In assessing the business landscape in the coming decade, there will be only one constant: rapid change. As a result, the millennial workforce—more so than the baby boomers and the gen-Xers before them—will bear witness to a radical, accelerated transformation of jobs and industries driven by—you guessed it—technology and innovation.
When Shirley Ann Jackson, the brilliant, accomplished President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, visited the headquarters of BLACK ENTERPRISE, I used the opportunity to gain her perspective on the qualities needed for young professionals to sustain and advance their careers in this new environment. The former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission under the Clinton Administration and first African American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT proved to be a valuable source.
For one, her institution focuses on “five signature research thrusts” that will impact global business today and tomorrow:
1. Biotechnology and the life sciences
2. Computational science and engineering (which includes such cutting-edge areas as big data and artificial intelligence)
3. Nanotechnology and advanced materials
4. Energy, the environment, and integrated systems
5. Media arts, science, and technology (which includes everything from animation to gamification)
A member of the BLACK ENTERPRISE Registry of Corporate Directors, Jackson has a background that blends corporate, government, scientific, and academic experiences, and, as a result, made her one of the nation’s most coveted and prolific corporate directors in the nation, currently serving on the boards of four S&P 300 companies—FedEx, IBM, Medtronic, and Public Service Enterprise Group.
“There are three key things to me,” says Jackson, who acknowledges these trends in reviewing issues on boards as well as while making decisions as a college president. “One is understanding global markets, including the geopolitical framework within which those markets exist and must function—that includes associated capital markets. The second has to do with technological disruption and the rapidity of the change that it drives. The third is accessing talent globally.”
The following represents the three characteristics she believes that millennial professionals will need to succeed in the future:
|1. Intellectual Agility
Jackson asserts, “Even as we educate our students very strongly with technical depth, what they know the day they walk out the door is not all they’re going to need to know. Intellectual agility is more than continuing to go to school and taking courses. It requires an ability to see across a broad intellectual milieu [and] work with people across sectors and geographies.”
2. Multicultural Sophistication
“The world has changed; this country is changing. One has to be able to relate to people across cultures,” she says, citing that organizations on the domestic front that will need to tap “the complete talent pool. The complete talent pool, by definition, includes African Americans, other underrepresented minorities, and women.”
3. A Global View
“I’ve talked about understanding global markets, including capital markets and the geopolitical environments within which companies must operate,” she says. “To be able to work for a major corporation or even to be an entrepreneur and to grow one’s own enterprise, one has to be able to have that global view and focus and know how to operate in multiple areas. If you can’t do that, you won’t be successful.”