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December 21, 2020

AI in the Workplace: Preparing for the Jobs Ahead

Keynote Session with the Lumina Foundation’s Jamie Merisotis

The workforce of the future is being shaped by two powerful forces: the adoption of artificial intelligence in the workplace and the increasing use of both on- and off- balance-sheet talent (also known as freelancers and independent contractors). To identify how students can build the skills needed to stay competitive in the future, College Promise’s Rosye Cloud spoke with Jamie Merisotis, President & CEO of the Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all.

Artificial intelligence in the workplace and the skills future employees need

“Machines are good at a lot of things: repetition, reducing things to an algorithm. But human work is the work that only humans can do,” says Jamie Merisotis, President & CEO of the Lumina Foundation. “Understanding how human work is different, I think is the key to figuring out what we need to do to adapt our learning systems.”

Skills that underscore our human traits like compassion, empathy, ethics, and our human abilities like collaboration, creativity, and communication will remain essential in the future workforce. We must continue developing our human traits and abilities, not just in college or post-secondary training, but over the course of our entire lifetime.

The makeup of the workforce of the future

The future workforce will be made up of four archetypes of human workers:

  1. People engaged in occupations that involve deep personal interaction with others (i.e. therapists and customer service representatives);
  2. Bridgers, or people with occupations that involve the connection between people, technological tasks, and systems (sales managers);
  3. Integrators, or people whose work involves the integration between knowledge and skills from a wide range of fields and applying them in a personal way (teachers and social workers); and
  4. Creators, or people whose work is highly technical and purely creative (game developers and choreographers).

“My point is that human work is less about specialized expertise in one task or set of tasks and I think that we can’t afford, as a society, to let those who don't fit into a bucket end up being lost or dropping out,” says Merisotis. “As humans, we need work, we desire work. Work offers us something that is more important than simply a job and a paycheck. It’s about that meaning. We need to help people become better helpers and bridgers and integrators and creators.”

“To me, that is an optimistic view of the future because what it means is that we can work together as individuals, as employers, as policymakers, and as a society in actually crafting this new human work ecosystem.”

Three things colleges and universities can do today to prepare future leaders

  1. Put equity first, the systems specifically designed to disadvantage people of color must be overcome with an “equity first” model, not in the margin but as a central feature;
  2. Focus on what people know and can do, with credentialing processes focused on human traits and capabilities, creating a cycle of learning and serving others and thinking seriously about how to build learning-integrated work and work-integrated learning systems; and  
  3. Understand that the system center is not the school but the learner-worker, with other major actors (i.e. employers, policymakers) having a big role to play as well in building strong learner-workers over the full course of our lifetime.

What students should do today to prepare for the future

“I think the key is to develop, as an individual, or if you're an employer, for your employees, a cohesive plan for rethinking how you are going to earn, learn, and serve over the course of your lifetime,” says Merisotis.

One thing humans bring uniquely to the workforce is the ability to adapt and develop talent over time in ways that make a difference to people and their community. “Employers need to start working more carefully with their employees to better integrate service into working and learning at all levels. We need to make sure that serving others is a part of that and this is not simply about some sort of perk of taking time off to volunteer.”

To accomplish this, students must take the step to engage in the learning process. Across the country, enrollment in higher education is down during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially at the community college level. As workers seek to learn new skills to prepare for the future workforce, “You must overcome the fear by seizing narrative for yourself,” says Merisotis.

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This blog post is part of a series of recordings from the College Promise Careers Institute. In November 2020, College Promise held the virtual 3-day summit convening hundreds of our nation's leading practitioners, educators, employers, and thought leaders for sessions tackling the most complex challenges American workers face -- from the rise of artificial intelligence to the role free college plays in maintaining a competitive edge.

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