NationSwell Council member Shalin Jyotishi has spent his career advancing solutions at the intersection of workforce, education, and tech. The NationSwell team recently had the opportunity to speak with Jyotishi about the global coalition he’s building through his work at the World Economic Forum, the “downstream impacts” of technological innovations, and how tech can improve the lives of workers.

NationSwell: Congratulations on your new fellowship at the World Economic Forum! Can you talk a bit about the work you’ve done throughout your career, and how it’s informing the work you’re leading now?

Shalin Jyotishi: Thank you! My mission is to help leaders from colleges and universities, companies, and governments solve complex problems where education meets the workforce and where both topics meets scientific and technological innovation as well as public policy. 

I first worked “upstream” in science and technology policy both domestically and internationally with a focus on technological innovation, asking questions like, “Why do governments fund R&D? What’s the best way to fund R&D so society benefits the most? What do optimal public-private sector collaborations look like in R&D? How does R&D translate into technology-based economic development, entrepreneurship, technology transfer, job creation, and workforce development?”

Then, I moved to “midstream” in the technological innovation continium. At the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, I worked with executives from nearly all public research universities in North America to help improve the role of our public universities in maximzing the economic and societal benefits of those government R&D investments – whether it be through talent and workforce development, innovation and entrepreneurship, or or public and community engagement in science.  

These days, my work focuses on the “downstream” impacts of technological innovation. 

At New America, I’m focused on the future of learning and work relating to the innovation economy with a focus on community colleges and new models for career preparation. 

At the World Economic Forum, I’m focused on how employers are responding to emerging technologies entering their workplace, and how workplace technologies can be a “win-win” for employers and employees.

For example, last year, my colleagues and I produced a white paper on the state of play for AI-based tools for HR professionals which laid the foundation for the project I’m leading as a Fellow. My project is focused on empowering companies and their partners to ensure that workplace tech is a “win-win” for employers and employees. 

NationSwell: COVID-19 has completely disrupted the workforce, accelerating us into the future as it exacerbates present-day inequities. Can you talk about the potential you’re seeing in this moment for how tech can improve the lives of workers?

Even before the pandemic, a Gartner study revealed that 50% of surveyed large employers were using nontraditional monitoring techniques which accelerated in the pandemic era as businesses sought to track worker engagement remotely.

Algorithmic management in warehouses and call centers has made work more stressful, grueling, and dangerous. Such technologies have eroded worker privacy, autonomy, and civil liberties.  

However, simple and advanced technologies also nearly singlehandedly carried the world through the height of the pandemic, maintaining and, in some cases, expanding work opportunities, ushering in a new normal for work-life balance enabled by flexible work arrangements for workers of all socioeconomic statuses. 

Workplace technologies can make jobs better or worse. We want to ensure that the former scenario to happen, and we believe now is the optimal time to focus on this issue. 

On one hand there are the labor market conditions: In the United States, the tight labor markets, the national racial reckoning, the flexible work movement, greater attention paid to essential workers and working conditions in general, a new wave of unionization are all well timed with the maturation of a number of workplace technologies rooted in technologies like AI, Internet of Things, and advanced robotics. 

We need to align the conversations of employer competitiveness enabled by technology with that of advancing job quality. Many people want a different world of work than the one we inherited or even shaped before the pandemic.

For technology optimists, this project is an opportunity to clarify the positive impact of workplace tech on employers and workers For technology pessimists, this project is an opportunity to mitigate the negative risks around workplace tech for employers and workers.

While workplace tech may not always be able to improve pay, which to most workers is the most important aspect of job quality, We will be looking at how workplace technologies can improve a number of working condition aspects including: safety; schedule predictability, regularity, and flexibility; non-discrimination and support for disabled workers; employee voice and input; job design; meaningfulness and social value; and career security and growth , such as training and advancement opportunities whether internal or external.

We will be emphasizing how employers can co-design workplace technology implementation strategies with their employees, giving them a say in which technologies are adopted and how. 

NationSwell: What’s your call to action for people reading this profile?

We have brought together a diverse global coalition of business, labor, government, academia, philanthropy, and civil society to address this challenging topic. We will be doing a lot of storytelling and research over the next year.

Please get in touch with me if you would like to contribute. Below are a few examples for each of our constituent groups. Of course, all ideas are welcome. 

  • Employers, technology vendors, and associations: Share stories and case studies of how you have adopted workplace technologies that have led to a “win-win” for workers and the company. 
  • Labor groups and worker voice entities: Share stories and case studies of how you have enabled workers to co-create workplace technology implementation strategies alongside employers. 
  • Policymakers and stakeholders: Get in touch on enacted or proposed policy solutions or even ideas to help ensure that the “win-win” scenario for workplace scenarios is actionable.
  • Academics, think-tanks, philanthropy and civil society: Share your research around how workplace technologies can lead to a “win-win” scenario for employers and employees.

To learn more about the NationSwell Council, visit our hub.