The Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce’s economic luncheon has made a big return, following a two-year hiatus due to complications presented by COVID-19. Roughly 136 attendees turned out to listen to a discussion on the future of technology and the economy by panelists Hasheem Alsaket, machine learning engineer at Siden; Sandra Kaufmann, director of Loyola University’s School of Dance; and healthcare professional Manoj Prasad, who is soon to become the owner of West Suburban Medical Center.

“We were also very intentional about our topic this year: embracing this new economy and taking a deep dive into how tech innovation will impact and drive the economy of the future,” said OPRF Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Liz Holt of the June 23 event.

“The future is on our doorstep and we want to be ready for it.”

Moderated by Ruby Rose Strategies’ DaRondal Bevly, the panelists hit on the matters across the broad economic and technological spectrum in the age of COVID-19 summed up best by Prasad, who told the crowd of professionals that “we will have to rely more on technology” in coming years.

The reliance on technology has already been heightened with the onset of the virus, which caused the majority of the workforce to pivot from traditional shared office spaces to working from home.

Prasad’s directive was echoed by Alsaket, who said it remains to be seen whether working from home will ultimately impact the world positively or negatively.

“But technology is the only thing that allows the workforce to do that,” he said. “That really excites me.”

It is already clear that working from home offers differing levels of success depending on industry. For many, it eliminates the time and stress of commuting; workers in America spent an average of 60 to 90 minutes commuting, according to Alsaket.

“That’s one way,” he clarified.

For healthcare, Prasad conceded that certain conditions allow for staff to work from home, but much is lost when a medical professional only does technical work instead of being in front of a patient.

To public officials, Prasad asked that they begin thinking about the health and wellness of community segments rather than viewing it on an individual basis by supporting programs related to all aspects of health, not just physical ailments.

That directive was heard by a number of public officials who were in attendance, including Oak Park Village President Vicki Scaman, Oak Park Village Trustee Chibuike Enyia and River Forest Village Trustee Respicio Vazquez.

Kaufmann, meanwhile, touched on the shrinking availability of workers and how it relates to her efforts.

As the current workforce ages into retirement, however, she believes, the workforce will have to change to draw in younger generations as they have no desire to take part in the traditional 9-5 system. This, Kaufmann said, has already become apparent with the return of students to campus.

“Students are no longer interested in being told what to do,” said Kaufmann.

Coming out of COVID-19, she noticed that students and young members of the workforce have an “urge to dismantle hierarchy” to create a more balanced relationship between supervisors and those working underneath them.

“The idea of any inequity is so painful to them,” she said.

It is not that younger generations just do not want to work either, said Kaufmann. Rather, she believes they want to work hard but with the understanding from management that their voices will be heard and respected. Younger generations are looking for agency within organizations and competency from management.

“Are you willing to listen to their ideas or are you putting them in a box? Are you willing to consider their ideas?” she asked the crowd. “Do you have a mission? They’re not so interested in working for money anymore. They want to feel like their precious life is working toward a goal.”

Join the discussion on social media!