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October 16, 2023 Opinion & Commentary

Liberal arts education will equip students for AI-driven workforce

Joseph M. Catrino

No surprise, but the future of work is here.

Rick DelVecchio

The influx of artificial intelligence, bots and automation has changed everything we know about how work is done.

Some jobs are disappearing, new ones emerging; all accelerated by the global pandemic.

At the present rate of change, 69 million jobs will be created and 83 million jobs destroyed over the next five years, leading to a global labor market contraction of 14 million jobs, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2023 “The Future of Jobs Report.”

Other outlets predict different figures; some more, some less. Either way, these are daunting numbers.

Like you, we worry about our own jobs. More broadly, we think about the future of higher education as it hangs on the precipice of the enrollment cliff, and with many questioning the value of a liberal arts education.

Beneath all this worry about the future of work is an encouraging sign, a silver lining: 69 million jobs will be created. How do we prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist?

In her book, “Long Life Learning: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet,” author Michelle Weise states, “The most valuable workers now and in the future will be those who can combine human + technical skills (human+ for short) and adapt to the changing needs of the workplace.”

Weise’s framework suggests a model of lifelong learning to constantly re-skill and upskill throughout one’s career as older skills become outdated and new technologies emerge.

In many cases, this might involve learning a specific technical skill, such as Tableau for data visualization.

This got us thinking. What does this mean in a future driven by AI that, in this example, can create compelling data visualization for you from a simple written prompt? What does this mean for jobs with technical skill requirements once AI can manage those tasks?

In an AI-driven workforce, liberal arts students are tremendously equipped to succeed.

As two longtime administrators in the liberal arts, we see an increasing value in the skills students acquire in such an educational environment.

As ChatGPT will tell you when asked to compare itself to humans, “Humans possess the ability to experience emotions, empathize with others, and understand complex emotional nuances. This emotional intelligence is a fundamental aspect of human interaction and connection.”

We know this to be true.

Students in the liberal arts excel in skills like critical thinking, communication, creativity, flexibility and problem-solving. The most compelling innovations yet to come will likely partner humans and artificial intelligence.

As AI lowers the technical barriers to entry in many jobs and industries, the nature of the “Human+ model” will begin to shift. As we move deeper into an AI future, we must deliver short-term value by teaching discrete technical skills like data visualization.

And we must prepare students to use human skills to integrate insights provided by AI to interpret and operationalize the output for human users.

Already, many liberal arts students are leveraging the concept of design thinking, a human-centered approach to problem-solving and innovation.

While AI provides information with speed, efficiency and consistency, the human elements of creativity, critical thinking, innovation and empathy — seen in a liberal arts curriculum — can delve into human emotions and support the commonsense reasoning needed to thrive in this new age.

In a recent FastCompany article, Jim Frawley writes, “The collaboration between human creativity and AI’s analytical power has the potential to drive innovation, foster growth, and unlock new possibilities for both individuals and organizations in the future.”

His opinion supports our argument for collaboration between AI and the liberal arts. However, the most compelling piece of Frawley’s commentary is what he believes is the secret to thriving in the age of AI, automation and bots.

It’s philosophy, one of the oldest liberal arts.

Frawley notes, “fostering creativity has become a crucial factor for success in any industry. A philosophical approach to work can encourage innovation and imagination among employees, help teams adapt to the presence of AI, and allow workers to stay ahead of an increasingly competitive job market.”

At the end of the day, there is no value in positioning human abilities against the capabilities of AI.

Bots, AI and automation alone can advance several industries and fields; however, when coupled with what really makes us human — the empathy, creativity, emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills deeply embedded in a liberal arts education — is where innovation can really happen.

Joseph M. Catrino is the executive director of Career & Life Design at Trinity College. Rick DelVecchio is the director of career development, College of Arts & Sciences, Quinnipiac University.

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