AIEDU held a meeting with the officials leading Ohio’s workforce transformation. Here’s a summary...

On March 4, business executives, policymakers, educators, and nonprofit leaders from across Ohio and the U.S. gathered virtually for The AI Education Project’s Ohio Leadership Forum on AI Education and Workforce Transformation. The invitation-only meeting focused on the urgent challenge of preparing the next generation of Ohio’s innovation workforce in the midst of accelerating automation and academic disruption in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AIEDU hosted this year’s Leadership Forum in collaboration with a ‘who’s who’ of statewide organizations working at the nexus of innovation, education, and workforce readiness. Attendees included more than 20 district superintendents, dozens of chief executives, business leaders, and co-founders, and many more nonprofit leaders and public officials.

The panels and breakout discussion groups are just the beginning of a multi-year initiative to shape post-pandemic instruction and education innovation to respond to the new opportunities and challenges from the rapid advance of artificial intelligence.

You’ll find a full recording below, along with a short written summary of the meeting.

Chris Berry Of OhioX Talks About The Need For A Skilled Workforce In Ohio

OhioX President Chris Berry kicked off the discussion by speaking about the incredibly diverse, dedicated workforce and rich history of innovation in Ohio.

Describing the increasingly competitive climate around the nation for states who are looking to get ahead in the Age of AI as a “race to lead,” Chris talked about the combination of intertwined history and uniquely adaptive climate that Ohio has to offer. The state’s rigorous academia, private industry, and robust research projects have converged to create an opportunity for Ohio to emerge as a leader and great tech hub. Chris highlighted some of the projects that Ohio has already taken the initiative on, such as the Beta-District, a hub bringing tech experts and entrepreneurs from across the country to test emerging technology like connected vehicle technology right in Ohio. The transformation that’s happening as states and companies adapt to the Future of Work relies on cutting-edge programs like Ohio’s Innovation Districts, but our infrastructure is only as good as the people that are trained for it.

“We now have three innovation districts in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati that are creating opportunities for our cities and our state to be world leaders in fields like medicine, health, research, and more,” said Chris. “In central Ohio, we have what’s called the Beta District — a place where emerging technology has found a home. The Beta District is a hub for things like testing connected vehicle technology and autonomous driving. In Dayton, there are flying cars and companies that are traveling to our state from places like New York City and Austin in order to test their technology. While all of this is so tremendous and exciting and we love reading and seeing it, it can’t happen without people. People truly do make technology happen. And because of that, it all starts with education. That’s what today is about. This work isn’t possible without a skilled and talented workforce.”

“We Can’t Hire Enough People” — Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted Discusses Ohio’s Place In The “Race To Lead”

Ohio’s current administration has made workforce transformation and technology education centerpieces of its economic priorities. Not only are hardworking people being impacted — even more so after a year of the pandemic — by issues like unemployment and lack of training, businesses themselves are struggling to find the talent with the skills that are needed to meet newly integrated automation technology. Speaking about the challenge of meeting a moment where technology is increasingly infused into the economy, Ohio’s Lt. Governor Jon Husted shared some of the conversations that he’s had about what this Fourth Industrial Revolution is already bringing.

“I had two employers that I talked with that basically said ‘we can’t hire enough people.’ This is pretty common, but these two conversations stick out to me. [That is] for a variety of reasons — pandemic related, unemployment, lack of proper skills. Here we are in a pandemic, people are saying they’re out of work and can’t find work, but we have employers that go begging because of these skill mismatches. That’s got to be fixed. The states and communities that do it right will be the ones that prosper, and the ones that don’t will fall behind. We don’t want to be that state. We want to give the opportunity to people to earn the skills that will make them more employable, help them earn more, and have more job security — and also make sure that the employers of this state have the talent that they need.”

