Heather is a Forbes Contributor and frequently writes for other publications. Below is a sampling of recent work.

What if the future of work starts with high school?


Nearly 100% of the jobs created during the economic recovery went to workers with postsecondary education training. That training really begins in high school. The work of the future will require a robust system of lifelong learning and high school may just be the fulcrum in that system, best positioned to make the necessary profound changes across the system.


Right now, the university degree is the new high school diploma. It is the best proxy we have, but it remains insufficient. Four out of five CEOs say that skills gaps in creativity and problem solving make hiring difficult and nearly half of job tasks may be lost to automation within the next two decades. While we have substantial technical skills gaps we also have a profound shortage of non-technical, uniquely human skills such as empathy, social intelligence, creativity, communication and judgment among others. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce predicted that without changes to our postsecondary education system immediately, our economy will be short 5 million workers  by 2020. This is not new information but our responses to these challenges are insufficient. Merely pushing more people on the existing factory pipeline through higher education is not working. Nor are efforts to retrain those displaced in short-term skill acquisition boot camps. We need to start thinking differently.  Continue reading

Getty images

Getty images

Several major reports came out during the past couple of months, notably a report from Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, the OECD 2019 Skills Report: Thriving in a Digital World, and the new initiatives by the College Board to account for structural disadvantages, which, taken together, should be the tsunami warning bell that I have been trying to ring for more than decade. The American dream has been on life support for a generation, and without intervention it may be unrecoverable. We are at the edge of the chasm between the Third and Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the Third Industrial Revolution, we needed workers trained in technical skills to build out the infrastructure for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We lunged at STEM skills and focused on education that we could prove through standardized testing. In this era, the higher-education-to-industry factory pipeline worked for people with the required degrees. We pushed more and more people through that pipeline, with a focus on monolithic degrees at increasing cost. We failed to pay attention to the ways in which technology was supplanting workers. Fewer workers could produce more. Those without higher levels of education, notably men with only a high school diploma, dropped out of the workforce, many of them into mental health crises, and there have been more deaths of despair. The Wall Street Journal just published an article entitled “Families Go Deep in Debt to Stay in the Middle Class.”  Cars, college, houses and healthcare have become considerably more expensive, with consumer debt, not counting mortgages, currently at $4 trillion—higher than it has ever been, even after adjusting for inflation. Simultaneously, for two decades incomes have been stagnant. Pew Research reports that between 1971 to 2011 we lost about 10% of the middle class.

I believe that if we act immediately, we may be able to resuscitate the American dream. The challenge is that what worked in past industrial revolutions will not work in the next one. We must think differently, both to prepare the next generation for the future of work and to triage current workers to determine the best courses of intervention to help them adapt to a work world for which they have not been prepared. Continue reading

teacher male education XXX Picture: THINKSTOCK

teacher male education XXX Picture: THINKSTOCK

Coauthored by Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley

For generations, schools, universities and workplaces have prepared citizens to work in a linear fashion: identify necessary skills, devise a training curriculum, transfer knowledge and — voilà! — you have a workforce prepared to answer any number of specific demands in the market.

This model worked well when change came slowly. Businesses could forecast future needs and students could train to fill those needs with the assurance that a good job would reward focused academic preparation.

Not any more. The rate of change is too swift. Where once an economic paradigm shift could be absorbed over generations, we now expect to absorb multiple shifts in a single lifetime. We are in the Age of Accelerations, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman puts it. Continue reading


The key to success in the footloose world is learning, write Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley

For centuries, we have prepared citizens to work in linear fashion. Identify needed skills, create a training programme or post-secondary curriculums, transfer knowledge to potential workers, and – voilà – a workforce is ready to meet an identified market need.

This model worked well when change came slowly. Businesses could forecast future needs reasonably accurately, and students could train to fill those needs with assurance that a good job would reward focused academic preparation. No more. The rate of change is simply too swift. Where once an economic paradigm shift could be absorbed over multiple generations – consider the shift from agriculture to manufacturing work – we can now expect to absorb multiple shifts in a single lifetime. We have arrived at the Age of Accelerations, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s theory has it. Continue reading


Coauthored by Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley

Change is coming at us with the greatest velocity in human history.

In the single second it took you to read that sentence, an algorithm executed 1,000 stock trades. Computers at the credit card network Visa processed over 3 million transactions, no doubt a few of them providing payment for the 17 packages that robots helped pack and ship from Amazon warehouses. Right now, 56,000 Google searches are returning tens of billions of results links. At this very moment, more than 2.5 million emails are being sent, not all of them by actual human beings. Continue reading


By Heather McGowan & Chris Shipley

Here’s an alarmingly simple idea that provides clarity in times of turbulence: companies are nothing more than capacity and culture. Period. 

Culture, at its most basic, is the purpose and the operating principles by which that purpose is achieved.  Capacity is the ability to respond to opportunity. Brand is the expression of culture. Products and services are the output of responsive capacity. Drop Culture and Capacity into a market context – a market need, an industry, a geography - and you have a business. Why does this simplicity of focus matter now? Continue reading


By Heather McGowan & Chris Shipley based upon a prior article with Alan Ritacco

If you are a young college graduate entering the workforce today, odds are, you’re going to lose your job. Often.

In fact, students entering the workforce today can expect to have as many as 17 different jobs in at least five industries, according to The New Work Mindset, a report issued by the Foundation for Young Australians.  Continue reading


Coauthored by Chris Shipley

We ask young people : “WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?”

We ask university students : “WHAT is your major?”

We ask each other : “So, WHAT do you do [for a living is implied]?

