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The Future is Now: Interview with Edie Weiner

Corporate Board Member recently interviewed Edie Weiner to get her outlook on the economy, jobs, and emerging issues for directors.

Here are some highlights from the interview (click here for the entire article):

When do you foresee the recession ending?

I don’t, because I don’t consider it a recession. I think that this is a fundamental transformation, and it [has been] coming for a long time. It started before the financial crisis, and the financial crisis exacerbated the speed with which everybody felt the transformation.

There has been an evolution of economies. We’ve been through the agricultural era, the industrial era, the post-industrial era, the emotile era, and what we’re moving into is what we call the metaspace era. And none of these go away. Each succeeding [era] is built on the one that came before. But what you used to make money on becomes commoditized because technology allows it to become so inexpensive that you just can’t get the same margins you used to on it, so you have to move up to the next value proposition.

The thing to understand is that we were in the agricultural era for tens of thousands of years, the industrial for 200, the post-industrial for 45, and the emotile for about 20 to 25, and we’re still there, but we’re moving into what we call the metaspace. So the real story is the collapsing of the time that it takes for technologies to come together and create enormous efficiencies in the way we do things. The problem is that we can’t grow new businesses fast enough to satisfy the labor that’s been displaced by the efficiencies, and that’s why we feel so much pain, and that’s why we’re not going to see those jobs come back.

What do you think boards should be concerned about, looking a few years into the future?

I think they need to be concerned about a couple of things. Number one, are the products and/or services that they’re offering or that they count on going to be around in the next three to five years, or will they be disinter-mediated by new players with completely new business practices, technologies, and delivery [methods]? There’s such a rapid replacement effect taking place now. So you have to wonder whether what you’re doing now will still command the dollars that you’re projecting for the next couple of years.

That’s an extremely important concern. That’s the core of your business. And that’s a real worry that I would have if I were a director. I would really want to know what game changers are out there that could completely disrupt the services and products that we’re currently offering, and I wouldn’t necessarily trust that I could get all that information inside the company. I would want to know from experts who are looking outside what is going on that could change the world of this company the way it exists.

And I would also be concerned about whether I’m doing the right things in order to get the best talent because in the end, whatever it is that [you] do, it’s about your people delivering to the marketplace.

Speaking of talent, do you foresee a time in the future when American public boards will be more diverse?

There’s no question about it. That’s already happening, and will continue to happen. However, it’s interesting when we think about what diversity means. If you declare diversity as being people who look different, speak different languages, or come from different parts of the world, if that’s your idea of diversity, then that is not stepping up to the business case for diversity. That’s the public relations case for diversity.

The business case for diversity is to have different ways of thinking on the board, different viewpoints. And that’s not an easy thing because much of what the board is about is having a comfort level with each other. I’m not concerned about diversity that you can see from the outside. Where I’m concerned is will the board step up to the need for diversity from the inside, and how comfortable will [directors] be with those voices that don’t track with what the CEO wants to hear or what the majority of the board wants to hear?

It really depends on the kind of company you are, but if you’re saying that you want to be a global company and you’re saying that one of the concerns is that you’re really not sure where your competition is going to come from in three years, why would you want people on your board who know the last 20 years and not the next 10?

A Reexamination of the Current Workforce

On the Job Experience:
Hiring Managers Want It, But How Can You Obtain It??

(Taken from a guest blog piece I wrote for the Career Advisory Board — posted on DeVry University’s President’s blog on 11/3/2011).

In the context of today’s rapid technological and economic change, both job seekers and employers alike are faced with a daunting set of challenges. While many individuals and organizations see an economy in and headed for another recession, the recent economic downturn, in fact, represents a fundamental transformation and restructuring of the economy.

The Career Advisory Board, presented by DeVry University released a new Job Preparedness Indicator Report that brought to light how this period of transition is not only impacting employment and unemployment, but it is also affecting future professional competencies and skill sets.