Gov. DeWine and Lt. Gov. Husted have ambitiously set out to address workforce transformation and automation advances, including how they’re integrating AI into their own administration using an innovative tool that simplifies and spurs regulatory reform and scaling up the state’s workforce-recognized credential graduation goals. Leaders in Ohio must not only make sure that Ohioans are getting trained in a basic and general sense about how to use AI tools and how to trust the ones that they interact with, but make sure that tech talent is being actively cultivated within the state. By forming partnerships related to workforce readiness early on in the careers of students and providing them with the real-world opportunities to work with businesses in their own communities, students are more likely to enter the workforce prepared and stay in Ohio throughout their careers.

Increasing the accessibility of AI education and investing in community partnerships are important ways for Ohio to stay ahead in that ‘race to lead.’

“States and communities that do it right are going to prosper.”

Michael Kanaan — “T-Minus AI” Author Issues A “Common Call For The Future Of Our Youth”

Michael Kanaan was the Air Force’s first-ever AI Chair, and wrote the widely-lauded book, T-Minus AI: Humanity’s Countdown to Artificial Intelligence and the New Pursuit of Global Power. He holds a comprehensive perspective on the ways that AI is changing nearly every facet of people’s lives, and he stressed that in this brave new era, “we are all on our own individual journeys towards understanding AI.” For him, that journey began a decade ago in Ohio at the start of his career at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.

Michael argued that workforce transformation must come from understanding that AI is a tool, one that will pervasively infiltrate and empower our lives like electricity has — while certainly posing a threat of disenfranchising people if they don’t have the access or knowledge to wield it, or potentially exacerbating the inequalities we’ve already built into society. These benefits — and risks — touch the lives of every person in the workforce.

“Future rockstars in tech will be teachers, sociologists, dancers, artists, psychologists, parents, and so much more,” said Michael. “Think of AI like a flashlight, a mirror, and/or a canary in the coal mine. It illuminates otherwise ignored or undiscovered latent patterns memorialized in the world around us. In closing, we can bring this notion of AI into the future, because we don’t have a technology issue. We have a people problem. The limits of our language mean the limits of our world. Our work to educate starts by helping others speak in common terms, from a common understanding, from a shared set of experiences so that they can be ready for an uncertain future and be ready for what’s to come professionally and personally.”

Michael stressed it is crucial that we teach students about how to use the tools that are changing the workforce, that we stand against the negative use against AI, and that we base its applications on principles of fundamental dignity and democratic ideals. That preparation is a consequential factor in how we will be judged when people look back on this moment in a decade.

“We don’t have a technology issue. We have a people issue.”

“Every Company Is A Tech Company Now” — A Discussion With Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Ohio Business Roundtable President Pat Tiberi

The first panel featured Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton and Ohio Business Roundtable President Pat Tiberi. They answered questions about how Ohio can not only address the workforce challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, but actually thrive past them and lead the rest of the nation in workforce transformation.

Dayton, OH

Both pointed towards Ohio’s world-class entrepreneurship opportunities throughout the state in public and private sectors and its research institutions. “We have a gem of a system,” Pat Tiberi emphasized. The challenge, though, is finding ways to match K-12 education and higher education with what companies in the workforce need at breakneck speed.

We as a state are competing with every other state on aligning that talent need with that talent, and trying to get those talented individuals to stay in our state when they graduate from the University of Dayton or the University of Cincinnati,” said Pat. “That’s a key part of this. The state that figures it out and gets it right and makes this process of alignment easiest both for the student who’s graduating from a tech school, a college, or a two year school and the employer who wants that talent is going to be way ahead of the game in restoring some great growth and really great jobs to their economy.”

Pat and Mayor Whaley both underscored that while many opportunities in this sphere of discussion are STEM-based, to a practical extent, every company is functionally a tech company now. The dizzying speed of automation and its continued acceleration is not lost on Mayor Whaley. When asked what her priorities are for the next few years, she pointed out that it isn’t the first time Ohioans have been faced with a situation of this magnitude.

