Education, training and adaptability key to shaping workforce, experts say at meeting held by congressmen
The United States needs to develop a workforce that is adaptable and flexible enough to remain competitive in a global market, panelists told a Naperville audience gathered Monday at North Central College.
Hosted by U.S. Reps. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, and Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, the discussion on the future of work and education was held at the college’s Wentz Science Center in Naperville. Foster and Casten share portions of the college campus in their respective districts.
The panelists told the audience that as automation and technology replace jobs, it is important to retrain adult workers and prepare high schools to adapt to the ever-changing career landscape.
Foster said this trend already can be seen in the farming and manufacturing industries. “We now have folks with master’s in finance worried about being replaced by technology,” he said.
The congressman said he would like more emphasis in education be placed on science, technology, math and engineering, known as STEM for short.
Alhough manufacturers are automating, someone still needs basic STEM understanding to run the machines, Foster said. They don’t need to know how to program the machine, he said, they need to know how to make sure the machines are working to their maximum potential.
“The world is moving toward a global economy,” Foster said, “and not enough value is placed on technical training and lifelong learning.”
Stephen Caliendo, dean of North Central’s College of Arts and Sciences, said the colleges no longer should be focusing on preparing students for their first career. They should be training them for their third career.High-impact practices — internships, study-abroad programs, service-learning and working with a faculty member on a research project — are the things that provide invaluable skills that cannot be taught online and can help students prepare for life-long learning, .
A liberal arts degree and general education courses also are valuable because they teach the problem-solving, critical-thinking and collaborative soft skills students need to adapt in a changing work world, he said. Casten agreed.
As former businessman, the congressman said employers hire for their hard skills. “You let people go because of soft skills,” he said.
America understands how technology has eliminated manual labor in products like the cotton gin, Casten said .
But technology today is moving rapidly. Jobs once considered lucrative, like lawyers and stock brokers, are no longer needed because they can’t compete with things like Legal Zoom and online stock algorithms, he said.
“The rate of that acceleration is faster than we can contemplate,” Casten said.
Other panelist told how they are working in the community to help adjust to the changing climate.
Travis Linderman, managing director of Innovation DuPage, spoke of how his organization is working to impact regional economic development. Public and private partners can be leveraged to support startup and early-stage business enterprises by connecting them to the knowledge, expert mentors and resources necessary to succeed, he said.
“There is a need for project-based learning” that provides hands-on, real-world experiences, Linderman said. Mentors provide the assistance so entrepreneurs don’t experience the same pitfalls as others before them, he said.
In addition, members of the millennial and Gen Z generations are already seeing the need for career retaining, but many don’t feel they have the time to devote to long educational sessions, Linderman said.
As such, micro learning through short videos has become a popular means to instruct that group. “Training is changing,” he said.
Brian Veit, career and technical education curriculum coordinator at West Aurora School District 129, said not every student wants or needs to attend college, which is why his district is developing educational and training opportunities for students wanting to pursue dual credit classes, job-ready training and career certifications.
The goal is for students to leave the program with a career that provides a living wage or be a step closer to earning a degree that can accomplish the same, Viet said.
The three career pathways that are part of the district’s Pathways to Prosperity initiative are in the areas of advanced manufacturing, information technology and health occupations services.
Veit said his district is finding that reaching kids when they are in middle school is important so they can be set in the right pathway before they reach high school.
Moderating Monday’s panel discussion was Molly Martin, director of New America – Indianapolis, a network hub that focuses on the innovative, grassroots solutions to make the city more livable, resilient and equitable.