Building the Foundational Skills Needed for Success in Work at the Human-Technology Frontier

Building the Foundational Skills Needed for Success in Work at the Human-Technology Frontier


The proliferation of new technologies has changed the way we live, learn, and work. Although the future of work is unclear, thought leaders, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), assert that artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, robotics, and machine learning will be ubiquitous in tomorrow’s workplaces. This vision of the future includes a new machine age, where various technologies (sensors, communication, computation, and intelligence) will be embedded around, on, and in us; where humans will shape technology and technology will shape human interaction; and where technologies and humans will collaborate to discover and innovate (Mervis, 2016; Van Opstal, Evans, Bates, & Knuckles, 2008). In short—the Human-Technology Frontier has arrived!

Without question, the U.S. workforce will need a new set of skills and competencies to succeed in the future work environments on this Frontier—which feels like it grows closer with each new technological advance—and to move our society forward as a global leader in the 21st century. To ensure the workforce is futureready, our society will need to address existing challenges related to education for workforce development, economics, equity, and ethics. As our society works to understand and identify strategies to overcome these complex and interrelated challenges, two theories—the Psychology of Working Theory (PWT) (Blustein, 2006; Duffy, Blustein, Diemer, & Autin, 2016) and Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994)—can help us understand and attend to the following key factors in cultivating a future-ready workforce:

• The importance of work to society
• Why work is critical to human identity
• How youth develop their work identities
• Why we should be concerned about making sure that there is decent work for everyone

Both the PWT and SCCT theories argue that because career development is an iterative process that begins early and is nurtured through both in- and out-ofschool experiences, we need to start supporting STEM workforce development long before youth reach the undergraduate level. Drawing upon these theories, this paper explores the potential to build on the NSF Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program’s successful use of a “helix” approach (see p. 24-25), which blends career and content learning to help young people master the foundational skills they will need for work success at the HumanTechnology Frontier.

We begin by describing the complexities of the labor market, the current and evolving workplace, social stability concerns related to work and working, the future of work and the implications for developing the future workforce, the challenges of obtaining decent work and broadening participation at the Human-Technology Frontier, and factors affecting STEM career development. Next, we discuss the critical role that the NSF’s ITEST program plays in preparing the workforce of the future. To close the paper, we examine what federal agencies, private foundations and other potential funders, and those involved in STEM career and workforce development can do to help guide the next steps in broadening participation and reducing inequality in participation in STEM careers. We also provide a summary of implications for building a workforce that can thrive at the Human-Technology Frontier.

Suggested citation: Malyn-Smith, J., Blustein, D., Pillai, S., Parker, C. E., Gutowski, E., & Diamonti, A. J. (2017). Building the foundational skills needed for success in work at the human-technology frontier. Waltham, MA: EDC.