A Year of Change for Employment, Culture, and Education in 2016

01/04/2016 10:01 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2017

With 2015 in the books, it's time to look forward. You know what that means: predictions for next year! Here are a few things I'll be tracking in 2016.

Hiring Managers Cool On Elite Credentials
In 2015, accounting firms Ernst & Young and Deloitte announced big changes to the way they assess job candidate readiness, such as using a "school-blind" hiring process to eliminate the presence of unconscious bias. In the next 12 months, I think we'll see more employers following suit, as educational pedigree increasingly takes a backseat to skills-based assessments and employers look to reduce the noise and bias associated with traditional education signals. In doing so, employers will gather a clearer picture of what applicants are really capable of, not just what they say they've studied or can discuss in abstract.

Basically, listing degrees on a resume is out; successfully completing projects that demonstrate competencies is in.

Freelancers Flex Their Power
This past year saw freelance workers get a lot of attention. More than a third of the U.S. workforce now consists of freelancers, which includes everyone from "sharing economy" contractors for companies like Uber or Taskrabbit and independent professionals like graphic designers and product managers who prefer to pick and choose their own assignments rather than stay with one employer. In 2016, I predict this conversation will reach critical mass, especially around how freelancers continue to learn and upskill in such a fluid work environment. In the absence of corporate support, these independent workers need to keep hustling to stay ahead of the curve and prove the can out-innovate their peers.

In short, as more companies choose to depend on contract workers for key parts of their business, those freelancers will see increasing competition for those gigs and, therefore, more pressure to differentiate themselves and their skills.

Silicon Valley Sets Its Sights On Philanthropy
A new generation of tech moguls set their sights on philanthropy this year. Mark Zuckerberg led the way with his commitment to donate 99% of his Facebook shares to charitable investments. Next year, I anticipate even more Silicon Valley tech companies and influencers will double down on philanthropic initiatives to put substance behind their collective "change the world" claims and offset criticism around their lack of diversity and equal opportunity. Expect these efforts to include investments and programs to modernize education in the U.S. and internationally, close the opportunity gap, and apply technological innovation to big global issues like disease and climate change.

There are also compelling business drivers behind these initiatives. Silicon Valley companies looking to attract top talent and public goodwill need to show exactly how they're making real, positive differences in the world, not just accumulating wealth.

Ageism Becomes The Next Diversity Challenge
2016 will be the year companies get taken to task for having an ageism problem. While tech companies have been in the hot seat over gender and race imbalances in 2015, ageism -- manifest in the relative scarcity of employees over 50 -- is quickly coming to the fore as the next big diversity challenge workplaces around the nation must address.

Simply put, people are working longer than ever before, whether by choice or necessity. Statistics show the workforce is aging globally, not just in the U.S., which has serious implications for companies whose future growth depends on being able to staff up as needed. Instead, they'll need to hang onto the talent they have and help them keep their skills up-to-date while also casting a wider net for new hires. And older workers, too, will need to take responsibility for maintaining their skill sets if they want to stay in the game. With more competition for talent, this may also be the year youth-dominated companies recognize what older workers are better equipped to offer, such as soft skills for managing people, communicating effectively, and thinking long-term.

Whether my predictions are on target or not, I am certain 2016 will be another year of rapid change for businesses, workers, and society at large. Here's hoping it's also a healthy and happy one!