Offering Re-Entry. In December 2020, women accounted for all job losses recorded, especially in women-dominated industries like hospitality, retail, and education. A large demographic of our graduates are women of color who often face the most difficulty entering or re-entering the workforce. Being able to understand the barriers our students face to entering or re-entering the workforce can help us tailor our programs and allows us to communicate with our corporate partners on how to make education and career programs more accessible and sustainable for students.

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 Dr. Howard Liebman.

A visionary in the field of innovative online education, Dr. Howard A. Liebman is a nationally recognized educator and entrepreneur with experience founding and leading successful public and private workforce, education-related enterprises. In 2004, he co-founded the University of Miami Online High School, and in 2009 he founded Smart Horizons Career Online Education (SHCOE), the world’s first Cognia/SACS/NCA/NWAC accredited, private online school district, which offers high school diplomas and workforce certificate programs for adults. Under his leadership, the SHCOE district has launched many innovative workforce-based high school programs, and forged groundbreaking partnerships with major corporations (McDonald’s, Kroger Supermarkets, CVS Health), public libraries (1,800+ locations), state departments of corrections, workforce boards, and non-profit organizations.

Thank you for making time 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.

There are several life experiences that have shaped who I am today: my active participation in the Big Brother Big Sister program for more than 10 years; the adoption of our daughter; and education. The bond of my Big Brother Little Brother match taught me the importance of legacy, education and family. My spouse and I adopted our newborn daughter last year, and I attribute my experience with my Little Brother as being a driver in making this happen. Also, I come from a family of public educators. My grandparents, my dad, my mom, my aunt and my uncle were all public educators. Thus, I live and breathe education and have seen the power it has in changing people’s lives.

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?

One thing that will always be constant in the workforce is the need for human capital. However, the way we deploy our human capital will change over the next 10 to 15 years. Since the pandemic, workforce shortages, supply chain bottlenecks, and demand for workers have changed the landscape of our workforce. We need workers with specific skills in specific job categories. We also need to respect that employee expectations have shifted significantly since the pandemic began. With remote working having been proven an effective model in many industries, employees are seeking flexible working models and benefits that exceed the standard benefits employers have offered in the past.

As an example of benefits not traditionally offered by workplaces, I predict that more corporations will begin offering education and career opportunities that enable employees to pursue their passions and elevate themselves.

Corporations will start tapping into the millions of adults in the US who are undertrained or the more than 30 million adults in the United States who do not have a high school diploma. Many major corporations have recently started offering educational assistance programs because they improve recruitment and retention and help grow and maintain an educated and skilled workforce.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

A piece of advice I would offer to employers who want to future-proof their organization would be to offer education benefits, such as tuition assistance. As an example, many employers currently require a high school diploma for employment. What if they tried to tap into the approximately 30 million adults who do not have a high school diploma and educated and trained them to fill these gaps in our current workforce system? It is a resource that is not being maximized. Therefore, if organizations can collaborate with adult education providers to ensure students not only get a high school diploma, but also specific skills in a career pathway, such as manufacturing, transportation, early childhood education, or commercial driving, it could be a win-win.

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?

One of the biggest gaps is in education qualifications, and there will be an expectation from employees that employers offer educational opportunities as a benefit. Another will be workplace flexibility in industries where it is possible to work remotely.

We currently work with both adults who dropped out of high school and corporations who are struggling to find employees — the employer shortage coupled with high rates of unemployment for these adults is where we see a major, yet fixable disconnect.

As an example, we are currently partnered with corporations that offer their employees various education and upskilling opportunities, and our high school diploma plus career certificate dual program allows them to graduate with the necessary skills to pursue employment or further their education. Companies that work with high schools, online adult education, colleges, and vocational tech and trade skill institutions will have the best chance of closing this gap, because they will be providing their employees with economic opportunity, while also fueling their workforce needs.

As more employers embrace the model of offering educational opportunities, career training and tuition assistance, more prospective employees will grow to expect these offerings as part of the overall benefits package.

Additionally, due to the pandemic, many employers shifted to remote workplaces and saw that productivity remained the same or increased, and some lowered their overhead by downsizing or eliminating the workplace. I believe we’ll see a shift where employees expect more flexibility in terms of when and where they work. This shift dovetails with online adult education, which already provides this flexibility to those pursuing their high school diplomas.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

The silver lining of the pandemic has been the demonstration that in many industries people can work remotely and continue to meet professional expectations. Employers are also seeing the added benefits of lower overhead, continued productivity and a boost in morale for those employees who find their lifestyles much-improved with this shift. I believe this change will be a permanent one in many industries, and we need to provide employees with greater flexibility as part of their employment.

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?

As a society, we’re going to see more remote work, more flexibility in schedules and more diverse and better benefits, such as adult education offered by employers. Workforce shortages have revealed the need to enhance benefits to attract and retain talent, and those benefits are going to increasingly include educational and career opportunities, as well as tuition assistance.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

My greatest source of optimism comes from the students that we work with. Adult education has transformed lives. We’ve seen it firsthand at Career Online High School. We had one student who was a human trafficking victim for decades. She shared her story with us that by obtaining her high school diploma, she felt a sense of empowerment and that she was reclaiming her life.

