Robert H. Brown, Vice President and Keahn Gary, Senior Manager, Cognizant Center for the Future of Work

Robert Brown joined Cognizant in 2014. He is a fellow at the Fisher Center for Business Analytics at BerkeleyHaas, a member of the Bay Area Council, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the New Agenda for Work, Wages and Job Creation, and in 2018 was an Action Forum participant at the Aspen Institute. Previously, he was a Managing VP of research at Gartner, and also held roles at Hewlett-Packard and the British House of Commons. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from UC Berkeley and attended LSE as a Hansard Scholar.

Keahn Gary’s research focuses on modernizing value systems and optimizing evaluation methodology to create dynamic and inclusive work environment. Keahn joined Cognizant in 2016 to advise Communications, Media, and Technology clients on how to navigate their unique journeys through digital transformation. Over her tenure at Cognizant, Keahn has collaborated with market and industry leaders to address disruption and uncertainty through technology modernization, talent innovation, and direct to consumer strategy. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Babson College and earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Southern California.

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Why one city decays and another thrives can sometimes seem random. So trying to foresee downrange why the future will happen in City A and not City B is hard.  Moreover, to imagine that there is one formula that all 7.8 billion of us should adhere to, wherever it is we live, is clearly nonsensical.

In our work, we study, research, and rank places to determine what the best practices are to increase economic prosperity, social equity, and quality of life. Ultimately, the question we want to answer is: What is it that makes a city a place of the future?  In our research, one thing has become clear to us: next-gen talent is the fuel for the future of place. And by extension, jobs of the future will happen in places of the future.

In our recent webinar, Place Matters (a big thanks to Sean Audain, Chief Innovation Officer for Wellington, NZ, for joining us), we discussed where (and why) we believe the next generation of work will take place.

In our brand new report “21 Places of the Future,” we used a detailed methodology to profile places that range from the large to the small, the old to the new, and the well-known to the hardly-ever-heard-of. There are four concepts in 21 Places of the Future in which successful places will need to invest in (and manifest) to secure a thriving economy:

  • Centricity of Technology: Ensure that technology is at the core of investments in people, processes, and infrastructure to attract and develop the jobs of the future, begetting a virtuous circle of employment growth, wage growth and tax revenue growth to propel your place forward
  • Equity: Find balance between the vested interests of the “incumbent” and the “disruptor.” Whether real estate price inflation, education price inflation, healthcare price inflation, entertainment price inflation – in many places that didn’t merit inclusion in our report, it was all too apparent that the haves were pulling up their drawbridges to protect themselves from the have-nots.
  • Education: This is a great equalizer. Put simply, the brightest people at the greatest scale win. Most of the places in our report reflect this enduring truth. Many of the places that didn’t make our list fell down because education wasn’t prioritized.
  • Openness: Maintain openness to ideas, people, culture, experimentation, failure, and the future. While a place that is open to the future has no guarantee that it will thrive, but a place that is closed is guaranteed to ossify and die.

So how do you bring in, engage, and fulfill the next generation of talent?  Every generation brings with it claims of being completely different from all previous generations. In reality, leaders would do well to lean into the lessons Gen Z and Millennials have already offered during their tenure at work – especially when it comes to values.   Following are some examples worth highlighting:

  • Authenticity: If there’s a single positive change to the general mentality of a generation, it will be the desire for people (and institutions) to be exactly who they are, unapologetically. Make sure your words and actions are in constant, consistent alignment.
  • Transparency: This is the information age; it doesn’t take long for digital natives to find the history of a place, a hot mic soundbite from an official, or the backstory of an incident. Be honest about where your place comes from, its present, and its commitment to its future. Make pertinent information freely available.
  • Recognition: A little recognition goes a very long way. Foster a close-knit community by raising awareness of developments and achievements of individuals and teams. Demonstrate how your citizens add value to the whole and how grateful the whole is for that contribution.
  • Growth: Top talent doesn’t stand still, it continually seeks the next challenge. Be clear about what your place offers in terms of personal, professional, and spiritual development. Allow people to follow individual paths in finding the best ways to contribute to your local society.
  • Connectivity: Gen Z is the first fully digital native generation. Connectivity is an expectation in the same way that on-demand electricity and clean, running water have become expectations for everyday life in established economies. Technology and related solutions cannot be tacked on; good tech must be the starting point and woven throughout the lifestyle.

Now that we’ve got an understanding for the core beliefs that a municipality must embody and the core values of the next generation of talent, let’s cover a few quick tips on how to attract next gen talent.

  • Collaboration — with technical colleges, universities, other training facilities, and related non-profits – is critical to ensure appropriate skills are in place to inspire and train next generation talent for jobs of the future.
  • Invest in traditional and non-traditional educational paths to welcome the future workforce to your place. Partner with organizations dedicated to exposing youth to alternative careers. We’re seeing more companies and municipalities engage in public-private partnership programs that target hard-to-find skills for jobs of the future and upskilling individuals who can be placed directly into much needed – and increasingly digitally-enabled – job openings.
  • Align outreach efforts to build a pipeline. Take a disciplined, yet creative, approach to bring awareness to your municipality and its selling points. Communicate with clarity, transparency, and directness. Meet next gen talent where they are, which often means taking a mobile-first approach. Be honest about what you have to offer and what you’re asking for in return.

Ultimately, the next generation of talent is not so different from previous generations. The historical, and enduring allure of the bright lights of the big cities everywhere will rebound, post pandemic: the buzz, the energy, the networking potential, the hot startups, the hot restaurants, arts and nightlife.  But the open question for all places is: will it be enough?

Good leaders will need to embrace the fundamental belief in the promise of tomorrow, by holding space for new ideas, opportunities, and lessons. Great leaders can not only speak to these, they’ll also tangibly design for them, and bring to life these refreshed values in their municipalities to attract next gen talent and fuel the path toward becoming a place of the future.


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