Future of Work Worker Voice and Engagement

Planning for the Future of Work with Workers at the Center

Dr. Angela D. Jackson October 07, 2019
Planning for the Future of Work with Workers at the Center

Nothing about us without us.

This forceful slogan has been adopted by many advocates, including most recently those in the disability-rights movement, to discourage policymakers from making decisions without first meaningfully consulting those affected. Lately, it has also been guiding my thinking.

I lead the future of work strategy and investments at venture philanthropy organization New Profit. This means I spend a lot of time talking with experts and reading think pieces and research studies about how automation will eliminate jobs. Many innovators have weighed in about exactly which jobs – and how many – will be displaced. Increasingly, I’ve been heartened to see these conversations shifting to consider how to ensure that our existing workforce is ready to move into the new roles that will be required. But the more I read these stories, the more I realize whose voices are left out: those of the workers themselves.

In 2020, New Profit in collaboration with the XPRIZE Foundation will launch a global challenge to solicit solutions that will help entry-level workers gain the skills needed to be successful in the future economy and to earn wages that will allow them and their families to thrive. This work will be guided by a formal advisory board that will collaborate with us to ensure we are solving the right challenges. On the board will be funders, entrepreneurs, researchers, and workforce development leaders, but critically, it will also include workers themselves.

There are 44 million Americans struggling in the labor market today—lacking the skills, credentials, and networks they need to earn enough income to support themselves and their families. Disproportionately, these workers are young and they’re people of color. As employer needs evolve, too few businesses are looking at their current workforces and thinking about how they can ensure today’s workers learn the skills they’ll need for tomorrow’s jobs. Those employers who take on this charge will be better prepared as the landscape changes – and their workers will benefit too.

Building off of the success of past XPRIZEs launched by leading entrepreneurs and global philanthropists, our XPRIZE will spur the creation of solutions that will transform the world of work. We are seeking solutions that will ensure that workers whose current jobs will become automated are equipped with the Human Skills necessary to complement machines for success. And to prove that this isn’t some abstract thought exercise, our partner Marriott International has agreed to test the XPRIZE finalists with thousands of their employees to determine the winner.

We see this project as an innovative way to foster collaboration across a diverse ecosystem of workforce stakeholders to ensure that the most vulnerable workers aren’t left behind. To do this, we need the smartest ideas. We need the most creative thinking. And we also need the perspectives of our workers.

My team and I have already spoken with more than 80 frontline workers and workers focus groups We’ve secured commitments from funders and partners with expertise in scaling social impact and workforce solutions – organizations like Strada Education Network, Walmart Foundation, Marriott International, Lumina Foundation, and Joyce Foundation. But we’re not stopping there. To continue to understand the field, we are on a mission to speak with more employers, nonprofit leaders, workers, and funders about how we can transform the way employees work and learn. What are the key Human Skills that employees of the future will need and what are the most effective ways for employees to learn them? How might employers use XPRIZE-winning solutions to help advance their workforce? Which innovators are cracking the code, helping workers develop effective Human Skills? What other nonprofit and corporate leaders in the sector share our enthusiasm for this work?

Without a doubt, the coming year will bring about new predictions for how automation will change how we work. With your collaboration, it will also bring about a set of powerful solutions that will ensure that as society evolves, our employees are ready to evolve with it.

To get involved, please reach out to me at angela_jackson@newprofit.org.