Winning Proposal Aims to Combat Job Displacement Caused by Automation
May 30, 2019
College students Michael Krone, Jenna Liu, Natasha Menon, and Kevin Myers won the 6th annual PPI public policy case competition. The focus this year was on automation—specifically, ameliorating the effects of job displacement caused by advancements in technology. Their project, “New Horizons,” is a proposal to help shift administrative workers in Pennsylvania into jobs that are low risk for automation and fit their skills and aptitudes, and to encourage them to gain further career development, using the PA CareerLink website. The four of them were excited to get involved in a case competition but were nervous that they did not know much about the topic. To start, they looked at research on automation and spoke to experts they had met through course work and internships. As they went along, they were then able to gain feedback from people with different perspectives on the subject, which helped them continually refine their thinking.
Michael, Jenna, Natasha, and Kevin feel their team dynamic was a big help in coming up with a winning proposal. As they researched different ideas, they were unafraid to reimagine their proposal and to critique what they had already come up with. In fact, they started the process with a proposal on an infrastructure project in Reading, PA. They understood from the beginning that the process would be iterative, and, as Jenna explains, this allowed them to “shape the proposal in a way that addressed all of [their] concerns and that truly fit the prompt as well as possible.” Michael believes that the since they discussed from the start how “honest feedback was going to be necessary, and that we wouldn’t take criticisms personally,” they were able to comfortably challenge each other and come up with a project that they all believed in.
Presenting to the judges, which included policy experts from the local, state, and federal levels, was a rewarding experience for the New Horizons team, since it affirmed their understanding of the topic, and by that point, all four believed strongly in the proposal they had come up with. While that was not always the case, and they briefly considered quitting since they felt they didn’t have enough expertise in the subject, learning that they had made the finals validated their hard work and inspired them to keep going. After finishing the whole process, they expressed astonishment about how far they had come in their understanding of the problems the nation’s workforce faces due to automation.
After the competition, with encouragement from one of the judges, Rich Lazer, the Deputy Mayor of Labor for the City of Philadelphia, the New Horizons team got the opportunity to present their ideas again to Philadelphia Works, the city’s workforce development board. Lazer had supported the team strongly during the final deliberations of the case competition, specifically because he felt their ideas were truly implementable, and he was happy to help them take the next step in exploring what implementation would entail. In the meeting with Philadelphia Works, they discussed developing the core ideas behind New Horizons, looking for funding opportunities, and the needs of the city’s workforce. While the team is still considering whether and how to continue working on the project, for Natasha, “the process reaffirmed my belief that you don’t have to make large sweeping changes to have an impact, you can still help a subset of the population in an important way.” As Kevin reflected on the process that the New Horizons team went through to win the competition, he also had some advice for future competitors: “Meet early enough that you don’t have to do your first idea, because testing things out is the most important part of the process.”