Forward Faster with Dean JB Holston and Elizabeth Reynolds
welcome to forward faster a limited series podcast from the University of Denver's School of Engineering and computer science joy Dean J. B. Halston as he thought leaders on hot topics higher education and the future of work ruinous. Ajay Halston and the Dean of the School of Engineering Computer Science here at the University of Denver. And we're here with our forward faster podcast and my guest. Elizabeth Reynolds the executive director of the MIT industrial performance center a and Mit's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Co author of the Task Force Report on the work of the future We had the opportunity today to have. Elizabeth talked to a number of Colorado leaders about that report about the work of the future and about the impact of the future of work. The work of the future on Particularly Education Labor etc. Liveth is great to have you here thanks J. B. It's great to be here. Thanks so we've got a couple of different kinds of questions. We've got questions about the work that you're doing and how you came to this work et Cetera. And they got a few questions. And I'm not going to tell you about until the end. The last one of these. The our guest did some Karaoke at the answer. If you feel like one saying excellent. You're welcome I'm ready. Great Okay and thank you very much for stopping by here on your way back to the east coast from Brazil. Yes exactly Keeping it interesting from from the global south to the global north right Let's talk a little bit about The task force if you would how it came together and What is work is around the work of the future? Let's start with that if you would. Thanks sure well. I think as everybody knows there's been a lot of rhetoric discourse In the media about the robots are coming and it's created a lot of uncertainty a lot of anxiety and despite the fact that we have a very strong labor market right now up. People are anxious about the future and that affected mit and our president president rife allot. I mean we're obviously got a strong department inventing a lot of the robotics going forward and so I think there was a sense of responsibility that MIT needs to not only be thinking about the technology of the future but also the implications for Society for workers etc so the president in the spring of two thousand eighteen essentially commission this task force. It's only happened a few times. In the history of Mit we're institute wide across all five schools. We have a Task Force of Twenty Plus Faculty looking at the question of the relationship between technology and work today. So that that there's got to be an art to Pulling all of those cats together in a regular basis. And it'll be interesting to to talk about that. But the task force issued an interim report in September. Can you tell us with some of the findings from that report? Were well the first thing we do with. The report is ask ourselves. Why are we here? What is the real issue that has made us concerned about technology and work and what we find is that you know people are not crazy? There's a real reason to be concerned if we look at the last forty years in this in this country we've had a motte significant not as much as we want but productivity growth that has been substantial and yet a lot the the typical worker in the US Not the sort of higher skilled worker not the One worker has not gained in those In that productivity gain. We've just seen wages relatively flat and so Were first and foremost starting with the fact that people are feeling uncertain about the future. And what is the role of technology in that and certainly technology has played a role it has essentially. We've lost a lot of middle skill jobs so the jobs that were in manufacturing or in clerical and administrative and so what that means is we've had a hollowing out of the middle while skilled work and higher skilled work has grown. And so what that means is we have sort of a greater polarization in our appointment marked and that means we have had higher inequality so the question is what is the dynamic. What is the dynamic behind there? What is the role of technology? Certainly not the only issue we've also had trade as an issue of had decline of unions. We've had certain policies that have not helped in supporting workers generally so that's first and foremost we then also really look at what we see going forward and Certainly in terms of technology we see robotics growing and expanding in different ways. But I would say we overall we our senses this technology and a I. Broadly is not going to happen overnight. It takes almost sometimes decades for this technology to have an impact so for example. The concern about autonomous vehicles. What we've seen is a pullback of about how quickly that's going to happen what the implications are for our for drivers et Cetera. And so in some ways that gives us an opportunity to get ahead of the game and I will say after today's meetings here I really feel like Colorado's trying to get ahead of the game and figure out. What kind of changes do we need to make policy wise? Institutionally so that this technology is a tool that works for us and not against US and another factor. We think is really important. Our demographics we are an aging population. We have declining fertility rates. We have an increasing education. An educated workforce we have limited restricted immigration policies. Now all that means our issue. Going forward is not going to be Too many workers out of work we're going to have basically scarcity of workers and a lot of jobs and the challenge is not the quantity of jobs to the quality of