February 22, 2023
Faculty Feature: Ranjit Nair, Ph.D., The Future of Work
Ranjit Nair thinks a lot about the future of work and how the world of work is changing dramatically. “The CEOs of the world are expecting us to build and develop ‘ready now’ workers,” says the assistant professor in the School of Business and Computer Science. There’s not enough time for companies to train or reshape new hires. Plus it is expensive. Enter higher education institutions, which can “meaningfully and quickly” adapt to capture the hearts and minds of the emerging generation of students. They will be the ones to thrive, says Nair, who spent many years as a senior executive in human resources for leading global companies.
For Nair the seismic shift in work has unleashed a “new world of work.” He points to history and the “traumatic event” of the 1918 pandemic, which birthed a “completely different way of working,” and the roaring ’20s with social change, the development of great works of art and music and products, largely from “pent-up angst,” says Nair. Over 100 years later, society is experiencing a similar situation, but this one is “much more devastating because it has paralyzed people in terms of how they work,” Nair says. Add inflation, wars, the new phenomena of the “great resignation” and “quiet quitting,” questions about the value of a person’s work effort, and there is major apathy around the concept of work, he contends. “I think there cannot be anything but a massive change in how people work, where they work from, who they work for and what they do … We need to take notice of that in higher education, especially in the business school, because we are stewards of what business is,” says Nair, who was awarded the prestigious Alvin Calman endowed chair last spring.
Nair is taking notice. He has a plan. And he believes it will put Caldwell graduates out in front. He calls it the “Future of Work,” and he shares his passion with students, teaching them how to lead, understand data, collaborate, become well rounded and be inspired to give back to society. Higher ed, he says, “should be preparing our students, who are walking brands in themselves, to make a difference in the world and [we should] try to make meaning for them.”
Nair, who teaches in the undergraduate and master’s business programs and the educational leadership doctoral program, says the key is to help students find “their true calling.” That means encouraging development inside and outside the classroom. He is an advocate for science-based leadership self-assessments, which he says will give students a good picture of where they can thrive. That is what businesses are looking for, says Nair, noting a recent survey of CEOs that asked what attributes employees were missing. The most frequent answers were “self-awareness,” adaptability and resilience. The findings showed that beginning workers were even less likely to have developed those traits of emotional intelligence. “That has severe implications for higher ed,” Nair says. “How do we teach our students? What do we teach our students? How do we prepare them for this new world of work?” He advocates Socrates’s philosophy of “Know thyself” and cites other philosophers who have stressed “Embrace thyself,” “Create thyself” and “Give thyself.”
Nair, who was born in India and raised in Hong Kong, had to learn the hard way what it means to follow one’s true calling. As an undergraduate at California State University, he chose accounting to please his parents and to make money. The big accounting firms of Arthur Anderson and PriceWaterhouseCoopers were his workplaces for the first 12 years of his professional life. “I was wondering why I was so unhappy. I was unhappy because I wasn’t doing what I was called to do.”
One day he complained about the human resources department. Later that afternoon one of the partners of the firm asked, “‘Why don’t you run HR?’ And that’s how I got into HR.” The change launched a career in which Nair learned from the “proverbial fire hose” and rose to become an executive overseeing a $5 billion company, serving on the board of directors and enjoying what he did. Along the way he earned his MBA at Golden Gate University in the evening, choosing the school because the professors were working senior executives. Later, after leaving behind his corporate career to care for his ailing father, he earned his Ph.D. in leadership development from Capella University.
Today Nair shares his experiences with his students and strives to help them chart their futures. For example, he teaches them the importance of developing a portfolio. “The résumé is not going to cut it anymore … how does one create a LinkedIn profile? How do you create a social media presence?”
This semester Nair and his colleagues have launched two new courses. In “Student Management and Business Consultant,” which Nair co-teaches with Professor Neil Malvone, students are helping a “real company” solve its “real live business issue. It is kind of unheard of at the undergraduate level,” says Nair. The other course is “Leadership Essentials: The Start-up of You,” co-taught with Professor Joe Testa, in which students take a scientific self-assessment, receive a personalized report, learn their “brand” and discover how to become leaders.
Nair joined the Caldwell team two years ago after teaching at St. Edward’s, a Franciscan university in Austin, Texas; Baruch College and CUNY. He was already adept at synchronous teaching. When “we had a lot of time on our hands” during the pandemic, he took it upon himself to learn the history of Caldwell University, reading about the institution and learning from Professor Virginia Rich, who has been at Caldwell for over two decades. “She taught me everything she [has] learned about Caldwell,” Nair says.
Nair is excited to develop more programs to engage Caldwell students with his ideas for the future of work. Caldwell is a “diamond in the rough” and he wants to help bring visibility to the University, particularly in how it prepares students for work. “I think the sky’s the limit … not only because we are a great institution with great values and great history but because the environment is right for that.” With societal alarms ringing, Nair believes it is time to seize the moment. “The future of work is real. We have to do something now, and then we can realize the benefit for our students and our students’ children for the next generation.”