“I would argue that Dayton had the toughest Great Recession next to Detroit just because of the sheer number of manufacturing jobs we hold along the I-75 corridor in this region,” said Mayor Whaley. “I think what that did for us was make us recognize that we have got to get very serious about getting our talent pool right. We have seen, since the Great Recession, a suffering of wage depression particularly in manufacturing. That’s a big part of our GDP, and that has affected people’s quality of life in Dayton. But we also know that we still have that mismatch everyone talks about around engineering and science degrees that are high paying. So really being aggressive around this work has been key for us, and so is getting our pipeline correct. It’s not just about going to college, it’s also having credentials and getting some of these mid-pieces right around technical jobs.”

Catering to the flexibility of that unsteady future and developing Ohio’s talent pool is important, and it’s one of the reasons that Dayton is one of the two-dozen or so communities in the country that offers wide access to high-quality preschool for its residents. Access like that can help students take more advantage of the opportunities and knowledge they’re presented with later in the K-12 system, helping them stay ahead of the curve.

When asked what the timeframe of this economic transformation is, Pat stressed the immediacy of the moment. The kind of flexibility that Mayor Whaley referenced is present not only in the goals of the Roundtable, but in the work that it’s already doing to create a variety of opportunities for people to get into the labor force at all levels, with and without advanced degrees. He speaks about the ways that businesses, leaders, and communities can talk to children in Ohio schools from an early age about these changing opportunities, citing Honda’s student engagement in the region as an example.

“Having those conversations with kids, having better alignment with K-12, but also post-12th grade with the business community, with organized labor — we’re all in this together,” said Pat “And again, the state that figures this out the best between the public sector, the private sector, and education, is going to be way ahead for our future workforce. But it’s happening as we speak.”

To close out, Mayor Whaley noted that she sees K-12 education playing a role in cultivating practical skills and inspiring enthusiastic thinking about workforce transformation.

“Exposing opportunities to children during K-12 and giving them the opportunities in the classroom — but also outside of the classroom — about these jobs, like Pat was talking about, is very, very key — and so is being really intentional about that work.”

Panel 2 — The Community Knows Best: How Localized, Collaborative Partnerships Are The Next Step For Ohio’s “Race To Lead”

In the forum’s second panel, AIEDU co-founder and Chief Learning Officer Ora Tanner spoke to policymakers, business leaders, and educators about the immediate future of workforce transformation and AI innovation: how do we help schools respond to this right now?

Ohio Superintendent Paolo DeMaria stressed the importance of having business leaders and entrepreneurs who understand the skills needed by students be involved in the educational process.

“We really need to stress more collaboration and interaction among the different sectors. Sometimes we in K-12 sit in our own silo, and our partners in higher education sit in their silo, and the business community sits in their own silo, and even our Pre-K system sits a bit in its own silo. What we’re finding more and more is that we can’t think about talent management and talent development in isolation. We have to think of it as a system that spans birth to continuing learning to a career. The K-12 system has to do more to interface with the Pre-K system, but we also have to look at our higher ed partners and our business community and see more interaction with them.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman noted that such collaboration is critical to answering the question: “how do we help as many people as possible?” and noted that local leaders who listen to their communities and businesses can make the difference between accomplishing workforce transformation goals and falling behind.

“Communities and community leaders have to step up. It’s really important who your local Mayor is, your county commissioners, your school superintendent, the township trustees, and the school board members. I think to myself that 50–60 years ago, people who ran for City Council were the leaders and innovators in a town. Sometimes today, they’re not — they’re whoever can fill that seat. People tend to look at running for public office as ‘well, that’s not something I would do,’ they look down upon government service. But how we can accomplish these things on a local level depends on the leaders that are in those towns.”

The importance of that localized collaboration became a major focus of the second panel discussion. “There are still people in our local communities who are being left behind,” said Dr. Don Pope-Davis, Dean of The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the gap in access and resources for tech education, and needs on the ground have rapidly evolved throughout this past year. He elaborated on what the role of collaboration is in the era of that widening gap.

