Podcast Episode 1: Future-Ready Skills

Transcript for Podcast Episode 1: Future-Ready Skills

Larry Berger: Welcome to the Readiness Institute at Penn State podcast. This is Larry Berger at the studios of SLB Radio Productions in Pittsburgh with Justin Aglio and Emma Hance. Justin is senior director of the Readiness Institute at Penn State, and Emma is the institute’s program manager. Justin, can you tell us a bit about the overall mission of the Readiness Institute?

Justin Aglio: Absolutely! The Readiness Institute at Penn State is a Penn State outreach initiative, and our mission is to enable education, industry, and community partners to coordinate, collaborate, and create experiences for learners to achieve community and future readiness.

Larry Berger: In a few minutes, you’ll hear from teens reflecting on Readiness Institute programs and their goals and dreams for the future. First, let’s focus on one of the Readiness Institute’s core components, namely future readiness skills. Emma, we talk about the future youth and all of us are facing, but it can be very hard to get tangible about it and to take action on it. Can you talk a bit about future readiness and what it actually means?

Emma Hance: Learners who are future ready are those who look forward and outward. They have content knowledge, habits of mind and the creative know how to make things happen. But more importantly, they are proactive about creating a better future not only for themselves but also for others around them.

Larry Berger: Interesting, we often think of learning as focus or deeply tunneling into a topic. But what you just said about looking forward and outward is a little bit different in that you’re looking more at the future and beyond yourself rather than drilling down more deeply. Why is that so important?

Emma Hance: We think about the jobs of the future. It’s really hard to figure out what people will be doing five, ten, fifteen years from now. And so, when we’re preparing learners for that future, it’s really important to stress the importance of adaptability, innovating ,and being comfortable with change. At this point, you’re going to have learners who are eventually going to work in career fields that, at this point, we can’t even begin to envision. And so, how do you prepare people for those? At that point, it’s not about the content knowledge. It’s about the skills that will help them adapt.

Justin Aglio: Emma, to that point, one of the best things I think we can do to prepare, through research and through reading, is by listening and supporting. And I think back to my own children. They said, “Dad, we use artificial intelligence every day on Netflix, YouTube, on our phones, on my Xbox machine”, and I’m thinking, what are we teaching in schools today to get ready for this artificial intelligence world? If you think about it, we use artificial intelligence every single second of our life, whether it’s through GPS, browsing on the Internet and things, and we’re still not in a position to prepare students for it. So, we have to step back and look at those skills like artificial intelligence and ask ourselves, what are we doing to prepare for it? And at the Readiness Institute, we’re taking action on that because students do need to prepare for those skills. And so, by just listening and supporting our youth and finding out what they want to do and looking at trends and patterns, we can be future ready.

Larry Berger: So, there was a time in, say, the movie The Graduate, where advice would be given, plastics, that’s the future. And perhaps you could be assured of having a 20 to 30 year career in dealing with creation or engineering or sales of that material. This kind of future readiness is very different because it sounds like nobody can predict with certainty what is going to sustain a career for that long. However, the behaviors and skills and mindset to sustain a career in and a successful future is something that you can touch on.

Justin Aglio: Larry, you said it. We cannot predict the future. But, there’s one thing we can do. We can design the future that we envision. So, although we don’t know exactly what jobs will be and what kind of manufacturing plants will be, we do know that we’d want a future that people are caring. People are respectful. We can have learners work in teams. We can have learners learn good social skills, soft skills. We give them the skills, like Emma said, to be adaptable, to understand that when there’s adversity, here are three things you can do to overcome adversity in that job. We can design the skills that they need today to achieve success in the future.

Larry Berger: There’s so much to this subject after all, that’s why the Readiness Institute at Penn State exists. But, Justin, can you offer a few tips to at least help everybody get into this mindset?

Justin Aglio: Absolutely. So future ready is not a silo activity. The future depends on the strength of partnerships. When you look back at the mission of the Readiness Institute, it talks about enabling education, industry, and community working together, not in silos. That’s the biggest tip that we can have: to work with industry, to look at how industries function, and to look at their forecast, what they need to talk to community members to make sure that communities are inclusive in the practices that we have, to talk to educators to see how they’re preparing students in school today to be successful tomorrow.

Larry Berger: And that’s a new perspective for many people who in the past have looked at deep focus on one particular industry or topic or career type as opposed to the entire world.

Emma Hance: At the Readiness Institute, we are big proponents of incorporating learner voice at every step along the way. When learners are able to reflect on and clearly articulate the lessons they’ve learned, you know that the experiences have been successful and impactful. On that note, let’s hear from a few of our Readiness Institute learners.

Chiara: My name is Chiara. The program changed my outlook on the future. Some of the social skills that we’ve learned and the life skills in general. Adaptability is one that we talked about a lot in this program. I learned that I have what it takes basically, to change things in this city, in this state, in the world that I didn’t really know that I had the capability to do, no matter my age.

Zander: I’m Zander. I thought my goal of being a sports broadcaster in the future was a huge “if”. In this program, I’ve taken some huge steps forward. I feel like I’m a pretty strong leader. I’m very open. I’m not afraid to ask for help. It’s just doing what you need to do, really and helping other people be on that same path.

Lilliana: My name is Lilliana. So, I’m kind of someone that’s always been set in like what I want to do in the future, and obviously they’ve given us lots of different careers that we can look at. I think it’s totally changed my mind on the experience of being an adult, like college, career path, that almost everyone that we met didn’t have a straightforward career. Their future was not what they thought it was going to be. That has changed my perspective.

Joshua: My name is Joshua. I used to be scared to ask people for help. This program has taught me that that’s the main thing you should do is ask for help, because it won’t make you look like a dumb individual. If anything, it will make you look stronger, because it makes you look like you’re more determined. You want to get to where you want to be.

Alex: My name is Alex. Before this program, my outlook on the future was just a bunch of question marks. I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going. After this program, I see there are so many opportunities out there for me. I almost have too many ideas now. I was at Sunny’s Community Garden the other day. I was talking with Sunny, and she told me “No matter what you do in your future, make sure you’re passionate about that and make sure you stick with what you love”, and that really resonated with me. That’s shaped my whole outlook on my future.

Sarah: I’m Sarah. I definitely learned that soft skills are very important in jobs. Most people say just go get a degree and you’ll get whatever you want, but those play a role in it, too. In my field, I think it would be really cool if I was able to have a part in curing cancer or at least figuring out ways to slow it down, which would be a huge impact because there’s a lot of people
that get cancer and nobody can cure it.

Larry Berger: Justin Aglio and Emma Hance, thank you so much for being with us today for the Readiness Institute at Penn State Podcast. Emma, how can people learn more about program activities?

Emma Hance: Yeah, if you’re interested in learning more about the Readiness Institute programs, including our summer program and speaker series, among others, check out the Readiness Institute website at readinessinstitute.psu.edu. Or you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook at @riatpennstate.