Future of Work Burns

‘One of the most important competencies graduates will need is the ability to engage in respectful discourse and debate’

Reflections on the big issues shaping our workforce in the coming year from our WorkingNation Advisory Board

We asked our WorkingNation Advisory Board to share their thoughts on the most important issues and challenges facing the workforce and the labor market in 2024.

Bridget Burns, Ed.D. is the founding CEO of the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) which helps university leaders accelerate the implementation of scalable solutions to increase the number and diversity of college graduates.

Here are her thoughts on The Future of Work 2024.

“We could talk about all kinds of areas where colleges prepare students for the workforce, but in today’s environment, one of the most important competencies graduates will need to sustain their careers (and our democracy), is the ability to engage in respectful discourse and debate.

“Nearly 90% of employers believe that students exposed to a wide range of viewpoints are better prepared for success in the workforce, according to a report released last month by the American Association of Colleges and Universities.

“This is unlikely to happen if 60% of students are afraid to share their differing perspectives in class. This discomfort with engaging in discourse and debate on topics of controversy is understandable given the reactionary nature of the American public being amplified by the media and social media.

“Unfortunately, the growing polarization in broader society is making it far more challenging for colleges to prepare students to navigate a diversity of thought and perspective in the workforce. Higher education did not create this self-censorship challenge, but it should take up the task of solving it.

“Rather than letting the polarization in society seep into our campuses, we should lean into the challenge of embedding respectful debate into classroom pedagogy across every discipline possible, because being able to discuss important ideas with people who disagree with you is one of the most valuable skills we could equip graduates and future citizens with.

“With the country being increasingly defined by partisan dysfunction, colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to build a workforce filled with future leaders comfortable with navigating a range of viewpoints.

“Working to understand different perspectives is, after all, the cornerstone of debate. Students may learn something they have never before considered, and even if they still disagree, their own argument will be bolstered by this deeper understanding.

“Less high-mindedly, improving students’ mental flexibility and resiliency will serve them well in the workforce. The process has been shown to strengthen students’ critical thinking, communication, and inquiry skills – competencies all highly valued by employers.

“Institutions should consider embedding the tenets of respectful discourse and debate into pedagogy and the broader curriculum, taking some lessons from the Oxford-style debates common among British colleges and universities. Developing students’ ability to comfortably enter into a substantive exchange of ideas should be treated with the same importance and care as any other critical workforce readiness skill.”

Read more from our WorkingNation Advisory Board members on The Future of Work 2024.