On May 18, 2022, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), in partnership with Workcred, brought together representatives from standards developing organizations (SDOs), government agencies, credentialing bodies, and companies to discuss digital transformation and its implications for the workforce. Part of ANSI’s spring 2022 World Standards Week events, the Technology and the Workforce conference featured expert speakers exploring the vast changes impacting the workforce, workplace, and standardization community today.
The event opened with an introduction by Dr. Roy Swift, Workcred executive director. Swift dedicated the gathering to Dr. Steven Crawford, Workcred board member, former ANSI board member, and treasured friend to many in the workforce and standards community, who tragically passed away unexpectedly last week. His memory and tremendous work in the workforce space were commemorated with a standing ovation by attendees, many of whom had known and worked with him for years.
David Langdon, deputy director of policy for the U.S. Department of Commerce, provided opening remarks on how Commerce has been pursuing an equity agenda that has generated great enthusiasm among its members. The initiative focuses on wrap-around services (like childcare and transportation), increased access to systems and data, and new pathways to careers to support underserved populations in receiving job training and accessing opportunities in the workplace.
Delivering the keynote address, Van Ton-Quinlivan, CEO of Futuro Health, shared a proven workforce development framework that brings together the key players in workforce development to support employers and workers. She spoke on the need for “on-ramp” coursework for adults entering the workforce or changing careers, including building soft skills that may not be part of the technical training needed for a certain job, but are important in promoting a successful career transition.
Another key focus of Ton-Quinlivan’s remarks was the changing preferences of learners seeking career training and continued education. Many seek credentials and micro-credentials that are stackable. A four-year degree or higher may not be the education of choice as workers seek to gain skills quickly, learn specific skills tied to a certain job, or be able to qualify for a job while continuing to “stack” credentials for further education.
Following the keynote address, the event’s first panel, “Innovation and Workforce Transformation – Building a Future-Ready Workforce,” featured moderator Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation; and panelists Earl Buford, president of CAEL; Todd Green, executive director of WorkRise; and Kerri Nelson, director of policy and workforce research for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The group explored the increasing pace of technology innovation driving demand for new skills. Employers need workers with specific skills, and job seekers are interested in gaining the necessary skills, but connecting the two can be challenging. Buford commented that it feels like “ships passing in the night,” and that the goal is to help employers and employees come together in ways that can solve both of their problems.
Nelson said that employers, particularly those that are small to midsize, express that they don’t have the time or resources to invest in upscaling or rescaling the workforce, so it is important that stakeholders come together and pool resources to work toward the same goal. Green expressed that advocates, employers, economic development practitioners, and others involved in workforce development may use different language and have different views of what is necessary for worker mobility, but in the end it is critical to explore and embrace the commonalities in what these groups seek in order to have movement in the labor market.
The panel concluded with a conversation on diversity and equity initiatives in the workplace. Oates noted a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion as one of the most positive effects of COVID, and questioned how this motivation can be sustained. Buford remarked that it shouldn’t be a fad—it’s a way to do business that should and will continue, but if it doesn’t, the “numbers game” in regards to hiring challenges and lack of skilled workers will only get worse.
The second panel, moderated by Janet Salm, managing director of research for the Strada Education Network, explored “Rethinking the Way We Work – A Look at the Workplace of the Future.” Panelists Elise Freedman, senior client partner, workforce transformation practice leader at Korn Ferry; Diana Gehlhaus, research fellow, Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University; and Nacole Hinton, vice president, human resources and administration for the American Chemistry Council, shared perspectives on the future of work and the effects of the pandemic on the traditional workplace model.
Remote work—an option only available to about 20 percent of the workforce, panelists noted—has its benefits, but there are also challenges. Gehlhaus spoke on concerns about young people who work remotely and don’t benefit from the sense of community that comes from face-to-face interactions in the workplace. Panelists agreed that a hybrid work model offers employees the flexibility they seek from remote work while still bringing the benefits of going to work in person. Freedman commented that many senior leaders have discomfort with remote work, though there are cost savings associated with that model.
Panelists also discussed trends in the workplace and in hiring practices. Hinton said that employees are asking for what they want, and it’s up to employers to deliver if they want the top talent. There has to be a balance between what the employee needs and what the company offers, and this can be accomplished through open communication. Freedman suggested that employers should offer value in different ways to people at different stages of life—those just entering the workforce may seek something different from those starting families or those nearing retirement.
What does the future look like for the workplace? Panelists agreed it is difficult to predict. Gehlhaus said it depends on the economy and who has leverage in the employee/employer relationship. Employers want people back in the office part time, so if employee leverage dissipates, there may be a shift to more people going back into the office.
The final panel of the conference, “Standards Community – Into the Future,” looked specifically at nurturing new standards professionals, and the evolution of this role. Panelists included Muhammad Ali, senior standards strategy and policy lead for HP; Alyson Fick, manager of standards development for ASTM International; and Veronica Lancaster, vice president, standards programs for the Consumer Technology Association, moderated by Mary Saunders, ANSI vice president of government relations.
Saunders opened the discussion by asking what the standards community is looking for in its next generation of professionals. Lancaster noted the importance of diversity and different perspectives in forming a balanced consensus standards body. She said that future standards leaders need to be mentored and nurtured, with knowledge transferred. If new standards professionals are supported so that they are comfortable, understand their role, and are prepared to handle challenges, they often grow to love the job. Ali spoke on HP’s initiatives in preparing and mentoring new standards professionals, which includes an internal academy to train experts and mentorship programs for new committee members.
The rise of remote work and meetings has led to increased participation on standards committees, and panelists agreed that this has its pros and cons. Lancaster said that participants on international committees need to be aware of cultural changes, even within video call etiquette. Flexibility is critical, working with other companies to create a solution through different time zones and practices in order to make virtual committee meetings fruitful. Fick noted that hybrid scheduling has opened participation up to those unable to join otherwise due to childcare or family responsibilities, and that online meetings with written chats offer a communication element that may be more comfortable for participants who speak English as a second language and may be intimidated to speak at a meeting.
Wrapping up the day’s discussions, Dr. Swift noted that although we are in a time of transition, it is also a time of great opportunity to build a work ecosystem that works for all. It’s time to build relationships to support these new pathways and a more coherent system, and ANSI and Workcred look forward to continued work to address these subjects.