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MIT Forum Examines Future Workers, Shared Prosperity

November 14, 2018


Relevant, robust, and ample skills training, top most experts’ lists of future workforce requirements. But who will provide it, who receives it, and what form should it take? The answers represent some of the many challenges that need to be addressed by the private and public sectors, as well as academia.

At the AI and Future of Work Congress, held November 8 at MIT, spirited discussions centered on how to correct current ills and build a strong foundation for digital economy workers. Several academic leaders assumed responsibility for training next-generation workers, but their agendas go far beyond coding and tech skills. Northeastern University President, Joseph Aoun, spoke broadly about Preparing Learners to Succeed in the AI Age.

Author of a new book, Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Aoun favors literacy of all types to prepare workers for the curve balls that will surely be thrown at them during their careers. In fact, he sees the need for ongoing, life-long learning in most fields. “Existing models haven’t adapted to the global economy. Education is a very conservative sector and we don’t want to change our own models.”

Aoun advocates “humanics,” the bridging of technological literacy and human literacy to prepare students for labor markets where machines and humans interact. Then, they need to take these lessons into the real world. The most important skills to develop include judgment, collaboration, curiosity, communication, empathy, team work, leadership and many others and that requires “a K-to-gray,” life-long learning process, he said.

In her keynote address, Massachusetts’ Labor Secretary, Rosalin Acosta, agreed: Soft skills, interdisciplinary understanding, vocational training, multiculturalism, and real-world job training all must be offered at the state-level, too. “The days are gone when learning ended with college.” We don’t know exactly what will be required, but we know that what got us here won’t get us there, she said.

The Need for Speed

Diana Farrell, President and CEO, JPMorgan Chase Institute expressed an urgency for action. “We can’t wait for the next generation to be educated; we need to change systems today.” Fully 42% of Americans earn less than $16 per hour. “There are jobs, people are working, but they are not well-paid jobs or jobs with growth potential,” and career paths, she said. Disruption is happening at a much higher rate than new job creation. “There is social upheaval; left alone, markets will not create equality.”

Businesses are stepping forward with initiatives that serve workers as well as their own talent shortages. Walmart, For example, is up-skilling retail workers and also creating a management pipeline. With two million employees, Becky Schmitt, Senior VP of Global People, said the Walmart Academy trains and promotes workers “from hourly work to careers.” Seventy-five percent of its managers started that way, she said. They have access to the latest technology, such as virtual reality simulators, that teach them what to do in real-world situations.

Many speakers tackled the thorny issue of global economic inequality. Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT IDE, in a conversation with Eric Schmidt, Technical Adviser, Alphabet Inc., (pictured above) said that a while technology can raise people out of poverty, more inequality is also emerging.


Read the full story on Medium, here.