Each of these questions, in its own way, promises a future directed toward and shaped by a job. Increasingly, the answers inevitably point to a job that may never be there. Continue reading


Coauthored by Chris Shipley

Few topics spike the ire of American voters like jobs, immigration, and trade, no doubt because the three are inexorably tied together, at least in the rhetoric of politicians who point to immigration and trade as the villains of the American jobs story.

This narrative was clearly in evidence during the presidential campaign, as candidates in nearly every race made admirable pledges to “bring back jobs” through any number of means: reducing immigration by building a wall on our “southern border”, tearing up trade deals, punishing companies that relocate jobs outside of the US, and/or rounding up and deporting undocumented workers. That political rhetoric has spilled into the post-election zeitgeist in the comment sections of online media, like our Immigration, We Simply Cannot Afford This post that examined the economic contribution of legal immigration over the last half century. The comments section was a river of outrage over illegal immigration and trade, even though neither topic was the focus of the piece. Still, the post hit a cord and has reached over 550,000 views. Continue reading


Coauthor: Chris Shipley

NOTE: If you like this article, please read our follow up that covers the impact of rising automation and the future of work: Hard Truth About Lost Jobs; It Is Not About Immigration. 

In an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” three days after President Trump’s executive order restricting entry to foreign nationals from seven largely Muslim countries, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the ban “a small price to pay” to insure the security of the country. Mr. Spicer’s comment and, indeed, the ban itself begs for a fact-based discussion on the role of immigration in the United States economy, particularly as this Executive Order is just the first steps in a “larger immigration effort,” according to the White House spokesman. Continue reading 


This piece is co-authored by Daniel Araya, PhD.


Discussions on the impact of “technological disruption” writ large are now so common as to seem almost banal. According to research at Gartner, for example, one-third of all jobs will be converted into software, robots, and smart machines by as early as 2025. Meanwhile, some 65 percent of children in grade school today are predicted to work in jobs that have yet to be invented. In fact, all of these changes are converging toward what some are now describing as a “Third Industrial Revolution” Given this technological revolution, how should educators respond to accelerating change? The short answer is that we need to give up on creating specialists or hyper-specialists. Educators and education leaders would do well to focus less on translating knowledge—notably transferring existing knowledge to students— and more on the processes of entrepreneurial learning and creativity. Continue Reading



The notion of education implies that there’s a path towards a definitive, finished state wherein an individual has become “educated.” But in a world of accelerated change, with rapid disruption cycles in industry and with rising automation, that end state of being “educated” is just no longer meaningful. An individual must have learning agility - the ability to learn, adapt, and apply in quick cycles. Part One of this piece discusses the learning-over-knowing imperative, and Part Two will examine the specifics of learning agility. Continue Reading


An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential…….. we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate)[i].

Law of Accelerating Returns

Ray Kurzweil, Futurist, Google Director of Engineering


Everything is happening faster and we must adapt. Consider change across five inter-related dimensions: Raw Capability (both human and technological), Employment and Productivity, Business, Technology Development and Adoption, and Contextual References. Continue reading


This is part four of a four-part series on the changing shape of employment, the emergence of the collaborative economy, the potential impacts on higher education, and the need for a new social contract. Insights for this piece came in part from the recent Thomas Friedman Next New World Summit of thought leaders in education, technology, entrepreneurship, and consulting. Here are links to Jobs are Over Part 1Part 2Part 3, and an interview with Future of Work Researcher Stowe Boyd based upon the series.


This is not just about social justice but paying high wages is also smart business. When wages are low, uncertainty dogs the marketplace and growth is weak. But when pay is high and steady business is more secure because workers earn enough to become good customers. They can afford to buy Model Ts. Continue reading


“By 2020, the knowledge college students acquire will have an expected shelf life of less than five years.”

Re-imaging Higher Education, Deloitte University Press, 2014


“Education or learning should be thought of like a toothbrush: something you do twice a day for five minutes or longer…. an integral component in the fabric of your everyday life.”

Sebastian Thrun, co- Founder of Udacity

Continue reading


Blurring of Education-Career-Retirement Lines

From 1950 (and probably earlier) to 2000, education was a concrete, defined and contained process that most people experienced up to their mid-twenties (perhaps into their thirties if you include graduate school). That education was then applied in a career that encompassed a singular company or functional track for the next 43-45 years until workers reached a retirement age of 65. At that point, income came from a pension that was generally sufficient to cover life expenses thereafter, since life expectancy was 68 to 73 years of age. Continue reading


The era of using education to get a job, to build a pension, to then retire is over. Not only is average is over and the world flat, but this is the end of employment, as we once knew it. The future is one of life-long learning, serial short- term employment engagements, and the creation of a portfolio of passive and active income generation through monetization of excess capacity and marketable talents.

Where did this change begin? From 1981 to 2001, the U.S. economy experienced the beginning of middle-class income stagnation with most job growth focused in lower-paying jobs (evidenced by a flattening of median household income vs. GDP). Continue reading


In the present and future you will not be hired or engaged because of a position you held or a degree you have but rather because of the value you can create.

This post is both in response to and in collaboration with Barbara Gray’s recent post “Could Linkedin become Uber for Professionals?” which examines the potential for LinkedIn to enable individuals to directly provide value to and from each other rather than mediated by the infrastructure of company. Ms. Gray’s theory of the pyramid or hierarchy of social capital is that a social mission company’s brand or offering afford the customer value as a reflection of their actual or aspirational selves (StarbucksPatagonia), while a social market company provides a platform in which customer engagement enhances the value of the offering (LinkedInZillow), and a social sharing company makes the customer the offering (UberAirbnb). Continue reading