Since 2015, Dr. Randy Swearer has been the vice president of Autodesk’s Global Education Experiences team. Previously, he held roles as provost and dean of faculty at the University of Philadelphia as well as the dean of Parsons School of Design. He has a PhD in anthropology and urban studies from Union Institute and an MFA in design from Yale University.
If the movement to make community colleges free is successful, what changes do you foresee?
I think community colleges are going to emerge over the next 10 to 15 years as among the most important learning institutions in the country. Community colleges are in unique places to move quickly, try new things, fail, and succeed, and they’re nimble.
Will those with coding and similar skills will become the “working class” of the future?
Coding is becoming automated very quickly, so understanding the details of coding may not be as important because you can learn higher-level programming languages now that don’t require you to get down in the details as much. There’s a whole new emerging class of skills that I don’t think we know how to really make sense of yet.
What does it mean for higher education to be flexible?
I see lots of interesting rich experiments where reputable schools are beginning to incorporate micro-credentialing into their curricula, so that when students graduate, the transcript is not only about a BA or BS, but it also shows a journey of learning.
What will happen as technical skills and higher education become more accessible, and workforces and applicant pools are grow increasingly diverse?
Diversity is a key part of being successful, creating value in business, being innovative and creative, and really understanding how to harness diversity on teams and leveraging diversity in order to get big, powerful things done. The more diversity you have around you on a team, the better you do. That’s been proven again and again.
Where do you think the growth in automation is heading, and what does this mean for tech and STEM?
I think over the long run, automation generally increases the number of jobs. But that isn’t to say that there aren’t temporary human costs to automation. Many people trained in those middle-class factory jobs are feeling like, “What do I do next?” There need to be many more opportunities for people affected by automation to reskill, upskill, unlearn and relearn … many more than there are now.
What skills or labor do you think will not be replaceable by robotics or AI?
Creativity, critical thinking, computational thinking—understanding how computers do what they do, and how computers learn. Being able to collaborate with others in a team is another human skill that is so important and is not going away anytime soon.
What advice would you give to students in terms of preparing for a future workforce?
You’ve got to get as much real-world experience as you can. If there’s a potential to get explicit training in teamwork and collaboration, seek it out and get it. Make sure to get the basic foundational skills—systems thinking, computational thinking, liberal arts education—those kinds of things are really important not to neglect.