Learn and Earn. Demonstration of skills acquisition will result in a higher salary.

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 Kiko Suarez, Territorium.

Dr. Suarez is an expert in education innovation, leadership and change. Author and TED speaker, he serves as Vice President of Higher Education and Workforce Development at Territorium, Board Chair of Prontopia and member of the Board of Governors at Antioch University.

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?

One of the most important experiences has been to live in, not just visit, other countries. Most assumptions go out the window once you can live the life others live. I was privileged because I had a job, but it is imperative to immerse ourselves in life wherever we go.

An exciting and unique experience was my TEDx Talk. Back in 2014, after finishing my doctoral dissertation (already in my late forties), I was allowed to present my 400 pages in about 11 minutes, so the challenge was excellent, and I enjoyed every minute of it. From April to October, I rehearsed in my commute, in my head, and even on July 4th, watching fireworks. My kids were little at the time, and they were wondering why I would do that. It was a rare privilege to share my research on wisdom with the world that way.

What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace 10–15 years?

The need to be present for your human team. I remember when Tim Russert mentioned in an interview about his dad that the best gift (present) he could get was the time spent with his dad. Being present requires empathy, attention, and genuine listening. As much as technology can evolve in 15 years, empathy and presence will be critical qualities for leaders and team members.

What do you predict will be different?

On the one hand, decision-making will be more data-driven and AI assisted than it is now, as technology will enable capturing more data points about every action, attitude, and behavior. The ability to integrate sensing technologies both on the consumer side (sophisticated portable devices with all kinds of sensors), as well as on the product side (through a more advanced version of the Internet of Things) will enable capturing billions of data points about consumers and employee behavior that will forever alter the way we provide services. On the other hand, learning will be real-time and on-demand using immersive technologies, especially in manufacturing and environments with higher risks. Finally, learning will be codified and assessed at a micro-level. Skills and competencies will replace grades in learner records, and employers will be able to hire in a system with less friction using a more equitable competency-based hiring process.

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

Develop leaders. Go digital-first. Simplify your processes. Use data and AI to improve your decision-making process. Start focusing on competencies and skills before, during, and after someone joins your organization. Demand education providers to break down what undergraduates and graduates know, understand, and are able to do.

What do you predict will be the most significant gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward?

We have learned during this pandemic that employees expect flexibility, and there will be increased pressure on employers in that regard. It is not working from home. It’s working from anywhere. Another essential thing is that employers will have to find ways to retain valuable employees, as employee volatility will increase both in blue and white-collar jobs.

And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Employers could develop retention strategies based on micro-credentialing competencies and skills, and provide employees with valuable and portable micro-credentials that could be used in or outside that organization for further personal and professional advancement. I also believe that employers should consider extending educational opportunities beyond the employees to include their families.

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

As I said before, it will become “working anywhere/anytime.” The biggest challenge for governments and companies will be taxation and compensation, as workers will become truly global and mobile.

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?

It is time to reduce inequalities and focus on skills and competencies. Employers should not care about “where you went to study,” but what it is that you know, understand, and are able to learn and do. Ditching the resume and incorporating competency-based digital learning records that are secure and portable would give a level playfield and more equitable access to jobs.

What is your most excellent source of optimism about the future of work?

Wisdom. Of course, as a researcher of that concept, I keep saying that data is necessary, but it is only in our basement, while our beautiful, wise human views are from the attic. I believe that we will continue to understand that human flourishing is at the core of human life and that work should be its manifestation. Working will be rewarding as long as we flourish as humans and help others thrive at work. Automation is not the issue; dehumanization would be.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we believe the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

I may sound like a broken record, but I insist that our higher purpose is to flourish as human beings and help others flourish. If you take my model of 8 dimensions of wisdom (cognitive, intuitive, ethical, aesthetic, “timeness” or temporal perspective, practical, adaptive and balance), I would encourage organizations to think on “wise product design” and “wise process design”: to what extent this new product or process will enable my employees, clients and communities fulfill any of those 8 dimensions of wisdom? Will people learn better? Will they be more ethical by using that process or product? More balanced? More adaptive? I feel like I need to explain the aesthetic dimension. It does not refer to physical beauty, but beautiful outcomes vs. ugly outcomes. Will your process or product generate beautiful outcomes for the consumer, employer, or the community, or ugly outcomes?

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?

The most important message for leaders is that it is OK to “rethink” everything, because we are constantly learning and improving, especially when it comes down to the wellbeing of the people involved. Are they flourishing and helping others flourish? Great! Are they “being” someone and not just “becoming” someone? Even better. It’s all about helping humans be better humans. That’s the re-evolution that must happen.

How do company cultures need to evolve?

In the most fundamental way: trusting people instead of distrusting them. Humans are and will continue to be at the core of our businesses and organizations, no matter how much AI and data help us be more efficient and effective. The world is still moved by ideas and relationships, and those are fundamentally human.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. Care Tech/Analytics. Your employee receives the support s/he needs before asking.
  2. Learn and Earn. Demonstration of skills acquisition will result in a higher salary.
  3. Data-driven and AI-assisted Decision Making. Nuclear reactor stopped way before any red flags.
  4. Social Customization. Customers, Employees, and Communities will get from the company or organization a high-value product that actually meets their needs, including their social ones.
  5. On-demand/Real-time/Microlearning Lessons in an Immersive Way. No need to take a course. There is no need for week-long onboarding. Onboarding will happen as you need it and when you need it. Think of it as “knowledge pills”.

What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. Then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present: the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” Dalai Lama

And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

Nothing is more important than “being” and “now”, rather than “becoming” and “one day”

Is there a person in the world, or 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.

The Dalai Lama, for sure. His perspective is inspiring. I would have loved to meet Simon Peres, because leadership is not about the easy way out. I have met many people in my life, and never got an impression that celebrities would make a difference in my life. My favorite conversations are with taxi drivers. Someone that I would love to talk to is Paulo Coehlo, the author. His books have always been an inspiration, especially The Warrior of the Light.

How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

People can always find me on Linkedin as Kiko Suarez PhD. Or email me privately at [email protected]. I am grateful to my employer, Territorium, for providing an incredible tech suite that will allow learners to bring competencies to the world in portable learning passports, one of my innovation dreams come true.

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