Heather E. McGowan is an internationally known speaker, writer, and advisor. McGowan prepares leaders to most-effectively react to rapid and disruptive changes in education, work, and society. As a Future of Work Strategist, Heather has worked with diverse teams to address these challenges. Recognizing that business innovation begins with education, specifically learning faster than your competition, she has worked with university presidents and C-Suite executives including corporate human resources managers to prepare both graduates and workers for jobs that do not yet exist Her clients range from start-ups to publicly traded, Fortune 500 companies, including Autodesk, Citi, AARP, The World Bank, and BD Medical. Often quoted in the media, notably by NYT columnist Thomas L Friedman for her insights into the Future of Work, McGowan also serves on the advisory board for Sparks & Honey, a New York-based culture-focused agency focused on the future for brands.
Heather provides keynotes for organizations all over the world and engages in advisory and, with her colleagues, provides bespoke consulting to help organizations adapt to the 4th industrial revolution. Her think tank is called Work to Learn because McGowan believes that in the 3rd industrial revolution we learned (once) in order to work and now, in the fourth industrial revolution, we will work in order to learn (continuously). The Future of Work is Learning.
The Robot Proof Myth: The Future of Work is Human
There is no killer app that will endure. A technical, single disciplinary skills list for creating a future proof workforce does not exist. Using our factory pipeline to work where we merely substitute STEM, or any other skills, to create a robot-proof workforce is faulty logic. For example, Upwork is an online platform for freelance work with 12 million registered freelancers and 5 million registered clients. In early 2019, Upwork released its list of the twenty fastest growing skills—75% of those skills were new to the index in the 4th quarter of 2018. From this, we can see that our old model of codifying and transferring existing skills and predetermined knowledge used to create a deployable workforce once worked in industrial revolutions but falls apart with this speed of change. Advancing technological capabilities will soon be able to achieve anything mentally routine or predictable—perhaps more than half of all current human work tasks. In this reality, the solution is both learning and adapting with a focus on uniquely human, nontechnical skills that enable more meaningful work through augmentation of computerized technologies. The future of work is human. Once we stop lunging at single disciplinary skill sets while and in fear of being replaced by technology, we can focus on developing our uniquely human skills and leverage rising technological capabilities to unleash the potential of humanity.
Future of Work is Learning
We live in times of accelerated change driven by exponentially growing technologies and an increasingly hyperconnected and interdependent global market economy. As a result, work tasks as we knew them in the past have become atomized, broken into job fragments that can be done anywhere around the world; automated, achievable or solvable by computerized technologies; and augmented, technologies that extend the human physically or cognitively. This reshaping of tasks requires that we rethink our systems of education and workforce development, our organization of work and workers, our process of talent attraction and retention (including learning and development), and even ourselves.
The Future of Identity is Purpose
We ask children and young people “What do you want to be when you grow up?”; we ask university students “What is your major or area of study?”; and we ask each other “What do you do for a living?”. These questions refer to an application of knowledge and skills at a moment in time. That moment in time is rapidly decreasing. According to research, as change rates accelerate–driven by technology and globalization–it is possible for us to work numerous jobs from many different industries in our lifetime. Despite this, we continue to limit our definition to one occupational self. Studies have shown that the loss of a job can take twice as long to recover from than the loss of a primary relationship. In order to create a society and workforce that can learn and adapt to rising technological capabilities as well as the global human talent cloud, We must free ourselves from a definition derived from one occupational self and instead define ourselves through purpose. Purpose, passion, and curiosity are the necessary motivational drivers we need to fuel the essential lifelong learning and adaption the future of work requires.
Leadership, Diversity, and the Identity Crisis
The only thing developing faster than technology is culture. The questions “Who are you?”, “What do you do for a living?” and “Where are you from?” are becoming unmoored and less dependable tethers to our core identity. Demographics and social norms are rapidly shifting worldwide, and our once reliable occupational identities, once spanning multiple generations, must now endure a much longer career arc due to increased human longevity. In the developed world, we spend more than 50% of our time and attention online creating connections and community in areas different from our physical location. These shifts create friction and, for some, an identity crisis. Leadership through this crisis requires acknowledging and empathizing with individuals navigating these shifts to help them build the resilient and adaptive identities necessary to learn and thrive in the future of work. The future of work requires learning and adaptation, which is not possible if the identity is not resilient.
“In a world where speakers claim to be experts, Heather is a genuine expert who can speak.”
“As a university president, entrepreneur, and board member, I have never ever seen anyone better than Heather at demystifying complex information to provide a path to action.”
“Heather is in a category of her own—a singularly gifted strategist who sees the future and communicates it with clarity.”
“I was fortunate to hear Heather speak at the Innovation in the “Age of Accelerations” Forum. She is an amazing communicator and a driving force, inspiring new relevant perspectives. Her presentation is a “must see” by leaders across government, academia, and industry who should be preparing our society for the future of work and the future of learning…the future of work is learning!”