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A man wears a virtual reality headset at the Future of Work Summit.

Future Focused: Center for the Future of Work aims to prepare all Oklahomans for changing work landscape

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Media Contact: Terry Tush | Director, Marketing and Communications | 405-744-2703 |

What will the workplace look like 10, 20 or even 30 years from now? No one can say for sure, but most can agree it’s best to be prepared.

Enter the Center for the Future of Work at Oklahoma State University, an outreach center based in the Spears School of Business focused on helping businesses and workers throughout the state navigate the ever-changing work landscape.

“The well-being of businesses in Oklahoma impacts not only the economic development of our state, but also the welfare of its residents,” said Dr. Marc Tower, assistant dean and professor of professional practice. “If our companies do well, then our people will do well.

“Change is happening fast. If we are not proactive, and anticipate and prepare for the challenges ahead, the state will fall behind. The Center for the Future of Work has an opportunity to work directly with businesses, employees and policymakers to generate favorable outcomes for the future of work in Oklahoma.”

The center has been a consistent source of training and development for business professionals since 1953, providing credit and noncredit courses, eventually expanding to offer conferences and onsite programs. With the rapid change of pace following the COVID-19 pandemic, the center stepped in to fill a new gap — preparing for the future.

“What we’ve done for a long time is centered on equipping organizations and employees with the skills, training and development that they need,” said Dr. Abbey Davis, member of the CFW advisory board.

“That’s still a huge part of what we do but now, especially since the pandemic, we’ve seen that work is changing at a rapid pace and it’s an opportunity for us to help organizations make that transition, or that leap, so they can support their workforce going forward.”

In 2023, the CFW, previously known as the Center for Executive and Professional Development, announced its new name and with it, a new mission: Striving to equip workers and organizations with the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to create a workplace that prioritizes well-being and drives economic growth — the workplace of the future.

“Taking what we do to the next level is about informing best practices by helping organizations understand what the latest research says about how to effectively motivate and lead teams,” Davis said. “We have introduced applied research of our own into the mix.

“We hope to influence the policies that organizations are creating, and even policies at a state level, that help companies create environments that are supportive of their workers and drive competitive growth. At the end of the day, I see us being able to help companies of all sizes in Oklahoma remain competitive.”

Aiming to further aid Oklahoma companies in becoming and remaining competitive, the CFW offers customized employee and leadership development training. It also recently introduced consulting services.

There are varying levels of leadership within an organization and providing “one-size-fits-all” training solutions often does not deliver the desired results. To offer organizations a more effective leadership development experience, the CFW created a tiered strategy designed to meet leaders where they are.

“The first tier is ‘Leadership Essentials,’ for helping newly promoted leaders develop the skills that they need," Davis said. “The second tier, which we’ve titled ‘Project MBA,’ is for those who are going to be functional leaders, maybe leading a division or a business, and need to develop a more strategic mindset or skills, such as business insight or financial acumen.”

“Cohort Coaching,” the third tier, is a team-based model that is scalable and affordable for companies that may not be able to access traditional executive coaching. This strategic, structured leadership approach allows OSU to help companies meet their leadership development needs at every level.

Author and podcast host Stephen Dubner speaks at the 2023 Future of Work Summit.
Stephen Dubner, creator of the Freakonomics book and podcast series, was the keynote speaker at the 2023 Future of Work Summit held in Oklahoma City.

“Each tiered program is designed to be customized based on client needs,” Davis said. “For example, with Project MBA, organizations can select ‘elective’ course modules like Ethical Decision-Making, Project Management, or Inclusive Leadership to supplement the traditional modules like financial acumen. Our faculty members also tailor the content toward the company and industry.”

The CFW also offers a wide range of customizable training solutions for employees. With over 150 masterclasses to choose from and more than 45 expert facilitators, the center works directly with organizations to develop training programs that address their needs by equipping employees with the skills necessary to propel organizations forward.

Consulting is also a new addition to the center’s toolbelt. Utilizing the expertise of Spears’ faculty members, the CFW has been able to partner with organizations and tribal nations to meet unique business needs.

Many Oklahoma organizations and businesses have taken advantage of what the CFW has to offer and are seeing growth because of it. ZEECO, Devon Energy, AAO, and Love’s Travel Stops, to name a few, have seen the benefit of the center’s customized approach.

