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Disruptive by Design: What Does Work Look Like in 20 Years?

I joined a staffing firm early in my career. Since we were located in the Washington, D.C., area, our clients were all government contracting companies, large and small. I am going to level with you. Before interviewing for that role, I had no idea what the so-called GovCon space entailed and could not have guessed it was so vastly complex. My role as an account manager in staffing brought me two things: a home within which to grow my federal career and an intimate look into staffing for government contracts and the general job market at large. During my time in this space, I have found myself constantly juggling contradictory thoughts on our industry’s future.

What does the future of work look like as a whole? What will the commercial space, the Department of Defense and government roles look like? This is a conversation about opposing expectations from employees to employers, employer to employer, and generation to generation. How do we match desires for flexibility with the rigidity that national security requires? Are younger generations more entitled than our predecessors, or are our expectations in line with a modern world and economy? High school graduates are struggling to meet entrance standards for the military branches. Do we focus on loosening standards or creating physically and academically stronger individuals? If we create a stronger and higher-scoring candidate pool, will these young people choose the military as a viable life path? Do commercial companies really pay much better than the government for commensurate roles, or should this old misnomer be put to rest?

The pandemic opened up a world of possibilities for remote work that most of us could have never imagined. A flexible work-from-home (WFH) policy is standard for much of the workforce. WFH affords employees new ways of living that have not come standard with maintaining corporate jobs. Some people can live a part-time farm life; some take on additional jobs; others get to spend quality time with their children on weeknights; others simply relax and physically and mentally recover from their days. Remote work undoubtedly benefits anyone lucky enough to utilize it. Not to mention the elephant in the room: WFH policies benefit working parents, and particularly mothers. Allowing for remote flexibility significantly contributes to employee satisfaction, thereby reducing attrition. For government jobs that see young workers leaving or avoiding government roles for perks that the commercial world has to offer, building in permanent WFH policies almost ensures long-term loyalty to federal work. Offering remote work is one of an organization’s most affordable attrition-prevention decisions.

Another line of questioning that takes up sizable real estate in my brain is the generational differences in workers and the worlds in which they have been raised. Are we all just casualties of the environments in which we came of age? How many of our baby boomer and Gen Xer counterparts understand and agree with millennials and our take on work? What will a workforce look like once Gen Z has influenced it? A noticeable change seen in the past 60 years is how lower-level employees can contribute to their teams. What changes are you currently seeing take hold in your companies?

From this piece, I hope you find yourself asking similar questions. When you look around your sphere of influence, how can you retain talented workers? How can you attract younger workers and build strong pipelines for the future success of your organization? Should we focus on shaping work around younger generations’ preferences or better equip young workers for the existing job market?


Carole Coburn is a business development professional based in Virginia.

Disruptive by Design explores innovation and ideas with the potential to expand capabilities and revolutionize products, services and behaviors. The opinions expressed in this article are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of AFCEA International.