The following was originally published by Sun Community News.

ESSEX | Because Artificial Intelligence is transforming education and jobs, we need to understand and embrace AI and change how we prepare young people for college and the workplace, said speakers from multi-billion dollar corporations and a college president at the CFES Center in Essex this week.

Artificial Intelligence has democratized knowledge, and with everyone having equal access to hard skills such as calculations and coding, corporate leaders — speaking at a day-long summit — said tomorrow’s employees must be fluent in Essential Skills that include agility, leadership and even simply showing up to work on time every day.

“There’s a fear that AI will take over,” said Jelenny Baez of TransPerfect, a global translation company. “But the truth is, we still need people who can think critically, solve problems, and collaborate effectively. AI can’t do that.”

The summit, “Driving the New College and Career Readiness Paradigm Through Artificial Intelligence and other Forces,” was hosted by CFES Brilliant Pathways, a global thought leader in helping underserved students become college and career-ready.

Greg Muccio, vice president of talent acquisition for Southwest Airlines, said AI is at its best mining data and performing rote tasks. For example, Southwest is on the verge of using AI to interact with customers to get their own refunds on canceled flights without the need of a live, third party.

While AI can answer questions, it takes a critical thinker to know what questions to ask, how to interpret the data and how to present that data to different audiences, said Scott Thomas, President of Sterling College.

“If you can’t tell a story about what you’re working on, it’s not going to go anywhere. You need to be good at listening and networking — to have the ability to read a room,” Muccio said. “The longer you fight AI the further apart you’re going to get from it..”

“AI has made the Essential Skills more essential,” said Rick Dalton, President and CEO of CFES, adding that technology is just one of many upheavals in education. “Just look at what is happening in college admissions with the new FAFSA, the elimination of standardized testing, the ban on affirmative action. We are seeing more change and more chaos in college admissions this year than at any time in the last 100 years.”

At TransPerfect, AI has largely eliminated the need to learn a second language or hire an interpreter. Any spoken word in any language can instantly be translated into any other language. While that may have diminished the hard skill of learning a new language, it has created the need for critical thinkers and problem solvers who can do what AI can’t.

“We have to encourage students to ask why and how,” said Dasha Ilazarova, recruitment and talent manager for TransPerfect. “That is the skill that all managers look for. You can teach the technical skills, but the Essential Skills are more difficult to find in employees.”

Ron Rix, CFES GEAR UP project director, acknowledged that AI is complex and confusing and can run counter to traditional teaching practices. But ignoring AI will only make the situation more difficult, particularly as AI advances. “Our job is to get kids ready for their future, not for our past,” Rix said.

CFES’ National Conference, taking place Nov. 17-19 in Burlington, VT, will delve deeper into these critical issues. The conference will provide educators, students, and families with practical steps to leverage AI as a college and career readiness tool. Register for the National Conference at https://bit.ly/ConferenceFES-2024.