those jobs. And so that's the real focus for us in the report. That's great so it sounds like the findings were in part that this is. This is kind of a long time coming. You know it's not. It's not that suddenly everybody woke up in the singularity is Sunday but but it tends to get talked about that way that that you know. Everyone forgets that in fact There's been a long set of trends over decades that That are informing the anxiety to a non trivial degree and a Lotta anxiety. Seems focused on the robots at right. Now that's right. I think that is fair. And we certainly have In the political discourse campaigns and things like that we have people who are fueling the fire on that. There's no question that we do feel that the those who are most vulnerable to this technological change are those Lower and moderate skilled workers. You know those people for whom yes automation of routine work warehousing work etc. We're seeing that come so let's not Be NAIVE ABOUT THAT. But the most of this technology is going to be complementary to human skills that is probably what we're seeing a lot of the AI. Software based work is improving quality. It's improving safety. Scott efficiencies that are going on in a very tight labor market in fact a automation is going to be what helps agricultural deal with the fact that they can't find workers so So it's more nuanced Nuanced argument and I think it's one that again we can be Ahead of the curve and thinking about. How do we respond? And what do we do to support? Workers going forward that is not just about the technology but our policies and our institutions. We talked a little bit earlier today about healthcare as a sector and you were observing that that's one of the sectors in particular where the problem isn't going to be lack of jobs But that there is an issue with the pace of and you were talking about Colorado company that you had a chance to visit with yesterday. Cirrus amid MD. Chuck a little bit about about that. So I think broadly speaking I mean healthcare such a huge part of our economy. Right which is why it. First and foremost it's important. Secondly we have an aging population. Which is going to be putting more demands on this system. And so those things are are true and third. We know that you know notoriously. Our healthcare system has been A laggard when it comes to adoption of new technologies and things and I I mentioned this great quote from Talgo on Day that we have the most fantastic star wars like you know cutting edge technology and healthcare but we have a flintstones delivery system right so anybody who's been in these hostels we realize challenges are enormous and so you know yes. We need all in leaning on the technology and yes. We're going to need the six ten fastest growing jobs right now in the. Us economy predicted at least over the next decade are all in healthcare so So going to a company like serious. Md which is a telemedicine company. A start up here in Denver which was a really exciting is using You know technology. I other sources to try and address issues like for example the fact that something like seventy percent of visits to the ER could have been prevented right and so their model which is to get people talking directly with doctors and helping triage if you will the problem before they enter to the hostile has enormous implications for productivity for efficiency and ultimately maybe there's some impact on work but really the you know. I order even second order Impact is about you know improving healthcare and improving actually the workload the and the work of healthcare providers. So I think it's just a positive example that we need to keep in mind When we think about you know the robot is coming actually. This has got enormous implications that are positive across the board. We talk a little bit about kind of the Barbell of opportunity based on you know the kind of job that you may have and where the kind of background the the high when I took away from the report was That cities are where there was always that opportunity to build Middle class for lack of a better term kind of life With some persistence in the job. That that's a real problem area and and I don't think people think that way. I think the problems are everywhere else. Probably not there. Could you talk a little bit about that? Well it's clear that this dynamic what's going on with our labor market has a geographic dimension to it right and there's no surprise it pl- places feel left behind in this technological technological transformation the digital economy etcetera and so a couple of things that are going on one if you have a college degree You are more likely to probably leave your rural community and moved to a more urban place where there's opportunities so it's funny that you know when when we've started to have Internet and better telecommunications we thought Oh there's death of distance where we can all be wherever we want to be and work from remotely. It's just turns out. It's not true for the educated workers that going toward you know The Denver's of the world. Whatever is where you're gonNA find opportunity exciting. You know things we have the knowledge workers etc if however you a low skilled worker. What's happened is your opportunity in that rural area based on the low skill working has doesn't necessarily change as you head to an urban area. Meaning you you are still competing with a larger pool of people for for low skilled work and the escalator toured a middle class. Job has diminished. And you know this. There's a whole bunch of factors that come into this think. About for example. Large firms have outsourced a lot of their services. Their