Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When envisioning the future we often think of space-age gadgets like the holodeck, flying cars, and human shaped robots that aid with everyday chores, but what about the working world? University of Waterloo’s Master of Accounting student, Cindy Chan and Mario Vasilescu, Mechanical Engineering student from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, had their own ideas when they won 1st place and $5000 for their vision of the future as part of the Focus 2040 competition.

 Mario Vasilescu, Cindy Chan with five thousand dollar checkAccording to the team, the year 2040 will see a revolutionary platform that fuses together elements of “social media” and “gaming mechanics” (think LinkedIn, E-Bay, and video games all rolled into one). Basically speaking, the futuristic program will provide employees with game-like profiles that display their experience, technical skills, and personal score card. From there, driven by real time peer feedback, applicants will receive “credits” and a score based on their overall performance, forming a type of social currency.

In our version of the future, career advancement opportunities would be determined by an employee’s social currency, rather than on years of service or even education - says Chan.

Chan also foresees the “largest corporate power reversal since the introduction of the unionized workforce” putting pressure on organizations in the coming years that she says will “refocus their efforts on talent development and retention rather than on the hiring piece alone.” One way to do it she says, is to replicate the start up culture, giving employees the autonomy of entrepreneurs inside organizations so they won’t have to bear all of the risks themselves.

The duo conjured up the idea for Focus 2040 – a national competition presented by the Strategic Capability Network and the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University. The challenge was to determine how the future employee will change the world of work in 2040.

“The competition posed an interesting challenge since it was completely unrelated to my studies in public accounting,” admits Chan.

Rather than technical knowledge, I had to rely on the critical thinking skills I developed through my time at [School of Accounting and Finance], my understanding of real world work dynamics as learned through the co-op program, and the ability to communicate and collaborate with others using my minor in speech communication. In a way, I was able to use my education holistically, contributing every aspect of my education – just in a different context.

Despite being a Human Resource Management and Organizational Strategy competition, the unusual team of an accountant and mechanical engineer managed to capture the imagination of the judges. “We were definitely the most unlikely pairing there,” laughs the student, “but I think it highlighted how unique perspectives can bring HR and strategy together with other functional areas”.

As a result, Chan From left to right, Henry Shew, Mario Vasilescu, Cindy Chan, Ian Weng, George Tsai - Waterloo's other top 10 finalistsand Vasilescu have been overwhelmed with invitations to speak with senior officials at high profile organizations including a group of 100 industry professionals (consisting of Human Resource (HR) directors and Vice Presidents) from several multinational corporations both at the National Club and at Fujifilm headquarters. Some of the team’s ideas were also published in The Canadian HR Reporter, a National Journal of Human Resource Management, with ongoing invitations to contribute to other HR literature.

Given the amount of interest surrounding the concept, “there is a real possibility to change the way people feel about work and tap into those productivity gains” says Chan. With the potential to positively impact thousands of lives, Chan hopes to bring the idea to life sooner rather than later.