The Future of Work

Over the past six decades, NASA has attracted relentless adventurers and brilliant explorers who have a passion to explore the unknown for the benefit of humanity. This workforce has achieved the impossible, from the unforgettable feats of the space race and Mars rovers, to building of the International Space Station and the development of new technology that has ushered unparalleled discoveries. As we contemplate the next 60 years, NASA recognizes that today’s environment is significantly different from its past decades of success. Join us in this series as we explore the disruptors driving the Future of Work and provide insights our Future of Work study.  Each week we will publish a new post from our study and invite your feedback.  You can view the past posts by clicking any of the links below or simply scrolling down:

Future of Work – An Introduction
The Four Meta Forces – Mission, People, Technology and Place
Environment and Culture
The Future of Work Framework
Designing for Agility, Focusing on Impact
Redesigning for the future: the age of impact
Redefining Talent
The Future of the No-Collar Workforce
Learning and Developing for a Lifetime
Changing Attitudes Toward Learning & Development
Developing Cross-Generational Talent
What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
Embracing Modern Workspaces and Collaboration
The Changing Office Space
Why I Gave NASA A Second Chance
Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability
Digital Transformation
Unleashing Algorithms, Analytics, AI and Automation
Conclusions for the Future of Work
A Marketplace for Talent

Deploying Talent, Mobilizing Careers

Historically, organizations have defined their “talent” as an employee who works for one company, often in the same job or discipline, for their entire career.  The assumption is that the relationship between the employer and the employee will be a long one. However, the employee from a decade ago isn’t the same as the employee who we are starting to see today.  A number of recent studies report that although older employees may have stayed with their employer for careers lasting more than 20 years, it’s unlikely that their children or grandchildren will experience the same job tenure.  A longitudinal study by the American Bureau of Labour Statistics that tracks the frequency of job changes points out that even for the Baby Boomer generation, individuals change jobs frequently, and on average have held 11.9 jobs throughout their careers, from ages 18 to 50 (BLS, 2017).  

There are many reasons people change jobs, such as increased compensation or new opportunities.  One strong motivator for change, especially for younger employees in STEM fields, is an ongoing desire for new experiences and challenges that support their learning and development. Career mobility is an essential ingredient for their professional and personal development.

This inherent restlessness provides organizations and leaders looking for fresh ideas, new perspectives and a more engaged workforce with a unique opportunity,  Good leaders ensure that the workplace offers plenty of opportunity to help people develop new skills, experience new roles and responsibilities, and advance into new career paths. They understand that when employees grow, their productive capacity increases. When their productive capacity increases, the capacity of the organization increases.  However, engaging this new workforce requires rethinking the definition of “talent.” and strategies for mobilizing careers. Google’s approach permits extensive latitude for employees to select their projects; other companies, such as McKinsey, fully exploit the use of a “talent marketplace” to efficiently match talent with opportunities. 

NASA is adopting a new definition of talent that includes the traditional full-time employee, but also recognizes the value of part-time workers who serve on short-term, project based assignments, emeritus employees who desire to contribute after retirement, and gig economy workers that contribute through an increasing number of channels.  NASA even recognizes that talent may include “machine talent” such as robots, algorithms, and artificial intelligence and robots. As we broaden our definition of talent, we are also developing new ways to inspire, develop and mobilize our workforce.

To address this, NASA is deploying an internal, Agency-wide talent marketplace accessible to the full workforce that will include a full range of permanent, part-time, detail, rotation and temporary positions.  Employees benefit through discovering new opportunities for development and advancement. Managers benefit through being able to more creatively and efficiently address work challenges as well as discover previously hidden talent, and the organization benefits by developing overall stronger capacity, including a more engaged workforce .

About the Authors

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).

Future of Work Theme 2: Redefining Talent

At the intersection of mission and people is NASA’s need to redefine talent, not just talent acquisition. The workforce of tomorrow joins organizations through ever changing methods and channels and, upon onboarding, remains for the duration of a task/project and departs with the potential to return based on work needs (nurtured by “revolving door” policies). This supply of talent is fluid to meet work demand. As such, the future accounts for and redefines talent on a continuum, ranging from the traditional full-time employee to crowdsourcing, inclusive of machines (Hagel & Schwartz, 2018). Application of the continuum is based on how companies access talent and how tasks are organized, with no one model best suited to acquire and match talent to task. Redefining talent requires organizations to both assess their ability to access such new talent pools and, in parallel, ensure work is restructured to harvest the most fruitful results from employing new talent models.

