MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) hosted 300 people in MIT’s Tang Center on May 3, 2017, for a moderated discussion on using technology to close the skills gap, increasing equity among diverse groups, allow more people to participate in the workforce with new technologies, and build a more inclusive economy overall.
Hosted by the IDE’s flagship initiative the Inclusive Innovation Challenge, the panel featured leading experts:
Eric Schmidt, Alphabet, Inc. Executive Chairman
Robert A. DeLeo, Massachusetts Speaker of the House
Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy
Shawn Bohen, Year Up National Director for Growth & Impact
Kara Miller (Moderator), WGBH Host and Executive Editor
Brynjolfsson took the first question and gave an overview of his work as an MIT economist explaining, “The first wave of the second machine age codified knowledge, and we taught computers all we know, like how to prepare taxes. The second wave is about machine learning, when computers tell us what they can do.” This will usher in more rapid change, as businesses solve more complex problems and we learn to optimize our machines. These changes have the opportunity to enhance productivity and are likely to further increase the need for a highly-skilled talent pool.
DeLeo shared his experience with two different states of Massachusetts. “There are places where we have single digit unemployment, compared with cities where there is double digit unemployment,” he said. The differences in education, outlook, and prosperity among those communities is marked. He is encouraging the business community to help address the gaps in talent and is seeing some success with some new innovation centers moving into under-served areas.
Panelists also discussed public policy efforts to close the opportunity gap and develop job-ready skills for the changing American and global economies and agreed that involving businesses in curriculum development is key to addressing the needs of the future workforce. Schmidt noted, “The gap is getting bigger because the skills needed are becoming more sophisticated,” and suggested that the problem is likely to worsen unless we are able to get kids to a higher level.
Bohen shared her work with Year Up as a strong example of an organization supporting inclusion and creating opportunities for students and for companies who would not have been able to access diverse talent in the past. She commented, “The ultimate goal of education is to create market labor attachment, a job for each student.” She did add that, “we hire based on skills, and we fire because of attitude and behavior.” Soft skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, and leadership are equally important but not as readily available to students.
Schmidt stated his belief that “Success in life is built upon persistence and curiosity, and new technologies such as Google put all the information at your fingertips.” He also challenged business leaders in the state of Massachusetts to lead by addressing the skills gap in our community. “Who better to lead than Massachusetts?” he asked. “It’s the ultimate college town, and there are great companies working on advanced technologies here. Access to education plus leadership in innovation, technology, bio-tech, and academia can get everyone skilled-up to lead the way to the future of work.”