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NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues Director’s Log

During our podcast episode this week with former Lieutenant Governor and Isothermal Community College President Walter Dalton, I mentioned a line from a high school teacher named Karl Fisch that changed the way I think about our future. About a decade ago, he said that the new job as educators is to “prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet, where they will be using technology that hasn’t been invented yet in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

In that scenario, teachers, professors, and mentors need to be preparing more and more people, of all ages, from every background, to think their way around problems.

Making that pivot as educators requires a number of approaches, and I think there’s a good case that the Institute for Emerging Issues is taking those on. What do we need to do to solve the next generation of challenges?

We need to raise awareness. People tell me regularly about how they are using our Disruption Index, which uses projections by NC State economist Mike Walden to anticipate, on a county level, how many and what kinds of jobs are most likely to disappear from our economy by 2040 due to automation.

We need to build a new core of entrepreneurs, people who can help us discover and create the “jobs that don’t exist yet” and solve the problems we don’t know are problems yet. Earlier this month I got to spend a day in Robeson County with Sarah Langer Hall and community leaders from Asheville, Greensboro, Pembroke, Wilmington/Carolina Coast, and Wilson who are participating in our cross-city learning collaborative, Innovate NC. I got inspired hearing what they are doing to create local “innovation ecosystems” that will help new ideas take root and grow (well, maybe not all ideas will “take root” – we saw Roderick McMillan’s promising hydroponic plant business that needs no soil!).

We need to get to our future problem solvers early. As IEI Economy Policy Manager Donnie Charleston, IEI Assistant Director Pat Cronin and I have met with councils of government, workforce development boards, school boards and community foundations this month to talk about our findings and plans for “kidonomics,” it’s been impressive to see the consensus forming. Even if people do not agree on how to reach the goal, people across the state are clear that we need to unite behind initiatives that will result in much greater numbers of North Carolina students reading proficiently by the end of third grade. This Wednesday, the NC House voted overwhelmingly to launch a task force this fall to study early childhood leadership, data systems, and accountability.

We need to realize that this rapidly changing workforce impacts all of us. Even though the Disruption Index looks forward to 2040, change is occurring every day, in professions across our state. To be ready for it we need new, creative thinking inside government and out. Kylie Foley, our Rural Fellow, shows us in her story about St. John United Methodist Church how the faith community can provide new, creative kinds of support for people going through disruption. Meanwhile, Policy Manager Sarah Langer Hall has been working with the NC Institute of Medicine to explore the possibility for an innovative All-Payer Claims Database that could make it easier to track and analyze health care costs and spending across the state.

We need someone to summarize the creativity and adaptability everyone will need to succeed in the future. After you read through this month’s digest, I hope you will participate in our contest to depict “The Versatillion,” the new North Carolina superhero who will be faster at adapting than a speeding bullet, stronger than a robot, able to leap to new work in a single bound. Can’t draw? Send us your list of key attributes. Can draw? Send us your draft! The amazing Tina Turner once sang, “We don’t need another hero.” I think we need at least ONE more. Help us engineer one!

And help us in the continued work of imagining the future of our state. We need all the ideas and energy we can get!

Leslie Boney

Leslie Boney is the director of NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues.