3 challenges colleges face to prepare grads for the future of work

Daily Briefing

3 challenges colleges face to prepare grads for the future of work

Higher education leaders gathered last fall to discuss the future of work at a symposium hosted by Stanford University and OZY Media. Provosts, faculty members, and industry executives explored how colleges and universities can prepare students for an increasingly automating workplace.

Louise Lee, a writer at Stanford Business Insights, rounds up a few major challenges speakers touched on.

Challenge 1: Break down silos between humanities and STEM

Humanities students may be uncertain about their role in an automated workplace, but the technology sector will need liberal arts grads to ground the industry in history, culture, and philosophy, says Harry Elam, senior vice provost for education at Stanford. Colleges will need to prepare students who can “humanize technology,” he adds.

Students with both humanities and technical skills will be the most in-demand candidates, says Trent Hazy, cofounder of MindSumo. Some campus leaders have already started to bridge the gap between STEM and liberal arts. At Stanford, faculty members are designing a computer science ethics course that focuses on the moral issues that future graduates will have to address.

Challenge 2: Re-train the workforce

Online education won’t replace brick-and-mortar campuses, but they will be critical to address changing workforce demands, the speakers predict. Even after college, workers will need to continue learning new skills. Researchers estimate that up to 1.4 million U.S. workers will be displaced by automation across the next decade. Online courses are necessary to help workers transition to new jobs. Some firms, like AT&T, already use online courses to reskill workers on a massive scale, says Julia Stiglitz, vice president at Coursera.

Challenge 3: Graduate more diverse students

Employers want a diverse workforce to build “smarter and more creative” teams, says Joelle Emerson, an adjunct lecturer at Stanford’s graduate school of business. The talent pipeline of diverse candidates can start on campus. Many colleges have committed to recruiting—and graduating—more low-income and first-gen students. The American Talent Initiative, for example, is a band of 96 colleges and universities that seeks to collectively enroll 50,000 more low-income, high-achieving students into roughly 300 institutions with high graduation rates by 2025 (Lee, Stanford Business Insights, 4/24).

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