“Part of our job is to be disruptive in this model, to be transformative,” said Dr. Pope-Davis. “How can we do this differently, given what’s at stake for our community and for the citizens of Ohio? Recognize that whether you live in Lima or Columbus, that the experiences of each of those communities are different yet similar in a variety of ways. How do you bring those communities together? I think this conversation has to include community partners and community activists, and I don’t mean that only in the business sense. I’m beginning to have conversations with ministers, with people who provide food and pantries, asking them ‘what are you seeing, what are you experiencing’ so we can do better here in our college and train teachers about how to use technology to engage these communities. There is that gap that is still there and I would like to see a conversation that is not only about jobs, but what is the infrastructure that is going to be needed in order to do that, and how do we treat and engage the people in those communities to do that?”

Lastly, Brad McLean, President of AT&T Ohio, shared his own support of the localized, community based model and reiterated that companies across the state have to band together as advocates for this comprehensive workforce transformation. He spoke about AT&T Ohio’s programs that focus on preparing people for the workforce across the state.

“We’re really trying to develop programs through education, through tech focused programs, and not just at the mid or high level — down to the basic educational level of digital literacy,” said Brad. “That’s extremely important to us. Without that base knowledge, you’re not going to be able to participate in the modern economy. That’s something we’re really invested in and interested in, not only in Cleveland, but all across Ohio. We understand the need for the public-private partnership part of this. That’s why we’re going to continue to have those conversations. We do have one of the largest accelerator programs in the country. Our AT&T Aspire Accelerator focuses on enhancing education through mentorship, funding, and innovative tech startups in the ed-tech space. We obviously hire thousands of people each year across the country, and we need those folks to be ready on day one. We want to be a part of making sure that that can happen.”

The Breakouts

At the end of the forum’s main discussion, attendees broke off into breakout sessions to continue exploring the conversation. As Ohio prepares to be a national leader in AI education, we wanted to know: what’s been working well at the local level? What are the challenges leaders and educators are facing? What are some actionable tools and insights we can give K-12 teachers right now?

Insights clustered on several themes:

  • A key challenge: scale and equity. Several participants discussed the struggles they have encountered in scaling the programs they helped to start in their communities. While there are dedicated educators and leaders who have formed exciting new opportunities and career pathways for students across Ohio, there’s urgent demand for more — which poses a challenge for districts and schools stretched thin after a year of the pandemic. People emphasized the need to balance system capacity with equity. The idea of a “cafeteria-style” approach was floated as a potential way to maximize the resources of programs across the state and connect educators with other skillsets, resources, and businesses. These collaborative discussions should be designed with equity and access in mind.
  • Creativity and connection post-COVID. Educators were “forced to be creative” this past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with the prevalence of virtual learning. While this necessity fostered wider connections between many schools and industries, it has also reminded educators that social skills are a big part of how Ohioans will succeed at workforce transformation in the post-pandemic world. Group interaction and collective problem solving, even over Zoom, are significant pieces of the puzzle. By teaching students how to connect with their teachers and classmates in an unprecedented circumstance, we’ve laid the foundation for students to learn and adapt to the next challenges the world throws at them as a team. This kind of resiliency and adaptability is crucial for the accelerating pace of change in the economy and the workforce.
  • Workforce transformation isn’t just about STEM education — all of us are part of of the digital economy now. A common theme from the main discussion that showed up in breakouts was the notion that AI and automation are touching every corner of every industry. Students need basic, fundamental skills about AI and workforce transformation, and we can use a generalized-but-flexible curriculum to let teachers tap into their own interests and passions. By committing to continue learning themselves, educators and leaders can ensure that they’re preparing Ohio students for a workforce where no matter what their career is, they’ll be integrated into a “tech” company.

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The AI Education Project makes AI literacy accessible by providing engaging online curriculum that addresses the general knowledge and skills needed to be informed citizens and workers. We use Medium to share updates and write about relevant content.

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Alex Kotran

Alex Kotran

Co-Founder of The AI Education Project

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