We have other students who dropped out of high school due to pregnancy or substance abuse issues, and these students have re-engaged the educational system by pursuing their high school diplomas as adults — often to set an example for their children. It’s truly remarkable to see how transformative education is to one’s life.

We are also optimistic because our program serves as a pathway to better work opportunities for our students. The program includes a career certificate so students graduate not only with the high school diploma, but with entry-level skills and knowledge in a career path. Career areas include growing, high-demand areas like Home Care Professional, Food and Hospitality, and Commercial Driving; and other options that prepare students to obtain an industry-recognized credential such as Child Care and Education. There is a direct pipeline between our program and career advancement opportunities. Many students go on to launch or advance health care careers for example.

I’m most optimistic that as employers recognize the need to invest in their employees’ educations and career opportunities, people’s lives will be significantly improved. These opportunities can make a world of difference not only for the individual, but also for their entire family and community.

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?

This pandemic has caused unprecedented stress on American workers. From healthcare workers facing burnout to working parents who are juggling childcare as classrooms are shut down due to COVID exposures with no advanced notice, everyone has been affected.

To help improve employees’ mental health and wellbeing, employers must increase the flexibility of employees’ work schedules. Employers need to accept the new conditions and challenges employees face and make the adjustments necessary to support employees’ lives while also ensuring performance expectations are being met. This flexibility should include accepting that employees will occasionally need a “mental health day,” and that’s ok and healthy.

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?

Yes, we have heard about this from our corporate partners. In my opinion, these headlines are indicative of a turning point in our current workforce. We collectively have gone through a global pandemic, where our everyday lives have been upended. Company and cultures need to evolve by listening to their employees and providing guidance on how to enter and stay in the workforce. Companies should reach out to students, adult and older youth, and show them how to explore various careers, find one that works for them, and help them obtain the necessary skills.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. Career Readiness in Schools. One trend to track is how schools become more involved in career development. Part of the reason we’re facing a workforce shortage is because many schools are only showing students a four-year college is the next step after high school, and not getting them involved in the community’s workforce. Students are not exposed to career readiness, which would allow them to choose the pathway that works the best for them. In our program, we offer a high school diploma, but also allow students to earn an occupational skills credit through classes they take as electives. For example, we offer logistics, childcare, hospitality, commercial driving, and more, and students graduate with both a high school diploma and a skills credit, allowing them to matriculate into higher education in the community, or enter the workforce in that area. Four-year college is not always a viable option for students and presenting them with more opportunities allows them to choose what they feel is best, while also bolstering the economy.
  2. Increasing our Supply Chain Workforce. As we are all well aware, our supply chain is facing an unprecedented crisis in retail and manufacturing. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to move supply chains onshore and has showed how catastrophic bottlenecks can be to Americans. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous trend, since we need better programs across the nation to create a pipeline for students and for workers who have exited the workforce, to pursue supply chain and manufacturing jobs. The Biden Administration has put a large focus on supply chains, by creating a Supply Chain Task Force and releasing an Executive Order on Supply Chains, however these cannot be carried out without the necessary human capital. We recently introduced an Introduction to Manufacturing skills credit to our program in Florida to help create a pipeline from our program to factories, ports, and warehouses around the state to help improve supply chain efficiency, and will be tracking this to see the progress and success of this credential.
  3. Upskilling Workers. We are currently facing what the Wall Street Journal calls a “paradox of high unemployment combined with record job openings,” which is attributed to the disconnect between in-demand skills, and skills that workers currently have. We are currently watching the trend to upskilling workers because about a quarter of our workforce will be forced to upskill or will be forced out. We are tracking this because we want to ensure our occupational skills crediting program is up to date with what employers need. We work with our corporate partners to create these programs, especially because education is a necessary component in making sure workers are earning the qualifications that are required.
  4. Offering Re-Entry. In December 2020, women accounted for all job losses recorded, especially in women-dominated industries like hospitality, retail, and education. A large demographic of our graduates are women of color who often face the most difficulty entering or re-entering the workforce. Being able to understand the barriers our students face to entering or re-entering the workforce can help us tailor our programs and allows us to communicate with our corporate partners on how to make education and career programs more accessible and sustainable for students.
  5. AI Literacy and Cybersecurity. Following the pandemic, every type of career will include a digital component. Technology is now a necessity to access work, education, and to communicate, and with that, we will need students to understand AI. Additionally, with the increased use of technology, we will need to see a workforce that is literate in cybersecurity to keep our supply chains and infrastructure safe.

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 “Life Lesson Quote” is from my late grandfather, who lived until he was 102 years old. He would always say, “keep showing up to work, to school, to your spouse, to your family and good things will happen MORE than bad things.” This perspective has shaped my life as an educator. It has helped me start two very successful education enterprises. I believe that showing up is the hardest part and if you stick to your plan and show up consistently, good things will happen. Look, our school district has impacted more than 12,500 people’s lives. I believe we have done this through consistently showing up and advocating for them.

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.

If possible, I would love to have lunch with Lebron James because of his ability to help others around him, his tireless work ethic, his ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and his passion for education. I strongly admire these traits and find them applicable to the business and educational world.

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?

You can visit our website, and sign up to keep up to date on our programs, graduations, corporate partnerships, and more.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.