Penny Pritzker at ASU + GSV Summit: We need a generation of lifelong learners

At Day Two of the ASU + GSV Summit, the former commerce secretary talked with WorkingNation's Ramona Schindelheim about the technological forces reshaping the nature of work and whether the United States is prepared for these changes.

Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker wants the country to take notice of a major generational shift happening as the workforce adapts to the digital age.

“If you step back and recognize that artificial intelligence, automation, globalization and general technological innovation are not going away, but are changing the way we work at a more and more rapid pace, then we need, as a country, to ask whether we are preparing Americans for this generational change that is going on,” Pritzker said during Day Two of the ASU + GSV Summit in San Diego.

The very nature of work is changing rapidly as a result of technology. Jobs are being eliminated and others are being created. It’s disrupting the way we do business. It needs to disrupt the way we educate and reskill our workforce.

Photo – Council on Foreign Relations

A Council of Foreign Relations report, prepared by an independent task force co-chaired by Pritzker, recently warned that failure to address the challenges posed by new technologies would “affect U.S. national security” and make the world a more unstable and less prosperous place.

“We need generational change and a social movement to help more Americans succeed and adapt. The big idea that we propose out of the report, and something I fundamentally believe, is that we have to be lifelong learners. It means the idea of the way I was taught — I go to school until my mid-20s, and then I go to work for the rest of my life without any form of formal education — just isn’t sustainable,” she told me.

Another big idea is that we, as a society, have to work to make pathways to careers clearer. “We have to make it easier for an individual to understand ‘how do I get from where I am to where I want to be?’ There has to be a lot more transparency in the pathway from my current situation — whether I am in school, sixth grade, eighth grade, twelfth grade or I am in mid-career — to the job I want,” according to Pritzker.

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Pew Research finds that 70 percent of Americans fear that robots will take over their jobs. “The angst is real. It is out there. And we need systemic change in order to address that.” Pritzker said the CFR report offers up a menu of policy options and actions that local and national government, business leaders, and nongovernmental agencies (NGOs) can implement.

“This is part of the local movement. This where the mayor, the governor or business leaders could come together with the university leaders, the community college leaders, and the K-12 education leaders and say ‘look, we need to better connect education and work,’” she told me.

Eighty-two percent of Americans want to see more skills and jobs-based learning going on in their communities.

“There are a lot of ideas as to how to create system change, but it is not a magic bullet,” Pritzker said. “It is more of a generational commitment to say we are going from the industrial age to the digital age, that we’re in the digital age, and people’s lives are being affected and we need to change educational and training systems to adapt to that reality.”

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