Managing the Future of Work - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Managing the Future of Work

Course Number 1675

Professor William R. Kerr
Spring; Q3; 1.5 credits
14 Sessions

Career Focus and Educational Objectives

The nature and scope of work is rapidly changing, creating massive business and political challenges. HBS launched a major initiative in early 2017 on Managing the Future of Work to define these workplace issues and their implications for business leaders.

This EC half-course brings the initiative's major ideas to life in the classroom for contemplation and debate. The course covers business and policy perspectives in advanced economies, and companies of many sizes are considered. While the material is necessarily broad in nature, a modest edge is given to implications for business leadership in larger corporations (i.e., what can Apple or Siemens do?).

This course is brand new. It is not a great fit for students who seek well-honed frameworks developed over a decade or longer. It is a great fit for students who want to be a part of the creation of an important initiative as it explores what lies ahead for work and how businesses can seek better for themselves individually and for society.

Course Content and Objectives

The course will cover the following core topics:

  • The workplace of future: The first six sessions of the course consider the major trends that are shaping the workplace. Prominent attention is given to automation/digitization and the "gig/contractor" economy.
  • The "care" economy: Two sessions evaluate the recent evolution of workplace arrangements and related public policies towards the increasing care responsibilities that are being placed on employees (young children, aging/elderly parents, etc.)
  • The middle skills gap: Two sessions evaluate approaches to better match middle-skilled workers with employer needs (e.g., the German apprenticeship model) and seek to define the "durable" skills of tomorrow.
  • Global talent access: Two sessions evaluate how businesses, especially those outside of major clusters, connect with and effectively utilize the extremely mobile global talent that is vital for work today.
  • Spatial pressures: The last sessions of the course consider the prospects and action plans for struggling rural places, such as the environment depicted in Hillbilly Elegy.

The course is designed around paired case sessions, exploring a topic over two days. Within each pair of sessions, the following four elements will typically be present:

  • Two case studies, typically taking contrasting approaches/perspectives to a challenge
  • A 6-7 page "primer" that lays out the core issues of the topic (e.g., trends and forecasts, relevant academic research, policy proposals being voiced, etc)
  • A draft "playbook" that the HBS initiative is developing for business and policy leaders; some playbooks will be refined, others more speculative
  • A class guest, usually a protagonist from one of the cases

Course Administration

Course grades will be based on class participation (50%) and a final exam (50%).