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Future Focus Business Summit – How Will We Reinvent the Workforce?

By Evan Schmidt

A story: The Human Genome Project launched in 1990 and it took seven years to get one percent of the project finished. When Human Genome scientists were asked if they were concerned about the rate of completion (would it take 700 years to complete?), they responded that now that they were one percent finished, they were almost done and it should only take 6.5 years to complete.

Why was that the case? Because there was a rate of 100 percent growth per year, so, going from zero to one percent was the slowest and most difficult growth period. With this in mind, they were able to complete the project in less than seven years, doubling their output each year until the on-time completion in 2003. This is noteworthy because it demonstrates how technology growth is evolving at an exponential rate. Unfortunately, humans adapt much slower. As a result, business learning and development often lags the rate of technology growth and can fall behind quickly. It is predicted that 40% of current S&P businesses will no longer exist by 2026. Which businesses will lose their revenue stream in the next seven years and who will gain market to take advantage of those who are going under? This is a critical issue for business and for our regional economy.

These are examples and insights that Keynote Speaker, Patrick Schwerdtfeger, a futurist and expert in business trends, brought to the Future Focus Business Summit on May 15th in Roseville, hosted by the four regional Workforce Development Boards and produced by Valley Vision.

Patrick emphasized to the audience of 250 business and community leaders that current technology trends reveal where new technologies might be disruptive. For example, driverless cars are already being used in agriculture and mining – it is just a matter of time until these technologies gain enough traction to be used for commercial trucking and even city driving. Repetitive jobs, whether they are manual or cognitive, are already being replaced with automation or algorithms – this trend will only increase. Blockchain has architected trust across a supply chain by creating a chain of unhackable software. This is enabling the development of smart contracts and potentially eliminating the need for many management and tracking jobs across shipping and other related industries.

Tracking these trends can help business deploy effective strategies to harness innovation. Disruptive innovation, by definition, blows up existing business models rather than improves on existing models. This often happens in the periphery of a market. Systems are disrupted when business solves a problem in one market only to apply it to another, displacing other businesses. Patrick gave some key pieces of advice for business in this environment, including:

Look up, look down, look side to side: Look up to protect your core revenue stream in your primary market space. Look down to find the hard-to-please market segment that will require experiments and innovation to solve their problems. Look side-to-side to monitor adjacent markets – finding your own unexpected market space as well as avoiding unanticipated competitors.

Think bigger: “It’s not an experiment if you know it is going to work.” – Jeff Bezos.To innovate, you must be willing to fail. Additionally, there is more and more leverage in the system every year. The responsibility is on us – watch where innovations are happening, and run towards technology to optimize technology for the benefit of your business.

The Future Focus Summit brought Patrick to the region to help inspire and inform business to keep pace in an ever-changing environment. Patrick provided high level data and trends, but he wasn’t the only feature. There was a panel of regional business leaders who described how some of the major sectors in the region are adapting to technology changes. AJ Jacobs, Chief Information Security Officer at SMUD; Kristie Griffin, Head of Talent Management and Strategy at Stanford Healthcare; and Kevin McGrew, Director of Quality Management of Siemens noted that in regional manufacturing, energy, and health sectors, practitioners are significantly changing their business models to integrate cybersecurity, automate some of their processes, advance innovation in design practices and service delivery.

Aneesh Raman, Senior Advisor for Strategy and External Affairs, CA Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, closed the Summit. As the child of an immigrant, Aneesh is driven by the American promise of social mobility. His interest, from his position at the Governor’s Office, is to provide support and guidance to address how technology can be a vehicle for social mobility and not contribute to existing inequities. Supporting a forward-looking, inclusive economy is a core priority of Governor Newsom and he is supporting it, in part, through a new Future of Work Commission and through a new economic development initiative, Regions Rise Together. This initiative will support regional economic development plans that reflect the unique needs and goals of each region in California. Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, also addressed the role of government in supporting workforce development – encouraging government agencies to stay out of the way of successful business enterprise.

The four region Workforce Development Board organized the Future Focus Business Summit to prepare business for an uncertain future. Valley Vision produced the event because we are committed to supporting a future-ready Capital region. Our speakers and panelist helped move us from fearing a dystopian future to understanding leverage points and considering concrete ways that individual businesses and agencies can prepare for the coming changes. Local systems, research, and actions can help manage the changes that are needed. Read more about Valley Vision’s work and check out some of the services that Workforce Development Boards provide at

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Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Senior Director working on the Public Opinion Surveying initiative and projects in the Healthy Communities and 21st Century Workforce strategy areas.