To many employers, the serious gaps that exist between educational credentials and actual individual competence are becoming all too clear. What many job seekers are now faced with is a “catch-22”: Hiring managers stress the importance of needing prior work experience, but job seekers struggle to find actual opportunities to gain that critical real-world knowledge.

According to the report, 66% of employers agree that job seekers often find themselves applying for jobs that require skills and experience that can only be acquired after being hired. Job seekers are aware, too, of many prospective employers’ reluctance to hire someone without experience – in fact, 78% of job-seekers agree that too many positions in today’s job market require skills that can only be acquired after being hired.

So when it comes to valued workplace skills and competencies, what can job seekers do to get their skills more in line with what hiring managers are looking for and gain that all-important on-the-job experience?

1) Seek New Ways to Gain Real-World Experience. Paid or un-paid internships, apprenticeships, traineeships and volunteering – are great ways to learn valuable analytical and critical-thinking skills and boost business acumen.  These experiences allow employers to see how proactive a candidate is. It will be crucial for job seekers to clearly demonstrate how these skills can be transferred to the workplace.

2) Behold the Power of Staying Connected. Secondly, job seekers should leverage and tap into peer-to-peer and alumni networks, as these are becoming increasingly valuable tools and resources.  It’s important to build a strong network and equally as important to maintain it. While social media tools such as LinkedIn provide an opportunity to do so, taking the relationship offline is vital – make a brief phone call or meet for a cup of coffee. By fostering strong relationships ahead of time, you will have the confidence to reach out in the future to take your career to the next level.

3) Seek a Mentor and Be a Mentor. Having a mentor can help job seekers gain critical workplace knowledge that will support career growth. But on the flip side, for young job seekers, being a reverse mentor is also important as it teaches communication skills and demonstrates a depth of knowledge in a particular area(s).

Clearly, for job seekers, the competition for many jobs is intense.  A reexamination of the current workforce will be critical, especially as job seekers increasingly face a greatly perplexing world of differences in hiring styles and processes.

The New Internship:Out-ternships and/or Long-ternships?

This month’s article in the Latino men’s online magazine Llero.net talked about how the nature of internships has shifted in recent years. The economic meltdown from 2008 has impacted the employment landscape for everyone. Part of this changing climate includes the “new internship.” No longer is this position for a student or recent graduate. In fact, a number of experienced job seekers are leveraging the position as an opportunity for future employment to keep their skills sharp or simply re-define their career paths.

While I shared some of my thoughts for this article, here are some others as it pertains to “the new internship:”

(1) Outternships: The growing prevalence of “virtual” workers, or employees who telecommute and/or enjoy the benefits of VirFlex (virtual geographies, flexible times) working arrangements, may change our while thinking around the word “intern.”  With continued improvements in networking technology, personal mobile technology and virtual meeting tools, we may see more companies offering up “outternship” opportunities for people who want to get experience working remotely. Technological advancements (i.e. telepresence) also give workers off-site flexibility by still being connected and engaged.

(2) Longternships: An internship that guarantees eventual permanent, paid employment with the company in which they interned. Their value to the company may be increased by the fact that they need little to no training.

We may also see more opportunities for older workers; i.e. in South Korea, silver job fairs, established to find jobs for people 60 and older, have mushroomed across the country in the past year. Longer life spans and changes in family structure have left many people, entering the later stages of their lives, unprepared for reentry into the workforce.  Programs that encourage training and retraining for older workers will have tremendous value and utility.

What are your thoughts on the future of internships?

The Emergence of a Global “She-conomy”

The emergence of a global “She-conomy” will have a major impact on everything from education to marketing and branding to fertility levels. There are already many more women than men enrolled in and graduating from universities. Women have just overtaken men in the U.S. as the majority in the workforce. Women increasingly serve as household breadwinners and white-collar executives – and they are widely considered the most powerful and growing demographic with respect to global consumer power. Many indicators point toward women comprising a greater percentage of white-collar professional positions going forward, while men who have been displaced will need to find alternatives – perhaps through vocational training or entering trade professions.

