President Aoun, HUBweek panel discuss the workforce of the future

In a hall that has witnessed some of the earliest events of our nation, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun on Wednesday sat on a distinguished panel with business leaders that examined the future of technology careers, and the role higher education will play in building that future.

“We are a global city and we attract global talent,” Aoun said of Boston and its place on the world stage. “We don’t care what passport you have. We want the best people. The search for talent is global and we compete very well at this level.”

The discussion, titled “Building and growing a 21st century career,” was held in the Great Hall in Faneuil Hall as part of HUBweek, the weeklong festival with more than 100 events celebrating creativity and innovation at the intersection of arts, technology, and science in Boston.

“We need to build what I call a robot-proof education. And that is easier said than done.”
—Joseph Aoun

Joining Aoun on the panel was Brian Halligan, founder and CEO of HubSpot, and Donna Levin, co-founder of and entrepreneur-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Martin Trust Center. Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung served as moderator.

A major focus of the discussion was how higher education and the business sector can collaborate to prepare students and employees for the 21st-century workforce. Aoun noted that McKinsey and Company estimated some 45 percent of jobs we know of today will be replaced by automation. And it’s not just drivers who may be replaced, but lawyers and executives as well.

“That has profound implications for learning and for education,” Aoun said. “We need to build what I call a robot-proof education. And that is easier said than done. You need to bring together all the aspects of the liberal arts with what I call the new literacies, such as coding and data analytics.”

Halligan founded HubSpot in 2006, and today the company employs numerous Northeastern alumni and co-ops. He stated Northeastern is well positioned to offer the type of practical education that soon will be the norm—an education that will rely heavily on technical and mathematical skills.

The panel also discussed entrepreneurship—an appropriate topic given the startup nature of both Halligan and Levin’s businesses.

Aoun noted that the term “entrepreneur” should not just be used to refer to people who launch their own companies. “You can redefine a company, you can take risks, you can think about how a business works differently,” Aoun said. “Let’s agree not everyone is going to start a company. But everyone can be an entrepreneur in what she does.”