The Washington Post Asked Me To Speak About The Future Of Work — Here Are 4 Takeaways

Liz Wessel
The Washington Post Asked Me To Speak About The Future Of Work — Here Are 4 Takeaways

Recently, I was asked to be a part of The Washington Post’s The Future of Work event. I spoke about how technology can help workers acquire new skills, the adoption of technology in human resources, and job-hunting tips for college students.

Here are four of the topics we discussed at the awesome event. If you’d like to watch it yourself, just go here.

1. Soft skills are so important that they should be called foundational skills

Companies are continually placing an emphasis on soft skills (or communication and interpersonal skills). Though their name might not suggest it, soft skills are so important we like to think of them as foundational skills. Unfortunately, this is where a lot of early-career candidates are losing out, with more than 60% of applicants failing to move past the first round of interviews. Why? They’re soft on soft skills.

the future of work washington post liz wessel foundational skills

At the event, I spoke about WayUp’s new offering (which recently came out of beta after its first year of being live). In short, WayUp takes on the first round screening process (so recruiters don’t have to spend hundreds of hours screening unqualified candidates), and candidates get feedback on their soft skills so that they can improve on them, instead of getting rejected for them. It’s led to many clients seeing 2-3X the number of underrepresented minority candidates NOT getting rejected for soft skills reasons. Now that’s huge.

2. Colleges and universities need to adjust how, and what, they’re teaching students 

Universities boast about post-grad job placement rates, yet they haven’t innovated in educating their students on foundational skills that are more likely to get the students hired than whether the student took “Oceanography” (which, to be fair, was one of my favorite classes in college).

With the ratio of career service professionals to students typically around 1:1272, universities should find other opportunities to help students prep more for interviews and the workplace itself (outside of only relying on Career Services), especially when it comes to foundational / soft skills. I was excited by what my fellow panelist, Philip Lippel, shared about MIT — they are purposefully incorporating these skills into its curriculum, both in the classroom and within their extra-curricular activities.

Meanwhile, we also discussed that there is an opportunity for online offerings to serve as a more democratic solution to this common problem. There are great online classes for everything from coding (Codecademy) to Microsoft Word (Lynda), but I’ve yet to hear of a great program for developing foundational skills.

3. Companies need a new approach to recruiting to level the playing field for all candidates — regardless of their backgrounds

Unfortunately, a lack of soft/foundational skills are also costing a lot of underrepresented minorities jobs. At WayUp, our user base is more than 33% Hispanic or Black, and 63% female. Helping all kinds of students and recent grads is something we’re incredibly passionate about, and evening the playing field for all candidates is one of the reasons we founded WayUp in the first place.

washington post the future of work liz wessel wayup diversity

With Source, Screen & Coach, we’re helping address this hiring disparity. Before candidates interview, they receive tips they may not have ever learned about the interview process—especially if they didn’t meet the employer in person yet (like at a career fair). Think about it: a candidate who knows an insider or who met someone at a career fair has a HUGE advantage in the interview process over a digital applicant, a) because they received potentially unique information about the company, and b) because the recruiter may prioritize that candidate’s resume over others, who he/she hadn’t met yet.

In addition to the above, we provide the first round of phone screening—during which we never fail candidates for soft skills—because we give each candidate custom feedback (specific to their soft skills) based on his/her/their performance. Personalized coaching helps them improve their soft/foundational skills, so they’re better prepared when they speak with their potential employer for the second round of interviews. Sometimes all you need to do is hear someone tell you just once to elaborate on your “tell me about yourself” or to fix your background noise — and that fixes it forever.

4. Companies need to be careful about how much AI they’re using to assess applicants.

Beyond the concept of having a robot be the first interaction a candidate has with a company, we discussed having a healthy level of skepticism around AI tools that are the sole make-or-break between whether a candidate passes on to the next round. That’s because an algorithm typically reflects the people who create it and the information they feed it. Just look at what happened at Amazon a few months ago. They have some of the best engineers in the world, yet they still couldn’t create an algorithm that didn’t discriminate against women or underrepresented candidates. (Note, however, that there are some excellent assessment tools out there that I believe can serve as great data points for a recruitment process, especially if you treat it as more of a data point than a make or break.)

My main takeaway? The future of work will be here tomorrow, so be prepared today for the new challenges it will bring!

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