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JFF at ASU+GSV 2024: Bold Ideas to Drive Economic Equity

At A Glance

Key takeaways from sessions JFF experts led at the 2024 ASU+GSV Summit. Topics included navigating the political divide, skills-first hiring, the state of DEI initiatives, and nondegree postsecondary pathways. 

David Soo Vice President

JFF attends the ASU+GSV Summit each year to bring our perspective—how we can best drive equitable economic advancement for all—to one of the leading gatherings of leaders in ed tech, investing, and education. As always, this year’s summit served as a hub of collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and innovation for visionaries from across the learn and work ecosystem.  

Many of those insights came from panel discussions led by JFF experts on future-proofing organizations, evolving hiring practices, expanded postsecondary pathways, strategies for sustaining diversity in the workforce, and other pressing topics.   

Here are some highlights and key takeaways from JFF sessions at this year’s ASU+GSV Summit.

Future-Proofing Your Organization: Adapting Skills for the AI Workplace  

This ASU+GSV main stage session explored the transformative power of artificial intelligence (AI) in today’s workforce. Moderated by JFF President and CEO Maria Flynn, the panel featured industry insights from Karen Kocher, global general manager of future of work, workforce of the future, and talent and learning experiences at Microsoft; David Blake, CEO of Degreed; Ken Katanforoosh, CEO of Workera; and Julia Stiglitz, CEO of Uplimit. 

Key takeaways: 

AI Can Be a Superpower for Workers: 

  • AI literacy is the new must-have; it’s a superpower in the modern job market. 
  • It’s about more than just knowledge of AI; it’s about leveraging AI to stand out and excel.

Transforming Organizations With Skills-Based Approaches: 

  • Companies are shifting from traditional hiring and advancement models to skills-based approaches. 
  • With this change, employers are better able to find people with the skills required to do a job well, fostering flexibility and adaptability within teams. 

Intrinsic Motivation for Skill Acquisition: 

  • Real-world value drives eagerness to learn AI across sectors. 
  • AI accelerators empower employees to learn, innovate, and apply AI in job-related projects. 

Challenges as Opportunities: 

  • Challenges to AI adoption include the slow pace of organizational change, including the implementation of skills-based processes and skills-based pay structures. 
  • These challenges can be turned into growth opportunities with strategic approaches. 

The panelists emphasized that AI is reshaping industries and job roles right now. To succeed in this AI-driven world, prioritize AI literacy, embrace continuous learning, and remain adaptable. Whether you lead an organization or are curious about the future of work, AI isn’t merely a tool—it’s a foundational skill. 

Watch this session:


Bridging the Political Divide: The 2024 Election’s Impact on Education and Workforce Advancement 

In this presidential election year, politics and policy were top of mind for many ASU+GSV participants.  

In a conversation moderated by JFF Vice President of Strategic Engagements David Soo, a bipartisan panel of policy experts did a deep dive into how the 2024 election and ongoing political trends are shaping the U.S. education and workforce systems. This lively discussion offered a rollercoaster of insights, agreements, and a pinch of disagreement.  

Key takeaways: 

  • Continuity in Policy: Whether it’s the Obama, Trump, or Biden administration, there’s been a surprising amount of policy continuity in workforce development over the past several years. From skills-based hiring to apprenticeship, the government’s approach has been more consistent than you might think. 
  • The Role of AI: With AI disrupting the job market, there’s a call for a new policy framework that addresses the impact of this transformative technology. However, the panelists agreed that prescriptive federal regulations might not be the answer. Participants suggested that an outcomes-based approach that fosters public-private partnerships would offer a more flexible and enforceable solution. 
  • Workforce vs. Education: Seth Harris, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor and alumnus of the Obama and Biden administrations, pointed out that there’s more agreement about workforce policies than there is about education policies. While both sides may have their differing points of view about specific approaches, there’s broad bipartisan support for the core functions of workforce development. 
  • Local Action, Big Impact: Former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift emphasized the power of state and local governments. Instead of waiting for Washington to act, many states are introducing innovative policies that address the changing nature of work and education. 
  • Key Roles for All Stakeholders: State and local governments, philanthropy, the private sector, and entrepreneurs all have crucial roles to play in crafting policies and practices that address the challenges posed by AI and help shape the future of education and workforce development. 

In addition to Harris and Swift, the panel included Rosemary Lahasky, senior director of government affairs at Cengage Group and a former White House Domestic Policy Council official in the Trump administration, and Jason Palmer, former 2024 presidential candidate and  cofounder of TOGETHER!, an advocacy group committed to getting more young people involved in politics.  

In an enlightening and thought-provoking discussion, the four panelists shared diverse perspectives on topics ranging from the importance of apprenticeships to the need for paid internships and the role of AI in shaping our future.  

Whether you’re passionate about education reform, workforce development, or the impact of AI, this session offered a treasure trove of insights, but the bottom line is that bipartisan collaboration and innovative thinking are more important than ever. 

Watch this session:


Can Today’s HR Tech Stack Meet Tomorrow’s Skills-First Movement?  

JFF Senior Director Laura Roberts led a thought-provoking panel discussion that brought together some heavy hitters from the human resources technology industry and CEOs of startups in the investment portfolio of JFFVentures—JFF’s impact investing arm. 

The buzzword of the day? Skills-based hiring and advancement. You heard that right! The panelists were all about how HR tech is evolving to put skills front and center. 

They dove deep into the tech stuff, talking about innovations like digital learning and employment records (LER) and applicant tracking systems (ATS) that are shaking up the game by making it easy for recruiters and employers to evaluate job applicants based on their skills, not just on proxies for skills like degrees. 

