How a Symposium on Workforce for Automation Emphasized the Importance of Equity in Education, Diversity and Inclusion
As kiosks, phone apps, self-check outs and robots replace counter attendants, cashiers and factory workers; what can New York state do for people whose jobs have been replaced by technology? Recently, the Center for an Urban Future (CUF) hosted a symposium to discuss this very issue. The focus was to welcome technological advancements and prepare the New York workforce for a more automated economy.
While automation provides benefits to the workforce, such as pathways to promotion and reduced safety issues, it also incentivizes business to shed staff in exchange for the higher outputs and profits robotics produces. A CUF report found that approximately 1.2 million job opportunities could be lost to automation in the Empire State.
To prepare for this technological revolution, New York’s workforce will need different skills and education than has been traditionally taught to lead to post academic success. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, the symposium’s keynote speaker, said, “if there are jobs to be had by embracing technology, let’s be the first.”
To be the first, businesses must look at alternative measures of competence when hiring. One of the panelists, Todd Oldham, the Vice President for Economic and Workforce Development at Monroe Community College, suggested that employers should start accepting non-credentialed individuals for positions that may be accomplished through training. Annmarie Lanesey, the CEO and founder of AlbanyCanCode, spoke anecdotally about two people. One had a four-year degree and the other worked as a cook in a restaurant for the last ten years. Both were hired for the same coding position, yet the decade long cook outperformed the college graduate. This story demonstrates that a traditional four-year degree holder may not have superior skills over their non-degree attaining peers, yet degrees are still employer’s standard of measurement.
It is in this vein that equity in education takes an important role in preparing the workforce for the future of automation. Lois Johnson, the director of workforce strategies for the Workforce Development Institute, suggested that access to job opportunities are already inequitable, so New York State must provide ways for individuals to demonstrate the skills employers are seeking in their workforce. She further recommended that New York invest in education so people have the basic skills to even access job training.
Assemblymember Crespo said that he looks at “anti-poverty through the lens of education.” The Assemblymember suggested that our public school curriculum should include financial literacy, cryptocurrency, and other technological training to prepare New Yorkers for college, other post-secondary education, and life in the current technological world. Oldham placed an emphasis on the huge discrepancy between college readiness and state standards. He highlighted that college programs are designed for a suburban-educated student, not students raised in other environments.
This intersection of equity in education and opportunities in tech spotlights the field’s lack of diversity and the necessity to reach disenfranchised communities to promote inclusivity. Melinda Mack, the executive director of the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals, pointed out that if only white people are creating software, that software in many ways excludes communities of color.
How can New York ready its workforce for the future? Some ways include: investing in programs that help people attain an education, providing access to 2-year macro credentials, state and employers providing testing for micro credentials, reaching out to communities of color to join primarily white workforces, employers offering retraining to employees when their jobs are replaced by machines, erasing the stigma of post-secondary education that is not a four-year degree, training guidance counselors to recommend trades and other forms of credentials, and ensuring that when students leave high school, they are prepared to join the work force or attain a post-secondary education.
While the Governor has allocated $175 million in his budget to strengthen workforce development, it is not enough to remedy all workforce issues. However, it is a start. The Hispanic Federation will work hard to prepare the workforce of the future.