Artificial Intelligence the “New Electricity”: New PBS Documentary Explores AI’s Effects on Workforce

"It will change every single major industry. I think AI is the new electricity.” – Andrew Ng, AI Scientist at Stanford University


So opens “CyberWork and the American Dream,” a new documentary from PBS that provides a nuanced, thoughtful perspective on the current and future challenges the American economy faces. We are at a crossroads. The transformation of our economy can either lead us on a path that creates a prosperous future in which all Americans feel confident that they can gain the skills needed to find rewarding work or we could find ourselves on a road that leads us to displaced workers, increased poverty, and unpredictable social and economic upheaval.


The decisions we make and the actions we take today will greatly influence which path we take.


Six people sit in chairs during a panel.


“CyberWork and the American Dream,” funded in part by Skillful signature partner, Microsoft, doesn’t just examine the problems new technologies and AI bring to American workers; it also gives examples of people and organizations working to address these pressing issues. I was honored that Skillful and two of its programs, the Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps and the Skillful State Network, were included as examples of forward-thinking solutions.


Skillful, an initiative of the Markle Foundation, is working to transform the labor market from one largely based on proxies for skills like degrees, previous job titles, and years of experience, to one rooted in skills. This focus on skills opens up opportunities for individuals – especially for the 70 percent of Americans who do not have a bachelor’s degree – and enables employers to tap into a broader, more diverse pool of talent.


Career coaches play a critical role in supporting individuals while they navigate these shifts. The Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps (SGCC) is an eight-month upskilling program for career coaches in Indiana and Colorado.  In addition to providing their clients with support and encouragement, coaches help job seekers and incumbent workers know what skills are in-demand and how to obtain those skills to thrive in today’s rapidly changing economy.


The Skillful Colorado Coaching Community of Practice then provides a virtual support network for coaches using the collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams, to extend our reach in both urban and rural communities. The online community helps career coaches collaborate, learn about in-demand skills and access online resources by creating a peer group for the state’s coaches. We will launch an Indiana coaching community of practice later this year.


The ripple effects of the Corps and our other coaching initiatives are significant: approximately 300 coaches serve more than 20,000 job seekers and workers each month. The impact on individuals is real.


Picture of a group of forty people on stairs with Governor Holcomb.


A recent story from one of our SGCC coaches illustrates how Skillful’s approach is helping both workers and employers shift practices. The coach hosted an event to match Community College of Denver students with manufacturing employers. Using tools from the SGCC, she coached both students and employers to focus on skills and capabilities. 


A student who was a creative thinker and fast learner was hesitant to attend the mixer, but the coach helped her understand how her skills and abilities aligned with employer interests and gave her the language to market herself. One manager was looking for 3D CAD designers, but after her session with the coach, she was ready to open expand the talent pool. As a result, the manager found the skills she needed in the student, and the student landed a job working on the company’s new 3D printers.


Building on learnings from Colorado and Indiana, we are driving toward national systems-level change through the Skillful State Network, a bipartisan group of Governors from 20 states. As every state grapples with how best to support workers in transitioning to digital economy jobs, we know there is an opportunity to bring states together to share best practices and learn from one another. The Network supports transformation at a scale and pace not possible through individual state actions.


Ten people walking in a construction area.


Our progress to date has been in no small part thanks to the commitment from a range of business, government, and education partners. Building a skills-based labor market requires action across the economy. Microsoft, in particular, has been a valued partner with its decades of experience in providing digital skills training for individuals as well as learning tools for coaches, educators and employers.  Microsoft understands that the companies that are developing digital technologies need to make sure that everyone can benefit from opportunities that they bring.


Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and Mary Snapp from Microsoft look at each other and smile. Mary has a microphone.


While it’s understandable that we, as a nation, struggle with feelings of uncertainty when contemplating the future of work, I encourage us all to adopt an attitude of informed optimism. If AI is the new electricity, remember that electricity fuels destructive as well as constructive endeavors and that its use depends on the people who develop and use it. AI is not inherently destructive—most technological advances aren’t. Its effects will entirely depend on how we decide to use it. If we take the road that leads to a prosperous American future, we must act now, together by embracing a skills-based labor market.