food service their janitorial service right so in the previous decades the integrated firm you had. You had a lot of circulation between the educated worker in the low skilled worker. Now it's really these separate worlds. And so what are the opportunities for somebody working in? Janitorial Food Service. Where is the career path? How do they get out of that? And so I think. Today's conversation with some of the leaders here in the region was very much about trying to create those pathways forward how to create maximum flexibility and transparency and And ability to kind of transfer credits etcetera in a system so that people do have that that pathway forward. Let's talk a little bit about since an educational establishment. Let's talk a little bit about the educational establishments role in all of this. Certainly we talk a lot about becoming a platform for lifelong learning sort of an asset to the community for lifelong learners But a lot of that is Helping upskill well paid people working for big companies already which arguably is not really where where the big the big issue is will will emerge and I know the report you talked a lot about. The prospective role community colleges could play. Talk a little bit more about that if you sure well. I think the first thing we'd say is I agree with you. That there's there's a lot that higher education could probably do that a lot that companies can do and companies are leaning in right now. We've got a lot of examples of companies stepping up and trying to upscale and that's important and they will do that for their workforce but if we think of the larger challenges again with With people with less skills or perhaps at this point or less education out the community colleges just become a critical piece of the puzzle. I mean they are. We've got six thousand plus of them in the country. They are kind of accessible to all. They are about getting degrees. That are tangible. And you know connected to attack you know to real technical skills. They have been significantly underfunded and I think until we understand that they are just a lynch to all of this. We need. We're we're gonNA miss the opportunity here. So what we're seeing are a lot of. I'd say innovation. I mean the the great part about the US education system. It's not as rigid as Germany right. We don't have those pathways really well defined but what we do have is flexibility and on ramps and entre Off Ramps and things like that and so What we see is a lot of innovation at the state level of figuring out. How do we dig deeper into the High Schools? Early on the high school students onto a path in which they're going to be Taking courses and get some sort of you know degree certificate community college and from there into a skilled job and despite the fact that we see the shrinking of middle skill jobs in the country the fact that we have an aging workforce means that in fact there's a ton of opportunity we've got a shortage of a million and a half manufacturing workers over the next decade in this country. We have a shortage of trade workers. We have the healthcare thing so community colleges could be a critical place for learning those skills and placing those workers. And we really need to have the connection and the connectivity between industry and Education to make that work great but its paces and perhaps what people are concerned about is not that we're going to three million truck drivers you have to learn become drone operators tomorrow. It's we've got some time but being thoughtful And programmatic about how we approach this. You've sat through a few hours of conversations here at Colorado contributed to those. And thank you again for for doing that. What are some of your observations having heard the conversation today? Because I know you're you're the task force is talking in a number of areas around the country but what what are your takeaways about the conversation. You heard here in Colorado today. Well first of all I would say that from the outside looking in you know. Colorado has been highlighted along with a couple other states as a place as taking this seriously and looking across the board. It's you know. Part of our challenge in. This country is fragmentation so my impressions at Colorado and previous governors current governors have really taken seriously and are looking at the system as a whole. Because that's what we have to do right K. Through twelve twelve up. It's it's the way to do it. I would say a couple things that came out of the conversation. One there are a couple. Things we know are working. They are working. We have evidence that they work. You know their apprenticeship programs there's community college programs And we need to build on those and scale them and that is a fundamental challenge. And it's you know one that can be done in multiple ways not just about money The other is the connectivity across institutions so to the extent you're taking courses in one place and then you have to stop for a while and then you start something. We need visibility into that. We need transfer ability. Somebody was talking about this. A great idea around using blockchain to really be able to both have the transparency and also the security to that. Somebody's credits whatever. They've earned are marching with them across different institutions across time. So I think that also seems like a big opportunity and the other thing I would say as an observation is just a tremendous amount of expertise insight commitment across the board. That's really impressive I think skill works has been a great addition to the conversation here. They're really focusing in on this challenge of imagine