Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Changing Workplace

I have been meeting with a variety of business leaders in the community and asking three questions - what are the trends in your industry influencing your operations?; how is MVCC currently connected to your business?; and what can MVCC do to better serve your needs? A few common themes have surfaced from these conversations that flow directly from my recent blog posts on our changing world and changing county that prompt me to consider our changing workplace.

The influence of our changing demographics is significant. As baby-boomers begin to ease into retirement, the “replacement” labor pool is not what it used to be. Nearly every business in every sector is in need of employees - if not new employees, then better candidates from which to choose. Many businesses are opting to downsize and integrate technology to make their operations more efficient and cost-effective – thereby redefining their expectations of their employees.

The high-touch, personal commitment element in the workplace isn't new, but has a renewed importance. It's been described to me by some employers as, "the skills and characteristics we used to get from our parents at home seem to be missing more and more" - ethics, integrity, general respect for others, punctuality, and the common understanding of what it means to be a "good worker." Some have pointed to shifts in society and a slow erosion of the nuclear family while others point to the changing nature of work – this has highlighted the standard differences between generations. Global competition has created an ever-shifting environment where both job and career changes are now commonplace. The curricular implications of these issues present a significant challenge to educators - how do you really teach someone something as complex as ethics or as simple as punctuality in a three-credit class, particularly with plagiarism and absenteeism on the rise? How do you change behavior that is shaped more by life experience than a textbook?

Lastly, the pace of change in most every industry continues to transform the workplace. No job is as simple as it used to be. Employers talk about the need for critical thinking skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity, problem solving skills and effective communication - these aren't new, but there is a sense of urgency in the conversations. My post on the changing world highlighted the fact that technical information is doubling every two years and is predicted to double every 72 hours by 2010 - that's almost incomprehensible. However, it underscores the need for us to focus on the transferable skills and core competencies that are no longer the domain of a general liberal arts education. The general education/core competencies must be integrated, reinforced, and assessed through all disciplines and programs. In addition, those high-touch skills for good work and good citizenship must be reinforced not only in our classes, but through our services and programs that comprise the total college experience. The challenges may be greater than ever, but so to is the significance of our work here at MVCC.

What are your thoughts on the changing nature of the workplace? Let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.