What’s the big takeaway? HR tech isn’t just about resumes and degrees anymore. It’s about recognizing and valuing skills. Attendees walked away with actionable insights and ideas about how to give their HR tech systems a skills-first makeover. 

Key takeaways:

  • The Time Is Now: While the skills-first movement has been making progress for years, we’re now in a “moment” where the tech has finally advanced enough for us to make massive progress toward a true skills-first future. 
  • Smooth Upgrades Are Essential: New apps and other tools must be able to integrate seamlessly with organizations’ existing IT systems. 
  • Put Equity at the Forefront: Advancing equity in the workforce should be a central goal of any effort to develop new HR tech tools. 

Watch this session:


Walking the Tightrope: Sustaining Diversity in the Workforce   

Moderated by Paul Fain, editor of Work Shift’s The Job newsletter, this session delved into the complexities of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Michael Collins, vice president of JFF’s Center for Racial Economic Equity, started the conversation with a reality check, reminding everyone that while efforts to promote diversity within an organization may seem straightforward, they’re anything but. In a world where even the term DEI itself can be weaponized, staying grounded and focused on a goal is crucial.   

Next up, Matt Sigelman, president of the Burning Glass Institute, provided data that shed light on the persistence of occupational segregation in the workforce. He said that nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers are employed in organizations where Black and Latine talent is underrepresented.  

But it’s not all bad news. Susan Edwards, operating director for DEI and impact at the Vistria Group, and Melissa Yates May, chief people officer at Cambium Learning Group, shared some uplifting insights about the steps many companies are taking to tackle workforce inequities head-on. From reevaluating hiring practices to creating inclusive work environments, they said many leaders are paving the way for a more diverse and equitable future.  

Collins wrapped things up with a powerful call to action. He reminded attendees that sometime between 2045 and 2050, the population of the United States will become “majority-minority” and noted that it doesn’t make sense for the majority of the population to be excluded from the sectors driving economic growth.   

He urged everyone to rethink how they approach DEI and perhaps find ways to reframe the conversation. For example, if terms like DEI are too polarizing or weaponized, focus instead on the way policies and practices designed to diversify the workforce expand economic opportunities for everyone.  

Key takeaways:

  • More Than a Box to Tick: DEI initiatives should be strategic imperatives, not just an item on the to-do list.  
  • Numbers Can Tell the Story: Data plays a pivotal role in proving the value of DEI efforts, but it’s crucial to get the data right.  
  • DEI Isn’t a Zero-Sum Game: Everyone wins when organizations broaden their horizons and embrace diversity in all its forms.  

 With these insights in mind, let’s continue the conversation and work toward a more equitable future for everyone. 

Watch this session:


Beyond Degrees: Illuminating Postsecondary Paths to Prosperity 

This panel added some new insights to the ongoing conversation around the importance of both degrees and expanded educational pathways.  

In a conversation moderated by Joel Vargas, vice president of JFF’s Education practice, a panel of experts agreed that it’s time to transform postsecondary education and training to include high-quality, nondegree programs that might better meet the needs of young people embarking on education and career journeys after high school. 

Vargas said nondegree pathways offer more than just an alternative to traditional bachelor’s degree programs; they’re a game-changer for young people looking to build successful, fulfilling careers in today’s evolving economy. 

Chad Rountree, CEO of Propel America, and Reuben Ogbonna, executive director of Marcy Lab School, shared their organizations’ unique approaches to nondegree pathways. Offering options like accelerated job training and industry-aligned curricula, these programs enable learners to build skills and earn credentials that have value in today’s labor market. 

Key takeaways:

  • The Traditional Bachelor’s Degree Route Doesn’t Work for Everyone: While bachelor’s degrees still hold value, there are other paths to success. Many college students encounter obstacles and are unable to complete their degrees, leaving them with debt but limited job prospects. 
  • Demand for Nondegree Pathways Is Growing: Many Gen Zers are interested in paths that offer shorter routes to careers and real-world experiences. Likewise, many employers are beginning to question the necessity of bachelor’s degrees and are expanding their recruiting efforts to include talent pipelines they once overlooked. 
  • Nondegree Pathways Can Lead to Greater Success: Some research has shown that young people who pursue nondegree pathways have greater confidence in their future, fare better in the labor market, and experience lower rates of unemployment than their counterparts who chose other postsecondary options. Programs like Propel America and Marcy Lab School are proving that these pathways can lead to high-paying jobs and opportunities for economic advancement. 
  • Stigma and Questions About Quality Are Barriers: The challenge lies in promoting nondegree pathways as high-quality options and eliminating some of the stigma associated with decisions to forgo college. Better messaging and clearer definitions will help students, parents, and educators understand the value of these programs. 

There you have it! Nondegree pathways aren’t just “alternatives” but viable routes to successful careers. It’s time to embrace these innovative pathways to prosperity. 

Watch this session:


Continue the Conversation at Horizons 

The 2024 ASU+GSV Summit was a catalyst for change, sparking conversations and launching collaborations that will shape the future of education and workforce development. Whether the topic was policy, artificial intelligence, DEI, or nondegree pathways, the conversations at the summit made it clear that innovation, equity, and collaboration are more crucial than ever.  

Be sure to join JFF at Horizons, July 22-23 in Washington, DC, where we’ll keep these inspiring conversations going as we continue on our journey to transform education and workforce systems and build a future that works—for everyone! 

Jobs for the Future (JFF) is a national nonprofit that drives transformation of the U.S. education and workforce systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all.