Showcasing for the first time late last month, the Smart Regions Conference brought together a diverse group of leaders to discuss opportunities in Smart Cities. Rhonda Binda (Venture Smarter), Bjorn Simmons (Wyzerr), Michael Beck (Code for Kids), Austin Lee (Northern Kentucky University), Jason Miller (Centric Consulting), and Seema Shah (LaGuardia Community College) collaborate on Innovation, Inclusion and the Workforce of the Future.
At the Innovation, Inclusion and the Workforce of the Future panel, experts led a passionate discussion on the jobs of the future, how to close the digital divide and how to make decisions around smart city technology deployment equitable.
The panel stressed the importance of and strategies for incorporating STEM programs focused in urban areas and on girls, as fewer girls, Latinos, and African-Americans are studying to prepare for jobs of the present and future in technology. New skills will also be needed. According to the World Economic Forum, as more jobs are automated, skills such as creativity, customer service, and emotional intelligence have more of a premium.
“As we look at the digital economy and the global progression resulting, we must be intentional about inclusivity and bridging the gap for underrepresented communities,” stressed Bjorn Simmons of Wyzerr. He noted that these communities can be identified by gender, race, and geographic location. Simmons encouraged that intentional invitations for minorities and underrepresented communities to have access to tech and innovation can result in stories like Lawrence Jones, CEO of Just Hire Me. Just Hire Me was a non-profit program focused on connecting kids to summer jobs opportunities. With some exposure and navigation through their local startup ecosystem (StartupCincy), Just Hire Me has become a mobile marketplace for teens to find service jobs on demand and now boasts a $1M valuation.
The panel agreed upon the importance of a leadership exchange like Venture Smarter to match programs with opportunities and inform policy.