The new year is an opportune time to take a deep dive into key issues that will impact credentialing and the workforce. Three members of Workcred’s board of directors shared expert insights and perspectives on workforce and credentialing issues, as well as factors, such as emerging technologies, that are revolutionizing careers.
Perspectives provided by:
Beth Carlson, corporate vice president of talent, Raytheon Technologies (retired)
Larry Lynch, senior vice president of health, safety, and regulatory services, National Restaurant Association
Dr. George Westerman, principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and founder of the Global Opportunity Forum
Interviews edited for clarity and length*
Workcred: What are some of the key workforce or credentialing challenges that your organization is facing today?
Carlson: It’s all about talent. You've got a workforce of people who are doing what they need to be doing, but there's so much change, either environmentally or within the competitive landscape from an industry perspective, where new skills need to be gained quickly. I think about the COVID pandemic as a great example. Everybody had to deal with the lights being thrown off overnight. Suddenly, humanistic – or soft – skills of leadership became really hot. How do you upskill leaders who have been in the workforce varying lengths of time and hired for very specific things? How do you quickly load on some new skills? I think a challenge in the workplace is assessing where the talent is and focusing on where we are going to get people from, in terms of demographics.
Lynch: From a workforce perspective, it's still about finding enough people who want to work and stay in the restaurant industry. It's not the most popular of choices, being on your feet, working late hours. The pandemic caused so many people to leave the restaurant industry and so many restaurants to close. Right before the pandemic we created a series of programs called ServSuccess designed to support upskilling restaurant employees and helping them return to the industry with advanced skills.
And from the credentialing perspective, what we're trying to do is get the industry to understand the value of our various credentials. Credentials in the restaurant industry are mandated and there is a lot of check-the-box mentality more so than a focus on food safety. You know you have to have this credential, but at the end of the day, if you're truly serious about food safety and you don't want to harm your customers, then perhaps you want to be thinking about what you're gaining from that. And the gap from what we are trying to measure from a certification standpoint to what is being included in job descriptions is unbelievable. So we need to break this mentality.
Westerman: I’ll respond from the view of our research sites, rather than MIT itself. Of the many challenges in the credentialing environment, two stand out. First, there are too many credentials of uncertain quality. How can employers and educators decide which specific ones to invest in? Second, it’s difficult to measure many skills, especially the human or soft skills that are so essential to thrive in today’s organizations.
Workcred: How is technology playing a role in changing the workforce?
Carlson: I think artificial intelligence (AI) is huge. ChatGPT shows up and everybody hit the worry button. What does the technology mean and what are the implications? Then, slowly through some understanding, we ask how do we leverage this in ways that make sense and are aligned strategically from a business perspective? At the same time, how do we ensure that we're protecting our own material and not inadvertently, suddenly having access to information we actually shouldn't have access to?
Lynch: Technology makes a big difference when you think about hospitality, but you have to break it down by the various industry segments. In quick service restaurants, touch machines and robots will supplant some frontline employees. I think the kitchens in those restaurants are probably going to be safe from an employment standpoint though, because there's enough variety in what has to be cooked, how it's cooked, and specialty requests.
But I do see more automation opportunities coming to the industry, specifically to the back of the house operations (e.g., food storage, temperature measurements), which is actually good news and better protects the public.
Westerman: Technology continues to displace routine tasks in occupations. Now with generative AI, routine tasks that were considered purely in the human domain, such as writing and graphics and even having basic conversations, can now be done by machines. We need to help employees in routine jobs shift to better ones. And to help employees in all jobs be comfortable working with computers.
Our research finds that generative AI doesn’t have to replace knowledge workers. It can help them in three ways: reducing cognitive load, boosting cognitive capabilities, and improving learning. As the saying goes, ‘ChatGPT won’t take your job, but someone using ChatGPT might.’
Technology can also help companies do a better job of finding and developing their employees, such as through creative new learning methods, real-time performance measurement, and competency-based hiring and development.
Workcred: What are other concerns that we need to consider to support a stronger workforce in 2024?
Carlson: I think about the criticality of strategic workforce planning. What are the skills needed three to five years from now? How do we define them, given everything we know and what we think we know? What are the current skills in the workplace, and what are the gaps that need to be closed? In response, how do we up skill the workforce we have to close those gaps, and hire for the unique skills that cannot be addressed quickly enough through training? All in an exceptionally competitive talent market that is shrinking.
Lynch: Creating value in credentials is going to be our key driver. I think the challenge that the restaurant industry is still having in retaining people is going to drive them. In particular, they're having to spend more money to keep people, so let’s at least make a better investment. The credentials then become a part of recognizing that if we're hiring people, then we want to keep them and we want to grow them. And I think it's a paradigm shift that's pretty significant in this industry.
Westerman: We need to address how to deal with the declining size of the workforce, given retirement and demographic trends, and the high cost of traditional education to replace them. One opportunity is to pay more attention to what non-degreed people can bring to the job, especially for those “middle skill” jobs that are very prevalent in manufacturing, IT, and the trades.
There’s also a need to help people throughout the company to manage their career development (vertical, horizontal, and otherwise) better. According to McKinsey, lack of career development and advancement was the most common reason cited for quitting a job in 2022. Companies that don’t develop their people make their talent problem much harder when those people leave for greener pastures.
Workcred is committed to spreading awareness about the value of quality credentials, and its staff regularly shares insights on how industry and professional certifications help add value and skills to the workforce amid rapid technological changes. Check out Workcred’s latest research, articles, point of view, and videos, and stay tuned to www.workcred.org for continued updates.