Progress is possible, but not always smooth – Milken Day 1

Progress delayed my plane. On my way to the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles, my flight was delayed because of construction at LAX. The massive airport is about halfway through a US$14 billion upgrade to modernize, improve, and enhance. It’s an upgrade. It’s progress. But that progress inevitably comes with disruption and delays. The path forward has bumps, twists, and turns, but it always leads forward. Progress never comes as quickly as we’d like, or as cleanly as we’d want. But to guide that progress, there has to be vision.

That’s the role that the Milken Global Conference strives for: establishing a vision and shining a light for business, government, and academia to tackle the challenges of tomorrow. Every year, the Milken Conference has a theme; this year’s is “Building Meaningful Lives.” The first session I attended on Monday combined the ideas of finding meaning and making progress into a panel called “Creating Meaningful Lives for the 21st Century Workforce.” The session brought together a panel of CEOs to discuss how companies and the labor force will need to adapt to technological progress.

People derive a lot of meaning from their work. Over time, people progress in their careers as they progress through their lives. The two often become intertwined. It’s important to people and to the economy that they find meaningful ways to use their skills to contribute to society. Technology can push societies forward, but it can also interrupt personal progress if technological disruption happens to render your particular skill set obsolete. That presents a huge challenge to business and government to help people improve their skills, or attain new ones, to continue to earn a living and find meaning.

The panel discussion examined the best ways to attract, train, and retain a global workforce in light of the massive technological disruption occurring today. How do we embrace the progress that technology enables while not succumbing to the inevitable delays and disruption? In this light, training is perhaps the biggest challenge. Jobs exist now that didn’t exist even a few years ago. How does a company, and economy, or the world in general prepare for skills needed in the future that literally don’t exist now? Similarly, jobs exist now that won’t exist in the future because technology will make them obsolete. How do we move those affected workers into new, meaningful roles?

The answer to both questions is education. For young people, the panel was adamant that education needed to give the young a basis for their working lives. But, with such profound changes occurring so frequently, it’s ridiculous to think that 12 years of education can adequately prepare a person for such an exciting, but uncertain, future. Similarly, as technological disruption changes our economies, it’s critical to educate and train people to find new ways of applying their skills when they need to find a new path of progress.

Easier said than done. But the people who pack the halls and corridors of the Milken Conference are exactly the ones who are in a position to shape that progress. The people sitting next to me shape policy, drive conversations, and get things done.  It’s an important conversation to have, and I’m proud that Principal is here to be part of that conversation.

If you’re interested, this is a topic that Jim McCaughan, CEO of Principal Global Investors, covers in detail in his new paper, “Interpreting the Facts.” The paper looks at how technology intersects with economic trends and populist politics.

More tomorrow from the Milken Global Conference!


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