Emerging Issues Forum Focuses On Changing Nature Of Work

By David Ranii
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).

RALEIGH

The technological advances that are revolutionizing the workforce — creating new jobs while rendering others outmoded — haven’t made a liberal arts education obsolete.

That’s what several panelists at the annual Emerging Issues Forum hosted by N.C. State University told about 950 attendees at the Raleigh Convention Center Monday: That although STEM skills — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — are undeniably important to prepare students for successful careers, so are the liberal arts.

“We’re arguing about the wrong things,” said Mary Grant, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. “It’s not either/or. We need both.”

The field of big data, for example, is about more than numbers crunching, Grant said. You also have to be able to analyze the data and determine what the implications are.

N.C. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla, who appeared on a panel with Grant on day one of the two-day event, recalled that when he was a college freshman majoring in economics, he asked a professor why he and his fellow students weren’t studying things they could use. The professor replied: “What we are teaching you how to do is expand your mind. … Just learn how to make your mind work.”

“I’ve never forgotten that,” Skvarla said.

The annual forum, which has a history of tackling big picture issues, attracts a mix of academics, state and local officials and corporate executives. This year’s forum, the 31st, is focused on “FutureWork.”

A major topic of discussion at this year’s event was a study released last week by N.C. State that concludes that jobs held today by more than 1 million North Carolinians “are at least 70 percent likely to be eliminated within one generation as a result of automation.”

In conjunction with that report, the Institute for Emerging Issues released a “FutureWork Disruption Index” that found that, on average, counties across the state are staring at the potential loss of more than 25 percent of their current jobs as a result of automation and other technologies.

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