Charles McDowell worked in human
relations for over 38 years, retiring as the
head of HR for Madison College.
Charles McDowell and the Impact of
IT and the Changing Workforce
And their generation has a very difficult time solving problems because they don’t communicate directly with each other. They do it through
technology. And they can be very, very cold and many times insensitive when they communicate through technology and don’t pick up social
cues because they aren’t talking on a one-on-one basis. They don’t get a feel for people’s emotions as they talk to each other. There is no
emotion in the technology communication. And they aren’t able to correct things very quickly when there are differences. I’ll give you an
example. I have seen people who work in an environment and they communicate with their co-workers who sit — you could say live — in a
cubicle right across from them or next to them. They communicate with them through email as opposed to sitting down and looking at each
other face-to-face to talk.”
Some employers are sending their employees back to school in order to learn those workplace social skills that lead to critical thinking and
team problem solving. And Madison College has begun to change their learning spaces to adapt to that need.
“In the effort to developing Madison College’s referendum and getting a lot out of the facilities that exist at Madison College, one of the things
that I was very impressed with was that the college and the building made a decision to create what we call active learning classrooms
where the students actually sit in pods as opposed to the general theater type classroom that we are used to,” McDowell said. “And in doing
so, there is a computer screen that they all have access to, but they are all sitting around in a circle and they are able to look at each other and
talk with each other while they are using the technology. I think that is very smart and most companies could learn from that. So our students
coming out of Madison College — I think it is kind of a pioneer in that area — are being trained to function in a team environment, which will
enhance their ability and also make them more marketable in the future.”
Millennials and others also tend to be focused on the here and now and this impacts how they interface with the workplace.
“I think one of the things that I see is that the young workforce today believes that everything is done in five minutes,” McDowell said. “They
can get everything done in five minutes and there is no long-range planning. Everything is done real quickly. They work on projects. They don’t
think in terms of careers. The young workforce today doesn’t think like you and I did of having a career in journalism or a career in personnel.
They think of projects. Give me a project. Let me work on it and get it back to you and leave me alone. That’s the mindset of youth today. And
they do good work. But they aren’t thinking about careers. You have a lot of companies competing for those individuals who may be in a job for
six months or a year and then they go on to the next challenge. They aren’t looking for a career. They’re looking for that next challenge. And we
have to be able to provide that challenge that will not only engage them, but will also retain them.”
In the traditional workplace, the supervisor was the content expert who told his/her subordinates what to do. Now the supervisor is more of a
team leader, a facilitator of other’s efforts.
“Supervisor may have within their workforce people who are experts in various areas and who have different interests, but are stuck in the
traditional classification of a job and an occupation,” McDowell said. “We have to be able to untap that structure and make it more flexible to
use the talent available across the board. I may be hired as an account analysis. But I may be able to work in the biology area of the company
simply because of my knowledge either through past education or just through my interests.”
The nature of the workplace is also changing. The suit and tie requirement is fading away.
“This is the more relaxed generation that likes to come to work in sandals and blue jeans and to be relaxed in their environment,” McDowell
said. “I think the technology challenges that we face in addition to the generational issues that we face in terms of how you transfer knowledge
are the real challenges because the language is different. The social skills are totally different. What we may have assumed is a routine
passing on of knowledge now becomes more complex because of the challenges imbedded in the generations.”
McDowell noted that the advancement of technology will continue. As we were leaving Panera Bread, McDowell pointed out the automated
ordering pods near the entrance brought on, in part, by the shortage of available labor.
It is the companies that adapt to the changing technology and the changing workforce that will prosper. The rest may fall behind in the
competition of the global economy.
By Jonathan Gramling
During the past 30 years, it is the personal computer and the smart phone that have had the biggest
impact on the workplace. The Baby Boom generation had to play catch-up in order to stay abreast of
the ever-changing technology as productivity levels dramatically increased. Charles McDowell,
who recently retired as Madison College’s HR director after 39 years in the business, has observed
the impact of the technology on the workplace and the people entering the workforce.
“Technology has really taken a major grasp on our community in terms of the work environment,”
McDowell said. “While many people won’t admit it, I don’t think we were totally ready for it. And I
think what is happening now is we are playing a catch-up game of how to deal with technology in
Increasingly, with the rapid development of smart phones, people are able to exist in their own,
individually-tailored silos of entertainment, information gathering and communication. And the
Millennial generation emerged as the first generation that has almost always had smart phones
available since their formative years. This creates challenges for employers and the workplace.
“They have excellent academia in terms of coming out of college, in terms of being able to know the
business,” McDowell said. “But they don’t know how to work in a work group to solve problems.