MHC to host Future of Jobs conference.

By Sasha Nyary

Mount Holyoke College will host a conference focusing on the worldwide conversations about globalization and automation, starting Friday, February 19, and continuing Saturday, February 20. 

The Future of Jobs: The Dual Challenges of Globalization and Robotization, which is free and open to the public, is part of a series of biannual conferences offered by the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives. Each cross-disciplinary conference focuses on a major issue of international concern in order to deepen understanding of the specific challenges in a global world and explore possible policy solutions. 

The focus of the Future of Jobs conference is on globalization and automation and will include panel discussions with scholars and practitioners from around the world and from Mount Holyoke. These conversations will provide students and other participants with a greater understanding of the last 30 years of extraordinary technological advances in the context of globalization. The keynote address will be presented by author Martin Ford, who argues that this confluence of technological advances has led us to the point of inflection.

As with each of the biannual conferences, the Future of Jobs was organized in conjunction with a course that explores these topics in greater depth. The students in the class attend the conference as part of their coursework, noted Eva Paus, a professor of economics and the founding director of the McCulloch Center. Paus coteaches the course with seven other faculty members. 

“The premise underlying the conference and the concurrent class is that to understand global challenges you have to analyze the issue from a multidisciplinary perspective—disciplines talking to each other,” Paus said. “Globalization conditions and shapes the policy options we now have.”

Technological advances coupled with ongoing globalization is discussed in forums and publication around the world. The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, focused on what is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution at its annual meeting last month. A 2013 study from Oxford University concluded that nearly half of all jobs in the United States could be automated in the next 20 years and a subsequent study found a similar percentage for European jobs.

The conversation continues at Mount Holyoke.

Ford, the keynote speaker, is the author of two books about robots and automation including the best-selling Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, which won the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award.

“Ford and other technology optimists say that we are at the turning point—that from here on, the impact will be very rapid,” Paus said. “It is true that the situation we are in now in terms of the quantity and quality of jobs has already been affected by both the technological revolution, and by this current phase of globalization. All our students need to have to have an understanding of the key challenges they are facing at the beginning of their working lives.”  

The future of jobs is hard to predict without a solid sense of where the technology is now, said Audrey St. John, professor of computer science. She and other instructors of the course lead labs to give students practical experiences aimed at demystifying current automation challenges. While it’s clear that some jobs will be eliminated in the future, St. John believes new jobs will be created as well. 

“When cars were developed, they eliminated many jobs,” St. John said. “But they also created many new opportunities. There was no way to imagine what those jobs would be at the moment cars were coming into society.”

The other professors teaching the class are Calvin Chen and Vincent Ferraro, politics; Lee Bowie, philosophy; Shahrukh Khan, visiting professor of economics; Lisa Ballesteros, computer science; and Kerstin Nordstrom, physics.

Like the teachers of the course, the conference panelists bring a wide variety of expertise and perspectives to the discussion, including the opening panel, “The Digital Revolution and Jobs: Is This Time Different?”

“The impact of technology and the type of revolution across sectors and across countries make a persuasive case that this time is different,” Paus said. “It’s important to understand the technological underpinnings of this change. And vice versa, the technology students in the class need to think about the economic and societal questions we are confronting.”

That panel, which Paus is moderating, will feature:

  • Manuela Veloso, a computer scientist from Carnegie Mellon University who is an expert on the technology behind autonomous robots

  • Economist Robert Pollin, codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who will address expanding job opportunities in green technology at this time of climate change

  • Economist Irmgard Nuebler from the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, who will speak to the social transformation of the new work economy. 

Other panels will examine the implications of these vast changes and what the responses to them have been in developed and developing countries. The panels will be moderated by Ferraro and Khan.

The panelists and their topics are:

  • Sociologist Mignon Duffy, associate director of the Center for Women and Work at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, will address the need to create well-paying jobs for caregivers, who are primarily women

  • Guy Standing, development studies professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, who will speak about confronting the emerging dystopia caused by globalization

  • Political scientist David Rueda from Oxford University, who will address how labor market policies mitigate the effects of technological change

  • Juliana Martinez Franzoni, associate professor at the Institute of Social Research at the University of Costa Rica, who will address the need for universal social policy

  • Economist Vandana Chandra of the World Bank in Washington, DC, who will speak to job creation opportunities in Africa

  • Dieter Ernst, senior fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii, who will focus on China’s approach to advanced manufacturing.

For more information and a full schedule, go to: The Future of Jobs: The Dual Challenges of Globalization and Robotization. Follow #FutureofJobs on Twitter during the conference.

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