In the “she-conomies” that are emerging, communication and leadership styles that resonate with, inspire and include women will also be in greater demand.

Here are some noteworthy statistics:

  • Women account for more than half of college students and half the work force, which has delayed motherhood and marriage. For the first time, a majority of mothers, 54 percent, have a college education, up from 41 percent in 1990.
  • Women have suffered less than men in this recession. They were more likely to be in health care and other sectors/jobs that were not hit as hard as construction and manufacturing. They are also increasingly likely to have the education required. One in five men 25 to 54 is not working. The jobs that many of these men once had will not return. Institutional demand for workers with limited education is waning.
  • Globally, women total $13 trillion in yearly earnings and could reach $18 trillion in the next five years, representing a growth market twice as big as China and India combined.  But many women still feel underestimated and undervalued in the workplace, and few companies have responded to their need for time-saving solutions. While more mothers are working, more have considerable guilt about leaving their children at home. Thirty-four percent of mothers with kids under the age of 18 opt out of the workforce altogether, thereby depriving the workforce of a vital source of talent.
  • Japan is suffering from a productivity problem because they are squandering one of the world’s best educated labor forces on mundane jobs that do little to make the economy grow. Japan’s ability to emerge from the recession will depend partly on its ability to make its service sector – which makes up 70% of Japan’s economy – more productive. Evidence of low productivity in the service sector is everywhere. Retailers employ twice the average number of workers as their peers in other countries. Women are central to this issue because they are placed in menial jobs, and their talents and skills are wasted.
  • 1 billion additional middle class women expected to enter the global economy over the next decade. If China and India each represent 1 billion emerging participants in the global marketplace, then this “third billion” is made up of women, in both developing and industrialized nations, whose economic lives have previously been stunted, under-leveraged, or suppressed.
  • We are also learning more about the impact of testosterone levels in the workplace. We have long known the link between males and testosterone, but we are now learning more about how it applies to women. However, we have yet to discover the relationship between high testosterone women and productivity.

“Effreshency”: Employment Guarantee or Tuition Refund?

In the context of today’s rapid technological and economic change, organizations around the world are faced with daunting challenges. Traditional thinking is no longer optimizing results, and an entirely new model is emerging – one that we at WEB call “effreshency.” Effreshency refers to the implementation of new and “fresh” strategies that improve upon and revolutionize traditional thinking about six distinct areas of organizational performance that are often viewed separately. Effreshency breaks tradition in all of these six areas simultaneously, and moving forward it will increasingly be the recipe for a sustainable, profitable and competitive organization. The equation for this new model can be expressed as follows:

Efficient + Effective + Innovative + Adaptable + Inclusive + Accountable = Effreshent

A  fascinating recent development…

Job Guarantee…or Tuition ReimbursementA community college in Michigan has started offering potential applicants money-back guarantees, in an effort to increase enrollment. Beginning in May, people who take six-week courses in certain subjects will be guaranteed a job within a year – or else they will be refunded their tuition. This is certainly an unorthodox idea, particularly for a school in Lansing, Michigan – where unemployment is at 11.7%. The guarantee will apply to the four most in-demand technical jobs in the area: call-center specialists, pharmacy technicians, quality inspectors and computer machinists.

If successful, this approach will conceivably touch upon each of the six variables in the above effreshency equation. Most notably, the school is taking a fresh approach toward accountability — plus it is showing clear adaptability in the face of a challenging enrollment environment.

Is this a truly “effreshent” approach for the future, or unrealistic and ill-conceived? The figures on exponentially increasing tuition costs in the U.S. are staggering. Additionally, the debt burden on the average student, coupled with difficulties in job placement, can be crippling. Is this new model set to catch fire as the wave of the future in higher education, or is it a quirky strategy doomed to fail? It remains difficult to envision top-ranked and prestigious universities ever being forced to implement this sort of strategy, but perhaps community colleges will serve as a beta test. Regardless of the outcome, there’s little argument as to the marketing buzz being generated here.