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March 15, 2018

The Future of Work: Empathy, Creativity, Innovation & Young People

Photo by Jana Natalie Stevens, shared with permission

Written by Erica Lazo-Diaz, Program Coordinator at ArtStarts in Schools

This past week I had the opportunity of attending a talk presented by SFU Public Square’s 2018 Community Summit titled Brave New Work. Leading American commentators Van Jones and Anne-Marie Slaughter, each brought up interesting points on the future of work and the role of technology. In the digital era where automation and AI loom as potential threats to job stability but also as potential pathways to increased productivity and efficiency Slaughter reminded the audience that creativity, innovation and empathy cannot be automated and noted that demand for these qualities will only increase in the future.  In other words, it may be some time before robots take over, and as a society we will need to find the best ways to leverage technology to ensure a better future for everyone.

If creativity, innovation and empathy are the qualities our future needs, Jones warned that as a society we must be careful not to lose the genius that exists when we fail to see it in communities or in spaces that historically have been marginalized or ignored. Jones shared a story of a group of inner city youth impressing software engineers from top tech companies into silence when they witnessed the types of apps the youth were building. Apps that, for example, show a user the safest route home by indicating which streets had the least gang activity. Impressed as the engineers were, Jones noted that the problem that exists is that youth like the group in his story grew up in rough neighborhoods with limited resources and are rarely if ever employed by top tech companies. Young people have the ability to solve the problems they face but not all young people have the same opportunities, access or privileges.

The potential loss is too great to ignore and it reinforces the importance of ensuring all young people have access to tools that will ignite their creativity and empathy. The arts are essential in igniting creative thinking in young people and in the words of Jones, the future is coming at us and our ability to pivot and adapt will be key in successfully navigating the “brave new world” that approaches us. This means adapting how we think and what we value as a society. It means recognizing that we cannot survive the future without art and creativity. Jones emphasized the need to unlearn old ways of doing things if we hope to thrive in the future, he pointed to education and the need for it to catch up to the way young people are learning now. Slaughter also commented on education and how the emphasis on obtaining degrees will need to shift to gaining skills through performance based learning.  

Young people are quite aware and informed about the problems facing us, as demonstrated by the group of graduating grade 12 students our Director of Finance, Lia, interviewed a couple of weeks ago.  They had many thoughts to share in answer to her question about what they felt were the biggest issues facing society today. Their answers included the environment and educating others about the importance of caring for it, Donald Trump, the great divide and the importance of listening and respecting others opinions, women’s rights and equality, the education system and how degrees no longer guarantee employment and that education does not prepare you for the real world, abandoned animals, people not being true to themselves and the unfair way in which people are penalized.    

Their answers show deep empathy and understanding and are no doubt, issues that resonate with them through personal connection, lived experience and curious observation.

Moving forward it is crucial that we listen to the voices and perspectives of all young people and actively work towards creating a more equitable and accessible society because the future is the empathy, creativity and innovation of today’s young people.

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