A New Workforce

Part of my job as a faculty member is committee work.  One of my committee obligations is related to my institution’s strategic planning process.  This committee’s role is to research and debate the basic assumptions that will influence our strategic plans.  This year we added a new assumption related to preparing students for a networked workforce.  This assumption was in response to research that suggested the workforce is changing.  Smith and Anderson (2014) indicated that educational institutions are failing to prepare students for a modern workforce.  The move to a networked workforce has many benefits for organizations and workers.
First, the nature of work will change.  Jarche (2013) explained the networked workforce is the changing role of a manager.  Instead of overseeing employees managers will serve more as an assistant.  Weinberger (2011) suggested the role of manager would be about keeping the network working together on the same wavelength.  Another benefit of a networked workforce is cost savings for organizations.  Bednarz (2013) stated telecommuting could save billions in infrastructure costs.
The skills needed to be competitive in a networked workforce include understanding new media, social intelligence and the ability to virtually collaborate, among others skills.  I think these new competencies present both opportunities and challenges for workers and organizations. For instance, in industries that aren’t used to telecommuting and virtual collaboration making a shift in organizational culture takes time.  Also, employees that aren’t used to a networked workforce could experience trouble in acclimating to the change in culture and they could struggle developing in-demand skills.  Additionally, finding work could be hard for some people.  Smith (2015) stated most people are turning to the Internet to find employment.  Moreover, people are using their smart phones to apply for jobs.
I think another big challenge of a changing workforce is communicating these changes to the public. A networked workforce has implications for the culture, the economy and even politics. How these changes are communicated over time will have an impact on how society responds. Laws, policies, schools and government will have to reflect the changing labor force.

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

6 thoughts on “A New Workforce

  1. “….This year we added a new assumption related to preparing students for a networked workforce…”

    This is pretty progressive (and impressive)! I think that you are spot on regarding communication to the public. I have been troubled by the recent question of the legitimacy of Secretary DeVos to be responsible for education in this country. She obviously has little qualifications….and yet, part of me sees a need for a …. dare I say it …. disruption in how things have been done. Perhaps her tenure is a new opportunity to prepare our kids for an emerging world.

    (….but then again, I have stated before that I am an optimist…)


  2. Good morning Shelli,

    I love that your institution has taken on this topic as part of the strategic planning process. Colleges and universities can frequently stick to very traditional goals and language as part of reviewing their mission statements and strategic plans, even in a changing world. I applaud your institution for putting emphasis on preparing students for the networked workforce. Does your institutional mission statement also reflect this focus? Specifically on preparing students for the networked world? I spent quite a bit of time just now trying to find examples of colleges and universities that have incorporated that type of language, but came up empty. Mullen (2011) wrote an interesting article where he concluded that workers who grew up in the age of the internet may not be well-suited to work in professions where a high level of trust is involved and face-to-face contact is required. While I’m not sure I agree, it does speak to the need to prepare our students for such interactions and jobs.

    The Ayes Have It


    Mullen, J. K. (2011). The impact of computer use on employee performance in high-trust professions: Re-examining selection criteria in the internet age. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(8), 2009-2043. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816-2011.00790.x


      1. Thanks for sharing this article, Dr. Watwood! I agree that Shelli’s institution is looking in the right direction. I plan to share their efforts with colleagues at my institution. Our planning and actions should surely be preparing our students for a changing workplace!


  3. I concur with the previous comments regarding the seeming benefit of Shelli’s institution’s strategic approach. I think one crucial pillar in such an effort will be sustained adaptability. As someone who does not operate in higher education (and therefore have an outsider’s view), my sense is that proposing a change and moving it through the various system components can be a lengthy process. As noted, the pace of the network is much faster…and the organization will need to adapt to pursue strategies that remain relevant in this type of environment. Another interesting shift for higher education will be embracing the new forms of credentials and authority that the network provides (as referenced by Weinberger, 2011, p. 138) compared to those traditionally valued. This should be an interesting and exciting journey!


  4. Shelli, thank you for your post. Your description of skills needed for a networked workforce got me thinking about one of my favorite topics, language, and how it impacts the way we think and engage.
    Today’s networked workforce is interacting across the globe already, and we can expect this to increase. While there are opinions and studies to the contrary, I subscribe to the belief that our native language does affect the way we think. To borrow the filter forward concept from Weinberger (2011), I believe language has an impact on our personal filters. It helps us individually and collectively bring to the front what we linguistically prioritize.

    I read an interesting article the other day that offers information on what learning a second language might do in terms of increasing one’s thought flexibility (Weiler, 2015). So, in addition to the reality that the digital, connected world has led to different groups of workers, with different language norms, thinking and interacting, your discussion of better preparing students for the networked world made me consider digital as possibly its own language layer beyond the simplistic inventions such as “lol” or “rofl.”

    There is evidence that technology changes the structure and/or function of our brains. I am curious whether we may see engaging in the digital world as a catalyst that changes our thought process. I am interested in any comments given your active role in strategic planning for students and the development of digital related skills.

    Weiler, N. (2015, March 17). Speaking a second language may change how you see the world. Science. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/03/speaking-second-language-may-change-how-you-see-world
    Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room [Kindle version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/



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