“Love’s has enjoyed our partnership with OSU and the Center for the Future of Work,” said Keith Varner, manager of leader development at Love’s Travel Stops. “The programs and initiatives we have partnered together to create have resulted in increased skill development for our teams and networking opportunities for many of our leaders.

“We look forward to collaborating with the CFW and finding innovative solutions to ensure we continue to be successful in our rapidly changing environment.”

Devon Energy said it is committed to investing in its employees and ensuring they are prepared for the future. Cathy Lebsack, vice president of human resources, has seen the impact of the CFW’s custom programming firsthand.

“We value partnering with CFW to support the development needs of an ever-changing professional landscape,” she said. “We appreciate CFW’s pursuit to collaborate with businesses to help anticipate and navigate emerging trends that will shape the future of work.

“As the world continues to change, Devon will adapt and evolve in a way that enables us to continue to be an industry leader and employer of choice.”

The center also partners with several tribal nations across the state, including the Chickasaw and Cherokee nations.

In addition to serving Oklahoma businesses, the CFW hosts a variety of conferences and certificate programs that are open to the public and designed to equip, educate and empower participants to advance their careers and live well-rounded lives.

The Women’s Business Leadership Conference, hosted annually in the spring, provides a professional development experience for Oklahoma women. Over the last 33 years, female executives and managers worldwide have spoken to more than 5,500 individuals, offering insight into how leading managers and executives operate within their businesses.

The Future of Work Summit, launched in 2023, is an annual event that focuses on emerging technologies and trends. The summit’s goal is for participants to walk away having learned something new or inspiring that they can take back to their organizations. The inaugural summit brought speakers such as Stephen Dubner (“Freakonomics”), Mike Beckham (Simple Modern) and Kevin Smith (Ditch Witch) to discuss the impact emerging trends, culture and AI will have on the future of work.

The 2024 summit will focus on the skills necessary to excel in the workplace of the future. According to the World Economic Forum, the top skills on the rise are creativity, analytical thinking, digital literacy, curiosity, resilience and agility. Participants will become equipped with these skills by learning to apply them through hands-on experience.

“With all of our programs, we aim to create spaces where we can bring together lots of industry experts with lots of great ideas so they can leave inspired and equipped with new innovative ways to make work better for everyone,” Davis said.

While the CFW is working to leave its mark on the state, it also has a tremendous impact locally on Spears Business and the university; the center brings positive exposure and financial support, as well as furthers OSU’s land-grant mission.

“Working with the center, faculty members gain industry exposure, which in turn helps them be stronger researchers and instructors,” Davis said. “And as we are engaging with different industries, we are building brand awareness for the university.”

A participant smiles with their certificate of completion from the CFW's eight-week Tribal Finance and Accounting program.
The CFW has introduced an eight-week Tribal Finance and Accounting Certificate program, which is helping to connect and empower Native Americans across Oklahoma.

The revenue generated by the center goes directly to academic departments within Spears, supporting research and student success. CFW activities also work directly to fulfill OSU’s goal of becoming the nation’s preeminent land-grant university.

“The university fulfills its mission as a land-grant institution through teaching, research and Extension,” Tower said. “And the Center for Future of Work promotes all of those. Through our employee and leadership development programs, we’re engaging our faculty to take their teaching outside the classroom and share their expertise with Oklahoma businesses.

“We strive to facilitate learning and assist organizations in understanding current research, while also engaging in our own applied research with the hopes of helping businesses in the state to successfully apply best practices and make necessary changes. We embody

Extension through our outreach into the communities. Our customized employee and leadership training programs empower organizations and their workers within the community. Through these programs, we are serving everyone in the state and working to prepare them for the future.”

While no one can say for sure what the future holds, the Center for the Future of Work hopes to equip organizations and workers to not only anticipate the inevitable change, but to be prepared for and embrace it.

“We don’t have all the answers when it comes to the future of work, but we hope to create environments that facilitate future-focused conversations,” Davis said. “We hope to create spaces where people can come together to help organizations in our state be as competitive as they can going forward and we hope that we’re enabling workers to advance their careers through the services we offer.

“The more competitive Oklahoma can be, the stronger our economy is going to be, and the stronger we all are as a community.”

From customized training solutions to continuing education, the Center for the Future of Work offers a wide variety of services to help organizations thrive in the evolving landscape of work.

Story by: Kaylie Wehr | Engage@Spears magazine
Photos by: Adam Luther 

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