You can’t plan for the future of work without workers

Issues and Impact | News | 3 min.
Written By: Contributor | Posted On: 09/02/2020

By Jocelyn Rodriguez, Doctoral Resident, Future of Work, New Profit & Helen Martinez, XPERT Worker Advisory Board Member


The paradox of many future of work programs is that technologies, services, and programs intended to help people “thrive “in a new economy, often exclude the voices of those most impacted– that of the frontline worker. Instead, most programs center the ideas and needs of employers, corporations, investors, government officials, and others. Frontline workers are defined as those not yet equipped for the future labor market, not earning a living wage, and the most vulnerable to being displaced from employment. Black, Indigenous, and Latinx populations disproportionately make up the communities with the most frontline workers and the least investment in future of work programs. 

The future of work without workers is simply inadequate. This is precisely why Dr. Angela Jackson, Partner at New Profit, decided it was necessary to elevate worker voices throughout the Future of Work Grand Challenge. With the help of Accenture and Goodwill Industries International, New Profit designed and launched the XPERT Worker Advisory Board which prioritizes worker voices through research and insights across the sector, integrates frontline worker voices into future of work solutions, and mutually benefits the XPERTs by connecting them to professional development support, and providing technical skill building. 

These XPERTs are not simply engaged, they are integrated in the work. They are not simply providing input, they are making decisions that impact the direction and strategy of the Future of Work Grand Challenge, powered by XPRIZE and MIT Solve, and made possible by a broad coalition of partners including the Morgridge Family Foundation, IBM, CSU Global, and Gary Community Investments. For the MIT Solve portion of the challenge specifically, XPERT board members serve on the judging panel, review team applications, participate in Solve-A-Thon workshops, and help to inform judging criteria. The XPERTs are essential advisors and proximate thought partners. 

Helen Martinez is one of the XPERT board members. She exemplifies why geography shouldn’t determine access, age shouldn’t determine opportunity, and the future of work requires employers, job centers, and job seekers to work together to make the greatest impact. 

Helen describes, in her own words, why she joined the board and what it means to her:

“I am living in Rogerson, Idaho– a tiny town in southern Idaho. About 30 miles south of the “big” city of Twin Falls, Idaho, the population is 49,764. It is a mostly farming and farming-related community. I worked in a potato processing plant for 12 years, until machines were brought in to do the work. I then worked as a hostess/cashier in a restaurant for over 14 years. In 2011, I retired, but some years later when my husband became ill and passed away in 2019, I found the need to return to work. I began applying but found nothing I was qualified for. When I applied at the Goodwill Store, the recruiter told me about the Easter Seals Senior Community Service Education Program. I applied and was accepted as the director’s assistant because I am bilingual. There I learned what is wanted in today’s workplace. I learned to work with a computer, which I knew very little about. Computer knowledge is needed for almost everything today. I learned that although my experience is not in high demand, I could build on it. I learned to be more confident in myself and my ability to learn. With what I learned there, I was able to get the job I have now as an Outreach Worker/Paralegal for Idaho Legal Aid Services. And I am still learning new things. I feel that education opportunities for people of ALL ages and ALL areas of life are very important.

“I joined the XPERT Worker Advisory Board because I want my experience to help someone else. I would encourage employers to take time to consider all the attributes an applicant has to offer- are they trainable? And to the people applying, don’t give up! There is something for you. If you need to learn something new, do it. There are many places to learn from. But above all never stop learning!”

The $6 million Future of Work Grand Challenge, powered by XPRIZE and MIT Solve, will: rapidly reskill 25,000 displaced workers into living-wage jobs in the next 24 months; equip influential workforce boards with vetted tools to support the wave of displaced workers in six months; achieve broader systemic change to help prepare 12 million Americans from underinvested communities for workforce success by 2025. The Grand Challenge puts equity at its core, seeking ideas from diverse entrepreneurs and advancing solutions that serve the most under-invested workers.