What does the future of work look like?

Alan Berube, Brookings Institution

Alan Berube is a Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. Berube recently attended the Future of Work summit, which was held in Louisville, KY in April. Fast Future touched base with him about what his team is doing to promote inclusiveness and diversity in the American economy.

What does your team do?

Berube: Our team looks at a range of economic and social issues that affect cities and regions around the country. We believe artificial intelligence is one of the major technological forces that will shape cities in the next 20 years. We’re trying to figure out what that means for cities beyond the coasts, beyond Seattle, San Francisco, Boston and New York. Louisville seems as good a place as any to begin to ask that question.

You’re focused on the underserved – those in the lower income level – helping them grow in the technological economy. Why do you see that as a growing issue, and what are your goals in that regard?

Berube: In the places where the growth of the technology economy has been fastest over the last couple of decades has benefited white men a lot. A lot of them have made money and are now investors. That has actually contributed to runaway inequity, not only in those cities but also in the nation overall.

My colleagues and I think this is untenable. We can’t continue to grow economically in this way, because it has people questioning whether growth is actually doing any good — meaning if it’s only producing benefits for the few rather than the whole. It’s a big, diverse nation, and there’s a lot of talent left on the playing field that we’re simply not harnessing. I think if we don’t do that, then there’s an upper limit to what the country is going to be able to accomplish.

For all of those reasons, we are particularly focused on the folks who haven’t really been part of that economy to date but need to be if we’re going to grow in a sustainable way.

Have you identified purposeful ways to achieve that?

Berube: Right now, folks are finally waking up to the idea that there needs to be a more inclusive and diverse part of the American economy. I think the things that Louisville has begun to do over the last five years in terms of growing a more diverse tech talent pipeline is happening in more cities around the country.

Diversifying pathways into higher education to prepare people for those careers. Helping workers who want to change careers to get trained in a rapid way. We also need to find ways to help employers recruit more diverse workers and to better evaluate candidates for jobs, not based just on where they went to college or what degree they hold, but on actual skills, capabilities, resiliency and other soft and social factors that you can bring into the workplace to make them successful.

But the question is: How do you get those efforts to a greater scale, one that’s actually going to change the game in this industry?

You provide access to data that can support that change?

Berube: We’re a think-tank blog, so it starts with, ‘What’s the picture in my city, in my community and around this sector of the economy? Who has access to it, and who doesn’t? What are the consequences of that? You don’t only need the data. You need the narrative around the data to understand the urgency to act.

Then they look to us for examples of places that are taking this on successfully, from large-scale nonprofits to for-profits around the country, so they can incorporate similar strategies in their own communities.

What cities are making inroads?

Berube: Cities throughout the Midwest and the Southeast have been working on this in different ways. They came at it for different reasons. Indianapolis, for instance, has been a leader in trying to better match qualified candidates to jobs in the local economy. The city is doing so with regard to more than just job candidates’ credentials in an effort to influence employers to take up diverse hiring practices.

Cincinnati’s Chamber has been a leader in actually seeding growth businesses led by Black and Brown entrepreneurs, connecting them not only with capital but also with customers and clients, especially in their bigger businesses and Fortune 500 companies in that market.

In St. Louis, there is LaunchCode, a non-profit that’s been a leader in tech training for a more diverse, younger population. This particular organization is doing it on a more rapid, more customized scale.

If you look around at some of the cities that are in Louisville’s peer group, then you’ll see the different kinds of initiatives that are taking shape.