Special Interest Group Hosts Forward-Looking Conversations to Address the Future of Work

Tiffiney Gray, Project Manager, CORD • August 9, 2019

Technology advancements associated with Industry 4.0—including more sophisticated automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning—present both the need and the opportunity to reimagine and retool technician training to meet the knowledge and skill demands of a rapidly-changing workplace. With support from the NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, the Preparing Technicians for the Future of Work project convened a Special Interest Group comprised of industry leaders and technician educators at HI-TEC in St. Louis, Missouri. The project facilitated discussions between industry representatives and ATE leaders with a variety of expertise (e.g., advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, information technology, cybersecurity, etc.) to determine ways to actively prepare for the impacts of emerging technologies on the future of work and on the skilled technical workforce. 

The group’s discussions also underscored the need to significantly broaden the skill set of the 20th-century technician to cultivate the advanced technician of the 21st century. Discussions centered around three cross-disciplinary trends (identified by participants in earlier convenings) that represent knowledge and skills to be integrated as essential elements of STEM associate degree programs alongside traditional technical skills: data knowledge and analysis, advanced digital literacy, and business knowledge and processes.

Data Knowledge and Analysis

Todd McLees, CEO of the Pendio Group, opened the session with an address that compelled both industry leaders and educators to consider the internal, external, and big-picture skills that are “uniquely human,” including Critical Thinking and Analysis, Cognitive Flexibility, Collaboration and Team Orientation, Effective Communication, Emotional Intelligence, and several others. He suggests that these traits are virtually automation-proof and are key components of human capital that differentiate humanity from even the most sophisticated technologies.

Advanced Digital Literacy

Kimberlee Millikan, Information Security Officer; Dawn Montemayor, Virtual Chief Security Officer at CyberRisk Solutions; and John Sands, Director of the ATE National Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance (CSSIA) highlighted critical talent shortages in information, digital, and cybersecurity technologies but also underscored the need to increase awareness of the “nuanced” job opportunities within the field. There is no once-size-fits-all job description. Instead there are 52 work roles in the National Institute for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) framework, each with varying knowledge, skills, abilities and associated tasks. Associate degrees are diversifying to meet this need.

Business Knowledge and Processes

Later in the day, Brynt Parmeter and Emily McGrath, Director and Deputy Director of Workforce Development at NextFlex, echoed the idea of equipping students with critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills through experiential learning as a foundation for a resilient 21st-century workforce. Mariano Carreras, International Training Manager at SMC Global, emphasized shifts in consumer expectations and emerging technologies that are challenging traditional business models and rapidly changing the face of manufacturing.

Overall, discussants agreed that preparing US technicians for the jobs of the future requires an integrated approach that includes curriculum adjustments at the community college level, widened opportunities for meaningful internships, apprenticeships and other forms of work-based experience.

While the future of work has exciting implications for industry productivity, preparing technicians to excel in this new milieu requires forward-looking discussions—such as those held during the Special Interest Group—to develop strategies to best prepare technicians to remain competitive and excel in the future workplace.