website is We couldn't get because somebody already had it. So we just went to, but apparently having a two-letter domain is cool, so that's awesome. You can also find us on all the social media channels. We're on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, Instagram. I will throw out that we have some conferences that may be of interest to your listeners, Rick. One of them will be next February in San Jose. It's our technology conference and that is for people who are looking at the intersection of learning and technology. Great event and we're super excited about it. And then our international conference, which is our biggest conference of the year, will be in May in Denver, Colorado next year. Information on both those conferences is also on our website. But we have a lot of free resources, lots of newsletters, and of course membership provides you access to even more stuff, which is great. And being part of this global community of people that are focused on making the world better I think is cool. So we do encourage people to consider joining if they aren't already members.

Rick Maher:        Well, Kristen, I can vouch for you guys. I've gotten great resources, great information over the years from ATD and I don't know why I was surprised to find you leaning so forward into the future of work—I shouldn't have been—and really have gotten quite an education both by talking to you and by reviewing some of the resources you've shared. So again, on behalf of our listeners and of IMPAQ-Maher, Kristen, thanks so much for taking the time. I know you're really, really busy.

Kristen F.:           Well, talking about stuff like this is probably going to be the highlight of my week, so I appreciate you getting me started off well for this conversation, and thank you guys for all the work that you do. We're super grateful to be able to collaborate as we can.

Rick Maher:        Well again, perfect. Thanks, Kristen, and folks, until next time on Talent Talks, this is Rick Maher thanking you for listening and reminding you that Talent Talks is a platform to explore, inform, and inspire you because we're all actors in a global war for talent. One where talent is seen as the new global currency, and you are America's talent investment bankers. So we hope we've inspired you to take a risk and make a difference. We hope you'll dare to be great, break something, and make it better. Try, fail if you must, but fail fast, and try again. Thanks again for listening and have a great day. We'll see you next month on Talent Talks.

Narrator:             Thank you for listening to Talent Talks, presented by 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 That's M A H E R N E

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