The role of organizations in the future will, in part, remain consistent: to organize talent around a particular purpose and collective goal—simple in theory, yet increasingly complex in practice. The availability of top talent is a genuine concern, not just for NASA but for all organizations. As technological exploitation increases, jobs are being deconstructed, redesigned, and retooled. The rise of robotics is intelligently augmenting the workforce. The gig economy of global freelancers are successfully able to inventory their skills, identify market needs, and map their skills with those needs to work across multiple organizations simultaneously.

From the rising use of contingent freelance workers to the growing role of participatory exploration and citizen science in accomplishing core NASA mission goals, non-traditional workers are becoming an increasingly important source of talent. Today, more than one in three U.S. workers are freelancers and this number is expected to grow to 40 percent by 2020 (Wald, 2017). Satisfaction will likely rise as paying gigs reflect the changes organizations are making to accommodate freelance workers. For companies, a viable “human cloud” that augments the reduced number of staff on payroll is an increasingly appealing proposition.

The talent management approach employed by NASA today limits the Agency’s ability to take advantage of the dynamic talent pool now afforded by the future of work. The current talent approach must maintain compliance with federal regulations, specifically Title V, that are rigid and restrict employment durations, reinstatement terms, and candidate qualification criteria. As the life of projects and tasks become more fluid, NASA must be afforded the flexibilities and hiring authorities to appropriately match the length of employment with new durations for work. Such flexibilities are only the starting point. The Agency requires unified approaches that take insights from in-house analytics and look beyond the fields and industries from which NASA has traditionally filled positions to find and “qualify” STEM talent, inclusive of custom recruitment and hiring strategies for talent niches, multi-discipline workers, and emerging disciplines. Research examples specific to NASA that would greatly benefit from these strategies include filling needs for mechatronic engineers or electronic parts engineers with radiation effects specialties (suggested as the intersection of aerospace and electrical engineering).

As NASA contemplates how to capture the opportunities afforded by a redefined talent pool, an overarching action surfaced: craft a multifaceted talent strategy to identify and value talent based on the redefined talent pool (ranging from the traditional full-time employee to crowdsourcing, inclusive of machine talent). Examples include embracing and placing gig workers and freelancers for short durations by easily employing, un-employing, and re-employing employees across years (revolving door concepts); crowdsourcing complex problems and inviting the public to participate with NASA; expanding the use of virtual interns and virtual workers on ad-hoc bases; and expanding phased-retirement and Emeritus programs.

Strategic and programmatic workforce planning, talent acquisition and management practices must account for an enduring force resilient to shifting mission priorities, coinciding with the need to flexibly match talent to growing dynamic work. Such strategy development must begin with a greater understanding of NASA work, both today and tomorrow, in defining workforce needs for the future, and then merge this awareness with vastly different and readily available talent pools.

Taking these measures to redefine the workforce beyond the full-time, permanent civil service base and long-term contractors will require new talent codification, enhanced and new flexibilities, alternate architectures, refreshed practices, and radically different mindsets across the Agency.

About the Authors

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).

The Future of Work Framework

NASA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) has undertaken research to understand the disruptors driving the future of work and implications for NASA so that it can evolve talent strategies aligned with the new work, workforce and workplace of tomorrow. The result is the Future of Work – a report and framework, which reveals eight major themes that highlight insights, challenges and tangible opportunities for NASA. The Future of Work acts as a foundational compass as NASA embarks on a new journey toward a future that enables its workforce to be adaptable, resilient, productive and bold.

The eight themes emerged from research findings categorized into four major, overlapping meta forces: mission, people, place and technology. Themes range from fundamentally rethinking the roles of organizations and individuals, to embracing the role technology increasingly serves to augment and enable the workforce. The eight themes are:

Theme 1: Designing for Agility, Focusing on Impact
For organizations to thrive in today’s world, it is imperative to move faster, adapt quickly, facilitate rapid learning, and embrace the dynamic needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. Work today requires fluid talent to meet ever increasingly complex work, requiring multidisciplinary skills, delivered by teams of people, networked together that have overarching goals tied to organizational performance and productivity.

