ASU+GSV Day Three: Higher ed has an opportunity to accelerate equity through skill-building

Guild is proud to be a Sponsor Partner of the 2021 ASU+GSV Summit. In honor of the summit’s spirit of shared learning, Guild has launched this three-day blog series in which we share key learnings and daily takeaways from ASU+GSV.

This summer, for the first time ever, the number of US job openings shot above 10 million. This means that there are now more job openings than job seekers: according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8.7 million unemployed Americans are actively seeking work. With so many jobs going unfilled, the war for talent and how employers can stay competitive in a market where individuals have unprecedented opportunity to be selective about where they work has become a critical topic of discussion at ASU+GSV. 

An interesting underside to that conversation is predictions around the sweeping impacts automation and AI are poised to make on the job market within the next several years. In February, McKinsey Global Institute predicted that 45 million Americans stand to lose their jobs by 2030, with much of that loss attributable to automation. Since then, many have called out the resulting panic over this number as alarmist, pointing to new technologies as a creators of new, digital jobs that can in fact yield higher pay and greater economic mobility for workers. In a presentation on the role of institutions in defining the new normal, Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, refers to that perspective as somewhat naïve. Technology cannot create jobs for people who lose jobs to automation, he argues, unless those individuals can obtain the skills and competencies to move into those new roles. And for many, the cost of obtaining skills aligned with the future of work is untenable.

He’s right. As Michael Horn and CJ Jackson pointed out months ago, companies willing to invest in automation also have a responsibility to invest in their talent. In today’s job market, that call to action has become table stakes in winning the war for talent

Those table stakes also carry an equity imperative that resonates strongly with shrewd colleges and universities which recognize that those at highest risk for job loss due to automation are frontline workers with little to no college experience. As employers ramp up their benefits packages to add and expand access to education benefits, more working adults are now able to pursue the credentials they need to move into roles aligned with greater economic and mobility opportunities as well as the future of work. 

It’s also an opportunity to rethink how skilling is offered in a higher education setting. This includes everything from understanding who the new traditional students are, meeting them where they are, and understanding where they want to go. It also includes the hard work of re-examining whether infrastructure is set up to engineer equity rather than acquiesce demands for it. In a panel focused on accelerating equity in higher education, Anna Branch, Senior Vice President of Equity at Rutgers University, views this moment as one to recognize that traditional, legacy higher education infrastructure was never intended to serve everyone or engineer equity, likening vanity efforts around DE&I to attempting to use popsicle sticks and rubber bands to retrofit an entire system.

Examining infrastructure can start with who students see when they first log in or walk through the door. Duwain Pinder, Associate Partner at the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, shared sobering numbers around the failure in higher education to achieve population parity between students and staff: if institutions continue to approach student population parity at their current pace, it will take for-profits 45 years to achieve parity, 4-year institutions nearly 500 years, and R1/R2s will never do it. He adds that representation of Black, Latinx, and Native people among university staff is disproportionately reflected in low salary careers. Panelists asked, rightly, if students don’t see themselves represented in faculty and staff, how likely is it they will see themselves in curricula? 

As access to education continues to open for traditionally underserved and underrepresented students, higher education has an opportunity to accelerate equity through improving access and delivery of the skills students need to unlock economic opportunity. With this opportunity also comes an injunction to strategize and invest meaningfully in equity. Those that make the commitment to help their students flourish stand to thrive in the future of higher education.

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