AI and … short-term Pell?

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) discusses how short-term Pell could help with AI workforce issues during a Senate hearing on Tuesday. (Screenshot from streamed hearing)

Advocates for extending Pell Grant eligibility to short-term workforce education programs may have a new ally: artificial intelligence (AI).

At a Senate hearing Tuesday on AI and the future of work, lawmakers and witnesses noted that AI will accelerate a skills-based approach to finding workforce talent. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) noted that his nine-year effort to permit short-term Pell would be crucial to the AI industry and other sectors in finding enough skilled workers.

Kaine sounded frustrated that Congress hasn’t already approved short-term Pell, noting that rollouts of several manufacturing and infrastructure laws with huge federal investments will need a skilled workforce.

“We just did a manufacturing bill — who’s going to make it? We just an infrastructure bill — who’s going to build it?” he asked at the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety hearing.

Related article: Cardona, Foxx agree to work on short-term Pell

Kaine observed the panel of witnesses testified that many jobs their companies are looking to fill don’t require four-year degrees, and a growing number of states and businesses are scaling back requirements that applicants have bachelor’s degrees for entry-level jobs. Yet the Pell program only serves those who seek a college degree and not those individuals who want to go into vocational and technical careers.

“It just seems to me to be a no-brainer,” he said of extending Pell eligibility.

Short-term Pell has had momentum and Congress has come close to passing it, but “there always seems to be something in the way,” Kaine said. Most recently, in July a short-term Pell bill was scheduled for markup before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, but there were two other bills that the committee was to mark up that day that were controversial, he said.

“So the entire markup was pulled down. And what we expected was essentially going to be a unanimous voice vote from the committee never happened, and it’s not been scheduled yet for another markup,” said the former Virginia governor.

Results of skills-based hiring

Workday, a provider of cloud applications for finance and human resources, and Accenture, which specializes in information technology services and consulting, are among the large corporations shifting more toward skills-based hiring rather than solely relying on applicants’ credentials. A skills-based approach expands the applicant pool and can uncover talented people who may not fit the traditional candidate profile on paper, said Josh Lannin, Workday’s vice president of productivity technology. Also, hiring approaches that over-rely on college degrees can screen out otherwise qualified candidates, such as applicants from underrepresented and rural communities, he said.

There also is data to back the approach, Lannin continued, noting that hiring for skills is twice as likely to place talent effectively and 98% more likely to retain high performers.

Changes are coming

Lannin and representatives from other companies at the hearing told lawmakers that AI will not only change work but how the workforce keeps up with the required skills. Employers are aware of it, but uncertain how to handle it as they continue to struggle to fill open jobs.

Workday recently surveyed 1,000 senior decision-makers who overwhelmingly agreed (80%) that AI is needed to keep their businesses competitive and to help employees work more efficiently, Lannin said. Yet, most of them (72%) are concerned that their companies don’t have the skills to fully implement AI investments, he said.

Workers will have to adapt to using AI, and some positions will be reinvented, said Mary Kate Morley Ryan, who focuses on workforce transformation at Accenture. Some jobs will be automated as a result, including jobs focused on recordkeeping, information management, telemarketing and tellers, she said. Other jobs will augment AI in positions such as underwriting, bioengineering and editing. And, she continued, a whole new crop of positions will be created, such as AI developers, interface and interaction designers, AI content creators, data curators, AI ethics and governance specialists.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.