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JFF Opens a Conversation About a New Future for Workers and Learners at SXSW

Speakers at SXSW EDU

At SXSW EDU in March, JFF brought dozens of innovators and thought leaders together to share ideas about transforming U.S. education and workforce systems. That conversation will continue at Horizons in June.

“The future is not something to predict. The future is something to build.”

That quote, attributed to Franco Ongaro, the director of technology, engineering, and quality at the European Space Agency, urges us to take action to shape the future instead of simply thinking about it. 

At Jobs for the Future (JFF), we embraced that message when we designed a special block of programming for SXSW EDU 2022, which took place last month. 

We had the privilege of bringing together dozens of innovators and thought leaders committed to building a future that works for learners and workers for a series of conversations and presentations focused on one clear message: We must work across sectors to transform this country’s workforce and education systems. 

The SXSW EDU website bills the annual Austin, Texas, event as a gathering where attendees share “next-generation ideas, technology, and practices” that “converge and echo across industries.” And adds that one idea in particular has “transcended into fact” recently: “Workforce education and lifelong learning are becoming essential to the economy.”

The urgent need to explore that idea led SXSW EDU organizers to partner with JFF to put together a half-day program in which college presidents, employers, entrepreneurs, tech experts, and policymakers evaluated the latest trends impacting the work and learn ecosystem. 

Here’s a recap of the sessions we offered: 


The Edges of Learning and Work

With the rise in new educational models and marketplaces, what does “quality” look like? How will students—and companies—know what training and education providers to trust? How are emerging technologies like the metaverse reshaping what high-quality learning could be? This conversation featured content from human-centered design firm IDEO that highlighted the voice of learners and workers.

Speakers: Maria Flynn, president and CEO, JFF, and Scott Pulsipher, president, Western Governors University.


Shorter, Faster, Cheaper — and HIGHER QUALITY! 

In response to the drastic increase in demand for lifelong learning options and the rapid pivot to digitized and online learning, there’s been an explosion in the number of education and training providers—and in the number of programs they’re offering. What makes a quality program? What signals of quality are leaders in the work and learn ecosystem using? Leading policymakers and training and education providers offered their perspectives on quality at this important moment.

Speakers: Hector Mujica, economic opportunity lead, Americas, Google.org; Kristina Ishmael, deputy director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education; Jeremy Wheaton, president and CEO, ECMC Group; and Stephen Yadzinski, senior innovation officer, JFF.


New Learning Marketplaces 

We’re experiencing an unprecedented moment where new digital and regional marketplaces are better aligning relevant skills and lifelong learning to career pathways and jobs. Yet as innovation accelerates, new and evolving concerns are surfacing regarding the effectiveness of these channels, and there are questions about whether these solutions are closing or widening equity gaps for Black and LatinX learners and workers.

Speakers: Rusty Greiff, chief strategy officer, JFF; Molly Nagler, chief learning officer, PepsiCo; and David Sutphen, chief strategy and engagement officer, 2U.


Reimagining the Career Center in the Metaverse 

Leading tech experts engaged in a discussion analyzing how emerging technologies are reshaping what career advising and learning can look like for learners and workers.

Speakers: Kristina Francis, executive director, JFFLabs; Musinah Morris, academic program director and assistant professor, PI Morris Research and Innovation Lab, and program manager, VR Project, Morehouse College; Sharon Leu, executive in residence, Jobs for the Future; Shaon Berry, CEO, Metro Esports; and Justin Mohlman, game development learning producer, Epic Games.


Reimagining the Learn-to-Work Ecosystem 

As the edges of learning and work continue to blur together, where are we going as a field? What topics will we bring up when we discuss workforce education at SXSW 2027? If the next five years go well for learners and workers, what will the landscape look like?

Speakers: Maria Flynn, president and CEO, JFF; Amy Loyd, senior advisor, U.S. Department of Education; and Monique Umphrey, executive vice chancellor of academic and student affairs, Austin Community College.


Continue the Conversation at Horizons

Those candid conversations at SXSW EDU offered a glimpse of what the future may have in store for learners and workers. But there are many more topics left to discuss, especially as we start to think about aligning current policies and practices to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. 


We will dig deeper to explore the impact of policy, investment, and technology innovation on our workforce and education systems at JFF’s Horizons summit, which takes place June 7-8 in New Orleans. Over the course of those two days, we will share insights and ideas to help one another see beyond today’s systems and continue to work toward building a more equitable future for learners and workers. 


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