Theme 2: Redefining Talent
To attract top human talent, organizations must embrace the new dynamic human talent pool that enters the organization through all manner of new work arrangements, (e.g., traditional employment contracts to citizen scientists); and at the same time strategic workforce planning, acquisition and management practices must enable a workforce that is resilient to shifting mission priorities. Redefined talent runs along a continuum ranging from the traditional full-time employee to part time workers and supplemented by machine talent (e.g., artificial intelligence and robotics).

Theme 3: Learning and Developing for a Lifetime
Rising life expectancies and an aging global workforce present organizations with unprecedented challenges and untapped opportunities. Organizations with a science and technology forward mission must highly value and provide learning and development for its workforce to ensure continued relevance and competitiveness.

Theme 4: Deploying Talent, Mobilizing Careers
Success depends on providing employees with experiences that inspire and challenge them throughout their career. Organizations need well trained, experienced leaders and professionals that can be matched with mission needs through the use of temporary assignments, internal rotations, reassignments and reinstatements, details in place and external engagement.

Theme 5: Embracing Modern Workspaces and Collaboration
Work can now be conducted anywhere and anytime through making information, data and tools available to an increasingly mobile workforce. Workplaces must also adapt as the work and workforce evolves. Modern workspaces are being redesigned for flexibility, autonomy and collaboration and to enable an increasingly remote, agile workforce.

Theme 6: Designing for Sharing and Security
The ability of organizations to leverage data to drive insights to action is critical. Yet data access is often prohibited due to the underlying tension between sharing and security. An enterprise data management strategy and modern, common data architecture is critical to securely share information and data.

Theme 7: Prioritizing Digital Transformation
Digital transformation that leads to more informed decisions and operational efficiencies is occurring in every industry and remains an ongoing process across the federal government.

Theme 8: Unleashing Automation, Analytics, Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Advances in technology will allow organizations to better organize and distribute work tasks to qualified individuals, replacing or outsourcing others and generally augmenting the existing workforce. As machines start to think and act humanly, organizations will be able to more efficiently assess real-time data, assign responses, allocate tasks based on assessment, streamline knowledge driven processes, and enable more objective decision-making.

Each theme includes insights gleaned from the research and analysis, and highlights corresponding challenges and opportunities based on NASA’s position today. Upcoming blog posts will focus on the eight themes in more detail.

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).

The Future of Work: An Introduction

For the last 60 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has successfully attracted the innately curious, the relentless adventurers to explore the unknown for the benefit of humanity. Our workforce has achieved the impossible, from the unforgettable feats of the space race and Mars rovers to lesser known inventions like a reimagined hearing aid enabling people deaf at birth to hear for the very first time. These accomplishments are the results of lasting inspiration and enduring commitment.

As NASA contemplates the next 60 years, we recognize that the environment we operate in today is significantly different from that of past decades. We live in a world dramatically affected by the rapid pace of radical change—organizational, demographic, structural, and technological. Technology is impacting how, when and where we work, as well as the work itself, and how we think about talent and careers. Critical talent is getting harder to attract and deploy. Industry and organizational borders are disappearing, challenges transcend boundaries and are more complex, and solutions no longer belong to one organization or nation. Our workforce is navigating a more complex, fast-paced and interconnected world where work is less geographically-based, organizational structures are flatter, responsibilities are matrixed, and work structures are more complex.

NASA has taken noteworthy strides to ensure the Agency remains well-positioned to hire, develop and motivate the very best and brightest talent. With the introduction of teleworking policies and flexible work schedules, a culture of keeping current and retaining stature in technical fields, and the maturation of world-class leadership development programs, these actions exhibit future-forward steps. However, the Agency recognizes the dynamic landscape of the future requires not only continuous evolution, but in many ways, the reinvention of NASA’s Human Capital program.

NASA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer is rethinking the talent continuum and leading the way to understand the future of work, its challenges and opportunities.  This blog serves to share our insights and introduce new approaches for developing people, launching new platforms to match people with opportunities, and embracing technology and digital transformation to modernize human capital service delivery.

We hope you will follow us over the coming months as we discuss the disruptors driving the Future of Work and key insights that are informing our own human capital transformation.  Together, we will continue to explore how we might evolve our talent strategies and unlock a new frontier for the workforce of tomorrow.