Community Conversations: Jamie Merisotis on the Future of Work [video]

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John O'Brien, EDUCAUSE President and CEO, talks with Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, about how artificial intelligence and current crises will affect the future of work.

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Jamie Merisotis
President and CEO
Lumina Foundation

John O’Brien
President and CEO

O'Brien: Welcome to the EDUCAUSE community conversation with Jamie Merisotis. Jamie is the CEO and president of the Lumina Foundation and the author of "Human Work" in the age of smart machines. So we're really lucky to have Jamie with us here today. And let's start talking about the book. Welcome, Jamie.

Merisotis: Thanks very much, John. Great to be with you.

O'Brien: Is AI a force for good relative to workforce or this just tremendous challenge?

Merisotis: Ultimately, I believe that what we know about technology is that technology has always created more opportunities than it's destroyed, but along the way it does destroy opportunities. And so we've been talking over the last few years about AI and work and about what, I jokingly call the robot zombie apocalypse that's coming because everyone seems to think that we will see major major disruptions in work. Maybe, I think there will be creative destruction and a building happening at the same time. I'm not sure that this era is any different but what I do think is different in terms of what we need to do in this era is better prepare ourselves for this work that only humans can do. And that means that we've got to focus on building those human work traits and capabilities. So if meaning and purpose and dignity is what we want, it means that we've got to build our human traits our capacity for compassion, for empathy, our ability to be ethical, our focus on collaboration and creativity. These are the things that make us uniquely human.

O'Brien: Crises bring out the best in people sometimes. And sometimes that's true of systems as well. Do you think the cluster of crisis we're dealing with now COVID, pandemic, financial do you think it's done that or is it just revealing fault lines in education and maybe in workforce training system?

Merisotis: I think that the overlapping crises of COVID-19, racial injustice, economic dislocation that we've seen have done more to reveal the fault lines that were there and not necessarily take us down new paths. They've also probably accelerated what we needed to be doing, which is to recognize those important connections between education and workforce training that we've been talking about. But, I do think that we've got to do a better job of making racial justice and equity core to what we do in the system. I do think that we need to do a better job of preparing people for these uniquely human tasks of ultimately recognizing that learning, earning and serving are part of an integrated system not something that you're going to do once in your lifetime.

O'Brien: When you meet with college and university presidents, what do you go to those kinds of conversations wanting to stress? What do you think is the biggest obstacle to the kind of change you advocate for higher education?

Merisotis: Part of the challenge for our industry. And it's an understandable challenge is that we have become risk averse in part because we have long been the engine of economic progress and social mobility for American society. So it's a classic case of aversion to risk and change because the model has worked very well for the country up until this moment. So I think that that's one issue. The second is a belief in the durability of the model, right? So if the model has worked up until this point let's not append it, but I think we have an opportunity. And the opportunity for higher ed is that in this human work environment what we say we've always done well is really about human work skills, right? So, we say that our greatest contribution to society is that we prepare people for a long life of work and living where they can be those critical thinkers and those problem-solvers and those communicators and the people who can really be analytical and reason in a way of the ethical and participate in our democratic system. To me, this is the opportunity for higher education, but in order to do that, we are have to change the model so that it is not simply one where you have to run through a time-based a time limited model where you're always focused on a core set of majors and learning opportunities. You need to focus on a much wider set of human traits and capabilities and we're going to have to do this over the course of people's lives. So this is not a one and done model from the higher ed perspective or from the perspective of the learner worker.

O'Brien: Well, you've raised a lot of questions and I'm pretty sure a bunch of people listening have already logged on and ordered a copy of your book. I hope so. Cause I think it adds a really important voice to this crucial conversation as a country and really internationally. So thank you Jamie Merisotis for joining us today for our community conversation.

Merisotis: John great to be with you.