As it becomes increasingly easy to apply to jobs enmasse, “ghosting” will continue to be a major problem for employers.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview AJ Richichi.
AJ Richichi is the Founder and CEO of Sprockets, a Charleston, South Carolina-based startup that transforms the traditional hiring process into an equitable one for the hourly workforce. AJ drives Sprockets’ strategic growth, builds the product vision, and oversees the company’s talented and passionate staff. A leading voice in the Southeast technology community, Richichi sits on the board of several boards including Charleston Open Source, SC Tech Executive Forum, and Build Carolina.
Thank you for being available to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
I graduated high school early to work on Capitol Hill. Almost overnight I went from watching varsity basketball games to leading national security briefings. Looking back, it feels a little unreal. During that time, I learned about leading with purpose, the importance of relentless hard work, and the responsibility of our day-to-day jobs.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
In 10 years, automation will have the technological capability to replace millions of hourly workers, but will not gain widespread adoption due to cultural and political pressures.
There will be no job boards. When needed, technology will help drive you towards roles and companies where you will be happy and fulfilled, opening up opportunities to advance your career and life.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
I’ve read many CEO’s answer this question with “listen to your workforce.” I think what’s more important, and less obvious, is to “ask your workforce, constantly.” It’s important to set up safe spaces where employees can tell you what they think and how they feel. If you need to know what it takes to keep people, why not just ask them yourself?
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
In many industries, the turnover rate for hourly employees is triple digits. At Sprockets, our primary focus is to cut this number in half. When talking with prospects it’s amazing to hear that many operators have accepted high turnover as “part of the business”. This mindset leads hourly employers to NOT invest in their people. Why would I pay tuition if this employee will only stay 3 months? Do I really need to offer top tier health insurance if this person is going to abandon us like the rest?
I’ve seen technology improve hourly turnover which encourages employers to invest more into their employees. But, in order for true change to occur, employers need to be willing to adopt it.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Work from home has had a profound impact on deskless hourly workers. Many Americans leverage time during COVID-19 to transition from working in restaurants and hotels, just as two examples, to remote work like call centers and scribes, which shocked the system. The current unemployment rates may be back to pre-pandemic levels, but they are not proportional to the industries that feed us, house us, and service us. This challenge is not temporary- it was not a flash in the pan- but rather a seismic shift that requires new technologies and solutions to drive positive change.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
There is no structure that will work for everyone or a silver bullet to cure all labor woes. Today’s America is not structured to achieve complete harmony across its workforce. There will always be advantaged and disadvantaged, privileged, and not. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to make things better. HR Tech, in my opinion, has a responsibility to level the playing field and create a purposeful solution that yield consistently equitable outcomes for everyone involved. Society can’t move faster than technology so we, as HR tech leaders, must step up and drive the change.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
True innovation seldom occurs from good times. The challenges with labor and economy at large have created ideal conditions of opportunity. These new problems require different ideas that will force all of HR Tech to be better and hold its leaders, myself included, accountable to advancing the future of work in a positive direction.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Americans spend more than ⅓ of their day at work. In many roles, we spend more time with coworkers than our families. When we’re feeling fulfilled at work with people that make us feel strong, that contributes to a positive wellbeing. The reciprocal is also true. When we’re feeling unfilled at work with people that make us feel weak, that’s harmful to our mental health.
Above all, I believe that “fit” is the most important success factor to work and health. Does this company have my core values? Do I feel like I belong here? Am I being managed to my love language? When those answers are “yes, yes, and yes”, the company and employee win.
At Sprockets, we’re obsessed with making these meaningful relationships that last. It all starts from the moment someone applies to work at your company.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
I’d advise leaders to look beyond trendy titles and look deeply within as well as into specific industry data. I think it’s misguided to generalize the entire United States labor market in any way. Listen to your employees- are they feeling underappreciated? What are they asking for? Listen to your peers- are they having turnover problems? What are they doing to address the challenges?
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Companies that adopt DEI practices will outperform those that do not.
- The cost of labor in the hourly workforce will continue to rise even as unemployment hits an all-time low.
- Turnover in the hourly workforce will remain at 140%+ annually as employees feel unfulfilled at work.
- As it becomes increasingly easy to apply to jobs enmasse, “ghosting” will continue to be a major problem for employers.
- The hourly workforce will likely be underserved by technology in relation to its size.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
My favorite all-time quote is “everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Growth is hard, and scary, but to me it’s everything. I’ve found that my life’s greatest moments always come right before getting butterflies in my stomach- the locker room before a big game, driving a uhaul for a cross country move, steps leading up to the proposal, and elevator ride up to Sprockets’ first-ever customer. I now find myself searching for those moments and encouraging my children to build their own.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
Although there’s many people in the industry that I admire, I’d trade my breakfast with a celebrity for 10 extra meals with my wife and kids. There’s just never enough time with our loved ones!
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
I’m not currently active on social media but please connect with me on LinkedIn to continue the conversation. I’d love to hear from you!
Please find Sprockets at our website and on all our social media feeds. Our links are below:
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.