you know you're the consumer of education you are. You're just out of high school or you're looking. You're looking for that sort of credential or that community college you don't know what's the right path. We need people to help guide. You know that that is. It's it's crazy wild west of opportunities for people so imagine you know you're the consumer you have to figure out what the best pathway forward is. I think we need to find ways that we're actually providing the consumer with a real sense of what the supplies for educational opportunities. What those pathways are things. And I think that there are people in Colorado really thinking seriously about that. That's great. Yeah so wraparound services more than just daycare and other. It's actually sort of mentoring and the connectivity and the explication of what how to go after the the pathway it is pretty needlessly complex I did. It was interesting today. To hear folks say do away with the sat and act do an optional this year and but I think it was a metro state. That was suggesting they'd like to go that way. But as a public institution. They have a different process to go through to get the permission to do that. That's right that's a topic being debated across the country right. Yeah but removing those barriers generally to the ease with which folks can move across and focusing on skills which are derived from competition these right which are different than credentials. So also we see again. What can the private sector do here? A LOT OF FIRMS. I think of IBM FOR PEOPLE ARE SAYING. Okay enough. We're not going to start saying we gotta scan everybody who has a four year degree for take that away. What a really. What do people need here? And let's focus on that. As opposed to these credentials that have been really barriers to entry for a lot of people I know in the report is well. You talk about the fact that there's been this kind of proliferation of new stuff certificates or whatever it may be but the validation of the trust in those things is Is On trivial absolutely? I think that's right. I mean I think there's there's room there's risk of abuse in that situation and what we're promoting a lot is no surprise. Mit But we want a lot of evaluation. We want to take the data. We want to figure out. Okay you get a couple of stackable credentials. How does that compare to an associate's degree and what does it mean about your wages? Five years out ten years out and we can have examples. We have really good examples of programs that have worked so I think we you know we're not starting with a blank slate here and we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Blockchain become becomes of the repository record of who you are not just educational credentials. But what's happened by virtue of those credentials that becomes that becomes interesting as well as long as of course the individual has the ability to disclose or not that data. Yes that's a whole nother topic about data and ownership and things like that. Yeah you made a few policy recommendations or you were sort of suggesting some policy recommendations. I think before in the report. Could you just outlined quickly with those sure? First and foremost of course we talk about skills education and training. We talk about needing to really focus on this group between high school in the four year degree and and opportunities there and the rules of community colleges were the role of work based learning. And how important that seems to be. And so there's a lot that we have to say in that area also about evaluating some of this these new courses and things. I'm but the other point we make his skills and education and training are not enough. You know the idea skill. Them and the jobs will come is inadequate. We have to look at other areas too so one of the areas we speak to is this rebalancing of capital and labor. And when we talk about that were thinking in a couple of ways. I we have a tax system right now that really favors investment capital and those with capital for example we give an RND tax credit to companies which is great and it's proven to be really successful and important but what if we marry that with something that was an investment in human capital. And we think there's a real you know let's creatively about how we can really rebalance that relationship. The second dimension which is a little broader in thinking is that you know his since the nineteen seventies Milton Friedman etc. We have had a model that said for corporations. Public Corporations Shareholder Value. Is the most important thing you know returning value to the shareholder and. I think the tide has turned on that. And it's not just us but the business roundtable coming out and saying you know what we need to go back to what we had beforehand. Which was a stakeholder capitalism model where it wasn't just about the shareholder it's about the workers it's about suppliers it's about communities and all of them are invested in in the well being of of the company and long-term the company needs to be you know invested in these areas. So we talk about the need to rebalance on that as well as talk about. Stakeholder capital and that particularly workers need to be elevated in that in that area. The worker voice has basically declined significantly in this country. union decline that CETERA. And we don't say we don't know what that model should look like in the twenty first century but we can all point to from you know from the auto worker to the High Tech Worker. A lot of expression of worker dissatisfaction. A lot of expression of wanting a bigger voice in In how firms are making decisions and what they're deciding