On the future of work, are you a techno-optimist or a techno-pessimist? - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Oct. 26, 2018 10:53 am

On the future of work, are you a techno-optimist or a techno-pessimist?

A dinner hosted by Catalyte and Technical.ly explored how to build top-flight talent pipelines. There's another chance to get involved in December.
Dinner and conversation about how to build the best teams in town.

Dinner and conversation about how to build the best teams in town.

(Photo by Alex Galiani)

If there’s one constant in life, it’s that ready or not, time marches on. Today, the same can be said of technology. It really wasn’t all that long ago we were dreading dialing 0 on a rotary phone. Now we’re trying to visualize the future of work in the face of rapid automation and artificial intelligence.

This new reality is challenging workforce developers and business leaders to create a blueprint that can prepare current and future workers for a changing economy.

New technology simultaneously calls for the creation of new roles and the dissolution of others. It also brings up a lot of questions. How exactly will the job landscape change? How can we proactively train and prepare our people? Who will thrive? More importantly, who will get left behind?

If it’s up to Catalyte, no one will. The Baltimore-based software engineering firm has always taken a special interest in developing a workforce that works for the people. All the people.

For over 15 years, Catalyte — which helps Fortune 1000 companies build and create digital products and services — has followed a unique methodology for identifying and sourcing talent. Through artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, its talent pipeline is able to identify anyone who has the aptitude to become a software developer, regardless of their background, eliminating hiring bias and providing career pathways for candidates who are typically overlooked.

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Last month, Catalyte continued its mission to democratize the workforce, this time with an eye towards the future.

On Sept. 12, Catalyte hosted the first in a series of dinners with Baltimore-area executives and thought leaders on topics of emerging technology and its impact on the Baltimore workforce and communities.

Though the dinner was held “off-the-record” in order to inspire candid, authentic discourse, we spoke with Catalyte CEO Jacob Hsu and Technically Media cofounder and CEO Chris Wink (who moderated the discussion) to learn more about the intent and the outcome of the first dinner event.

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Talk to us about your vision for this event. What is your objective in hosting these dinners?

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Hsu: I think the biggest problem of our time is this growing socioeconomic divide. The haves and have nots. Whether you’re digitally savvy or not. So how are we going to really start thinking about the future of social mobility in the context of the workforce? As we transition to this future space, I think it’s not just how to help our workforce survive this change, I think there’s an opportunity help them thrive. That’s our point of view. That’s what we’re trying to do.

How did you design the guest list?

Hsu: I’ve been to a lot of conversations and conferences, and usually what you find is that it’s all the same people. I think we’ve gotten so siloed in these conversations.

This was a really great event in the sense we were able to bring together a truly cross-disciplinary team. By design we wanted to a mix of business leaders, government and civic leaders, non-profits. We had university deans and professors there. It’s a big elephant, you gotta grab it from different ends. We wanted to find people looking at the same problem from different perspectives. We’re not going to solve this in a dinner, but at least start to synthesize the issues.

Wink: For all the teasing Baltimore gives itself about being small, I’m pretty confident that no one in that room knew everyone in that room. That for me was a sign of success: putting a curated group of people together who don’t know each other yet. You tend you need to know each other to solve all the problems, so if we believe the people in that room are part of Baltimore’s future, the first step is making sure everyone knows each other…and we can go from there.

What were some of the main takeaways from the evening?

Wink: For me the big idea that came out of it was that there’s the techno-optimists and techno-pessimists. Optimists say we’re going to create entirely different sectors of the economy and it will create jobs that will more than make up for the loss of jobs. Pessimists say, “No, this is not the industrial revolution, something darker is happening — a lack of growth in wages, labor participation rate changes, the fact that we’re not going to be able to create enough jobs to make up for it.”

So we put it to the group: Where do you guys stand in this conversation? The tenor of the room, to speak broadly, was “We are techno optimists, we believe that entirely new opportunities are going to come from this that will make up for a loss of jobs, but we don’t have a lot of faith in the private sector wanting to do the work that will allow for the economy to capture those successes.”

Most specifically they mean by that: up-skill training, curriculum adaptation from K-12, career alignment between higher-ed and the private sector, preparing the people who are there to fully capture the opportunity.

Hsu: Clearly AI and automation are going to be making tremendous changes to the economy and the way companies operate. So how are we going to respond to that? I think it’s a couple of big things.

One is education. Everybody had a view about how important it is to change the way that we educate and train our workforce for the future. Having a different orientation. A continuous growth mindset. Continuous learning. We need to educate and train our people to think and operate for the future.

The second thing is, what can employers be doing? There hasn’t been a lot of talk about what is going to happen to the workforce once you’ve started to automate this stuff.

And third is just a discussion around values. We as a society cannot be leaving people behind. We cannot have a “winner take all” approach to thinking about growth.

How do you feel the event went overall? Did it serve its purpose?

Wink: There was a lot of optimism in the room. But there’s a lot of real hard work needing to be done to actually benefit that opportunity we see before us.

The real action for me was convening the people who are going to bring Baltimore and Maryland’s economic and workforce development preparedness into the future. It feels like a genuine outcome. We need more of it, but it’s certainly a start.

What will the next dinner look like? Will you change anything?

Hsu: This series is really going to focus on workforce. We might have a slightly different topic next time, but it’ll still focus on workforce issues. We’d love other leaders to come join this — people who have the influence and resources to move the needle so that we can collaborate and do something bigger in Baltimore. We’re hoping we will be able to catalyze partnerships amongst the participants. Our goal really is to pull the community closer together.

Catalyte will be hosting its second dinner in early December. If you’re a Baltimore-area business executive or leader working at the intersection of the technology, business or social impact/nonprofit sectors and are interested in participating, please share your information with us at the link below!

Join Catalyte's second dinner -30-
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