June 24, 2019 | Investment Themes

The Next Chapter of Work

Mark Selcow

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Mark Selcow

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The Six Million Dollar Man — a show about a cyborg

“Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.”

I grew up in a TV-heavy household and lived on a diet of 70s shows. I was particularly excited about futuristic shows that showcased fictional technologies, and none was as fun as The Six Million Dollar Man. It’s a show about a cyborg (Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors) who has super strength and vision, and gets signed up as a secret agent to fight bad guys. Cue the 70s suits, fat collars, and terrorists from central casting. It was awesome.

Since then, I’ve always wondered about human potential and how its limits can be expanded. But unlike Steve Austin, when we hear about technology at work, the story these days is not one of human enhancements but a threat to our jobs. Many paint a bleak picture of machines easily surpassing human performance. The World Economic Forum (WEF), for example, suggests that as many as 30 percent of jobs could be lost in the OECD as a result of AI-based automation by the mid-2030s.

But there’s another side of that story. The WEF also says AI will more than make up for the jobs it takes away with new, different, and hopefully higher paying ones. I firmly believe this to be true and see the challenge workers face is one of adaptation — something innately human and possible. This is a story not of careers lost, but of continuous learning, upskilling, and training.

To explain what I mean, I’m going to highlight three areas where technology is helping workers become better and more adaptive performers.

Upskilling and Retraining

Let’s start with workers who know they need new skills but can’t drop out of the workforce to acquire them due to financial obligations. They can’t attend a fulltime bootcamp or go to grad school. They have mortgages and families but also a need to add new capabilities.

Into this breach come digital upskilling programs like Springboard. Its offerings are mostly aimed at the white-hot data and AI sectors, but they also include courses in UI/UX and Digital Marketing. The course content is comprehensive and comes with an industry mentor who keeps students grounded in what future employers care about, while providing help and motivation. The more robust courses, called Career Tracks, come with job placement guarantees. As a result, course completion rates are considerably higher than most online education programs, and job placement is nearly universal at the end of the course.

The beauty of digital upskilling is its low friction model. Not only can learners shape their programs around their real lives, they can also keep tuning and improving. Millennial workers change jobs more often than their Gen X and Boomer predecessors, but that’s not always their choice. The new economy and changing demands require that they add new arrows to their quiver of skills more frequently than before. With Springboard, these workers can add new capabilities or reskill as needed or desired. Newly minted data scientists and AI workers aren’t cyborgs with enhanced vision, but they can land jobs with compelling compensation.

Continuous, Lifelong Learning & Credentialing

With an expected rise in the frequency of job changes comes a need for workers to study and grow within their new disciplines. Tools for learning have gotten considerably better from the days of textbooks and spiral binders. Now, there is an array of digital solutions offering user-generated content, collaboration with other learners, and techniques like spaced repetition to increase the amount of content learners can absorb over time.

The largest of these is Quizlet, which can help you master virtually any topic on earth. Quizlet offers hundreds of millions of study sets, with apps to aid in learning any topic related to work. Already, tens of millions of people use it every month to prepare for credentialing exams in existing job categories, including legal, real estate, medical, government, and countless others. The reason for the massive adoption of Quizlet is its best-in-class content, coupled with study modes like tests, flash cards, audio and image libraries, and much more.

Demand for self-study won’t only be driven by frequent job changes. It is also likely that credentialing and knowledge validation will become more important as new classes of work emerge. Preparation for licensing exams will grow in importance, and services like Quizlet will be there to support workers who need to not only upskill but also demonstrate that they’ve done so successfully.

Infrastructure for the mobile workforce

Globally, 1.88 billion mobile workers or 43 percent of the workforce will be out of the office in 2023. This trend is driven by a number of factors, including better mobile tools and the ability for businesses to better serve customers at a lower cost. As a result, nearly every business will be looking for ways to manage and increase the productivity of a deskless class of workers.

Imagine, for example, that you manage a team of home healthcare workers, technicians for solar installation, or any of hundreds of other mobile job types. You want to ensure that you are correctly matching tasks and skills, and ensuring that each worker goes to the right location in the least amount of time. Once on site, you also want the task to be done correctly and for the worker to confirm that with a photo, digital signature, or action in a mobile app. And afterwards you’d like to be able to take data from these interactions and optimize your systems as you go along.

That’s where a tool like Skedulo comes in. It can intelligently dispatch workers, manage their time, increase their efficiency, and document what they’ve done, driving down costs and increasing the level of service offered to customers.

Companies like Skedulo give businesses significant power to improve how their workforces perform and allow more workers the chance to work where, when, and how they want. Supporting this type of flexibility is critical in the next chapter of work.

The easiest way to think of these products is again a bit like Steve Austin. You’re not taking jobs. You’re taking ordinary workers and giving them extra tools that make them smarter, more efficient, and empowered to do their jobs better than before. They might not be crime-fighting cyborgs, but they will be more valuable members of the workforce.

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