From Lunchpails to Laptops and Beyond

Feb 1, 2019 BY Lana Sansur

This week, David Hyman, President of the Center for Technology & Workforce Solutions moderated a very informative panel at the State of the Net Conference (SOTN) titled “From Lunchpails to Laptops and Beyond: Preparing America’s Workforce for Tomorrow’s Jobs.” He kicked off the panel by sharing results of a new survey released in conjunction with the conference hosted by the Internet Education Foundation. 

The study found that only 1 in 5 Americans believe artificial intelligence and robot technologies will create more jobs than they eliminate.  In fact, almost half of those surveyed believe these innovations will eliminate more jobs than they create.

With rapid technological innovation bringing shifts in the American workforce, panelists from various sectors brought forth ideas for ways to move forward on how workers can be best be prepared for the new economy. 

Our first panelist, Tiffany Shackelford, Chief Strategic Officer and Director of Communications at National Governors Associations (NGA), shared with the audience that NGA --made up of governors from 55 states, territories and commonwealths—encourages its’ members to develop offices of innovation and to infuse entrepreneurial thinking within their own cabinets. She continued, “You can’t just say, ‘Innovate all over the state.’ We advise governors to think about creating small startups, smaller pockets of innovation, almost niche innovation – to really examine where they can innovate in the smartest and quickest ways.”

We heard from Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer, at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest federation of unions representing more than 12.5 million active and retired workers across all sectors in the United States. She said there is a lot of fear out there among working people that robots will take over jobs. Ms. Shuler went on to say, “Our job as a labor movement is to really think about how we prepare people with training and skills development. The labor movement is a portable source of skills and benefits. If employers want to come together in a particular sector and invest in their talents and upskilling, the labor movement can play a role in it because we’ve been doing it for 100 years and have great examples with apprenticeships and the way talent can be deployed in a particular industry.”

Our third panelist was Kenneth DeGraff, U.S. House of Representatives, Senior Policy Advisor to the Honorable Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  He questioned whether the country is setting itself up for success for the future with the right investments in people, infrastructure and in our education system. He said, “I would say we are not set up for success.  But what we are doing is looking at better tools in the 21st century.”  He discussed a roadmap House Democrats developed called A Better Deal: Tools to Succeed in the 21st Century, which focuses on Democrats' commitment to investing in America's workers, pioneering future frontiers and modernizing government.

Our fourth panelist was Carol Eggert, Senior Vice President of military and veteran affairs at Comcast.  She stressed the importance of bringing a military lens to workforce issues and that there is a great misunderstanding and a knowledge gap between what the military does in this area and what the private sector does. She said, “The military faces the same challenges that any organization does with acquiring talent, however, it’s our national security that is at risk if we can’t meet the demands. Military missions have increased in frequency and in complexity and in technology requirements.  We still have a narrative of tanks on the battlefield and tents and infantry marches but that is no longer the case. With 250,000 people transitioning out of the military, we’re missing out on an incredible talent pool.”  

Our fifth panelist was Shawn DuBravac, President of the Avrio Institute and best-selling author of Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Work, Live, and Communicate.  He said when it comes to technology, it moves very slowly until it doesn’t, “As a country we’re good at responding to things tomorrow and but not to problems that are 10 years away.”

Assessing skills

Discussion took place on the skills required to make the transition to our future economy.  Eggert said that when people enlist in the military, they are then trained with the skills that are needed, saying, “What’s really required are attributes—such as being open to change and willing to learn new technology.”  As folks transition out of the military, Eggert stressed that those attributes are what allows the private sector to train individuals on the skills required.

The skills conversation is very alive right now in the labor movement.  Shuler said that skill development has been done very successfully when there is cooperation from employers. She further indicated that the key to success is having partnerships and joint control to develop programs with the worker having input. 

Panelists seemed in agreement that there needs to be a steady and long-term investment made in order to have a skilled workforce of the future. Unfortunately, the burden for training is often placed on the individual because of a lack of long-term thinking.

To see a broadcast of this panel, see here.

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Lana Sansur is the Communication & Program Manager for the Center for Technology & Workforce Solutions.