and so we think that's going to be a big theme for the Twenty First Century and we need to figure out how we can figure create something that collectively is going to be good for workers and good for business. Imagine now district. Human centered taxation. We moved through. That'd be amazing. Well I've got a few questions that we ask all of our guests and you're not allowed to prepare for any of these spring them on. You're just whatever comes out. It's totally fine. And we've got a great editor sitting in the other room so if we want to live. Ain't my savior. Yes and you don't have to sing at the end but if you want to sing at the end at the end because sometimes people do so these are not that I'll do. What are you curious about right now? great question. What am I curious about? You know I would say I guess sticking on point here. I'm curious about how we're thinking about closing the digital divide. I think that the pace of this change is so great that you know in a few short years people can really fall behind. And so we've been talking about this for decades. What are we going to do to kind of really up our game so that would be one area that I think is Is Sort of just becoming another dimension for us to really understand how we're GONNA Kinda get everybody on board for the next century guests recently was reformer with Cs for all initiative. That's a lot of what they're trying to address. Sort of if you can from pre k. all the way through lifelong have computing. Just be a thing. Computational literacy be thing that everybody does has then that is one of the ways that we have to opt that we can start addressing that divide. Great what's your favorite word. Ooh You know let's think So I let me think what's what's a good one. I you know I'm I'm I'm thinking of this book. I'm reading the over story right now. Which is really won the Pulitzer last year? And it's really fantastic and maybe I'm out in Colorado in the environment becomes really present in one's But there's this the word that I hadn't been familiar with or had remembered as a dry out which is kind of a nymph like character whose intertwined with trees right in with nature. And I guess as a if I could do like the the segue but the the relationship to work the future and The environment and sustainability. These things are not separate conversations. They're one in the same and so how we think about Preserving the environment dealing with climate change and the work of the future is It's a tall task. But it's really that's Kinda where we need to when we talk to our students. Now there's just been a market shift over the years if it doesn't if it's not mission aligned doesn't have to do with things like the sustainable development goals with the grand challenges or other. There isn't that kind of context. Then they're not gonNA have it and but if it does have that kind of context they will go deep and they'll be solution solvers in problem solvers forever right now and they're facing twentysomethings are facing a situation where we haven't dealt well with the environment we haven't dealt well with inequality. I mean there's not a lot for them to You know I think. They're going to be very activated by by these issues which is great for all of us. I think that's right. I think that we don't talk about it. We look like the diedd with. Die Ad Lots of the fact that they're not GonNa have a teacher right best tip for making the world a better place. Oh my God. He's all easy right. This is really this is really fun. Plan best tip for making the world a better place you know. I'm going to say something like what's the right term but nine connectivity because right now I feel it actively you know this is how we've actually found agencies connecting voices and all that on the flip side and we don't need to name names. We've had a problem with that too in terms of regulating or you know exacerbating extremism exacerbating fake news. And things like that. So we need to figure out a way to bring the best of this connectivity that we've basically developed in the last decade and and make it work for society in four humanity and not against it and I think just at the cusp of figuring that out a lot of talk about community organizing as kind of paradigm we need versus facebook and again not to call up facebook. But you did it not. It's totally my fault right. But how do you? How do you got that connection? But it's this digital anodyne aseptic oftentimes sort of amoral algorithm exactly. Well that's again the downside. We really need We need rules of the road for the use of the eye. And so far it's been again a little bit of the wild west and so I think that We really need to be taking that seriously whereas question. What single word with your friends from college have used to describe my. Gosh can't go live with that work could be. I think I'll just be a little bit more I would say. Let's see perhaps unpredictable. Yeah we'll leave it at that. I wouldn't have predicted that. Is You shared your data about the abilities. As you age today Antonyms sentiment. That's right you and I have. There's hope for us. Our guest has been Elizabeth Reynolds from from MIT. And WHO'S THE CO author of the Task Force report that was just issued in September on the work of the future? Wanted to thank you for the time. Thank you for visiting us as we tell all of our guests please move here. She can boy you make it look very attractive. Thank you thank you good to talk to you today. We hope you enjoy listening to this episode of forward faster to learn more about our programs research opportunities and visit us at school dot. Edu Dot Edu or find us on twitter instagram facebook.