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What is the future of work?

  • Communications
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  • Jan 29, 2021
What is the future of work?

Jenny Dearborn at the virtual EMBA Sustainability and Entrepreneurship Event

Lifelong learning will be key to success in the coming age of work, says human resources thought leader Jenny Dearborn.

Dearborn, Chief People Officer at Klaviyo and founder of the Silicon Valley advisory firm Actionable Analytics Group, spoke to Ivey Executive MBA students about how the workforce is changing and what business leaders need to prioritize when it comes to human capital. It was all part of the EMBA Sustainability and Entrepreneurship Event, a one-day virtual conference in place of the students’ Entrepreneurship/Sustainability Trip to Silicon Valley. The goal of the event was to allow the students to learn from entrepreneurs and executives about topics such as idea generation, startups, and ways to manage talent during explosive growth.

Dearborn said gone are the days where people learn specific skills for a job, do that job for a long period, and then retire. Instead, in light of increased life expectancies, she said people will need to work longer and therefore upskill and change jobs multiple times.

That means they’ll need to learn, unlearn, and relearn skills and demonstrate their ability to adapt and change. And organizations will need to think about how they can support people working longer and what qualities they need in employees.

“You need to set yourself up for a longer period of time of constant learning and constant change, as opposed to learn a thing and do the thing that is static … If you can demonstrate learning, agility, and change aptitude … that’s who I want to hire,” she said. “Every leader needs to do as much as they can for their employees … and employees cannot expect the company is going to do it all for you.”

Five forces of change

Dearborn discussed five forces that are shaping the future of work:

1. Big data – Whether it’s wearable technology or sensors on a bridge to measure traffic patterns, there are increasing opportunities to collect and analyze data and Dearborn said organizations need to find ways to use this data to improve or adapt their operations;

2. Technology – Citing how she once had coffee made by a robot barista, Dearborn said technology is increasingly replacing human jobs. But that doesn’t mean fewer jobs for people. Instead she said business leaders need to consider how technology can be used to automate and eliminate the work that is dirty, dangerous, or dull for humans so they can take on more complex work;

3. The socially connected world – The increased use of Zoom during the pandemic is a recent example of how socially connected the world has become and business leaders need to think about how social connections might shape the workplace or customer expectations;

4. Demographic shifts – Populations are growing and people are living longer and this will have a significant impact on human resources policies around when people retire, how they save, and pension schemes; and,

5. Rapidly shifting markets – Technology is not the disruptor, instead the disruptor is when organizations lose their connection with human instincts and customer service. Dearborn said it’s important to assess what humans can bring to a business and be empathetic to customers’ needs.

“The biggest factor that leaders need to think about moving forward is where do technology and human skills come together?,” she said. “What are the things that only humans can do, or only technology can do, and where do they share?” 

Thank you to our guests and speakers

In addition to Dearborn’s presentation, the conference included a panel on Sustainability, moderated by Professor Oana Branzei, and a panel on Entrepreneurship, moderated by Professor Simon Parker, and a variety of guest panels and speakers. Thank you to all of our guests and speakers.

 Sustainability panel:

  • Chris Jensen, Co-Founder of Left Technologies and Left Travel;
  • Jon Shell, MBA ’03, Managing Director & Partner, Social Capital Partners; and,
  • Charlie Wall-Andrews, EMBA ’17, Executive Director, Foundation, SOCAN.

 Entrepreneurship panel:

  • Rahim Fazal, MBA ’06, Co-Founder and CEO, SV Academy;
  • Mona Sabet, Chief Corporate Strategy Officer, UserTesting; and,
  • Sean Sheppard, Managing Partner,

Additional guests and speakers: