On Jan. 3, in a Maine Voices column, Mike Turcotte argued for attracting out-of-state workers to Maine by setting up the infrastructure necessary for working remotely. A few days later (Our View, Jan. 7), the Press Herald Editorial Board suggested education not be thought of as a linear process from kindergarten to college, so that “students of all ages and background will have to be met where they are and given what they need.”

Both referenced a recent Educate Maine report where the following fields are projected for job growth in the next decade: computer science, construction, engineering, nursing, hospitality and manufacturing.

These fields, as well as new business and educational models noted in the op-ed and the editorial, offer pathways to spur state economic growth. To these, I would add the arts and the humanities, not only to reaffirm the value of a liberal arts education, but also to highlight an economic dynamic that is transforming work in an age of globalization and information technology.

We have entered what Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum calls “the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which had three precursors from the steam age to automated work processes. In the fourth phase, the transformative nature of change effected in “velocity, scope and systems” disrupts economic and commercial activity, requiring new approaches to education and civil society.

Extending Schwab’s insights to Maine’s context means that the fields Educate Maine notes as pivotal for growth in the next decade are all affected by information technology. Construction engineers use software programs to simulate design plans; health care practitioners collect megabytes of patient information for big data analysis to assess and predict risks; manufacturing integrates a variety of fully or semi-automated systems, and so on.

In other words, to succeed, the graduates we hope to train or attract to these fields will require a multidisciplinary knowledge base that enables them to integrate their learning. They will need to be able to take skill sets acquired in one field and apply them in another, ask new questions, rethink old issues, devise alternate methods of doing and collaborate with practitioners from diverse areas of specialization.


A similar point is made in “The Future of Work,” a 2017 Chronicle of Higher Education report: “Evidence suggests that the biggest wage gains will go to people who combine STEM training and technical skills with the kind of soft skills often thought to be the hallmark of liberal arts majors.”

What do community and business leaders in the Portland area think? We know now, because we asked them. As part of the University of Southern Maine’s digital humanities project, which seeks to innovatively use digital technologies for humanities research and creativity, art professor Jan Piribeck and I worked with an independent consulting group to conduct focus group sessions involving leaders from the business, private and nonprofit sectors.

Asked for insights into how IT is affecting work environments, and how higher education can prepare students for a changing labor market, these leaders offered suggestions that echo what other reports confirm: Graduating students need adaptive skill sets to communicate effectively, demonstrate digital fluency, exhibit comfort working with people from diverse backgrounds and specialized fields and practice creative and critical thinking. (Access the full report at bit.ly/2ANbtMM.)

The minor in professional writing, the major in art and entrepreneurial studies, the workshop in design thinking and the Digital Humanities Summer Institute offer opportunities for integrative learning, where skills developed in one field can be adapted for research, testing, prototyping, creative expression, designing, creating and building, while working individually and in teams.

This future-forward curriculum is a start.

Leaders in our community are perceptively taking the pulse of the moment: The arts and the humanities are pivotal for Maine’s economic future. The question is: Can we muster the creative imagination and institutional will to work hard to create learning environments in which our students can prepare themselves well to become productive participants in the 21st-century economy?


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