Eric Bumbaca and Melissa Piccoli

By: Nick Santangelo

A graduate education can power a professional career to new heights. But a grad degree from Temple University's College of Liberal Arts (CLA), also empowers students to make an impact in the world right away.

Take Master of Public Policy program's Melissa Piccoli, CLA '19, and senior Eric Bumbaca, expected to graduate in December, for example. The duo recently took advantage of an incredible opportunity to present research findings from their capstone course at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The event focused on how automation is changing the nature of work and was attended by prestigious leaders of academia, industry and government.

Defining the Problem

Piccoli and Bumbaca had already presented their research in class and at a number of other conferences and events. Still, Bumbaca says he felt both excited and a little bit nervous to present at the Fed. Piccoli offers a sound reason why the duo was a bit nervous still: many of the experts they had studied - and in some cases interviewed -- for their capstone project were in the audience at the Fed.

"My main thing that I looked at was how automation will impact Philadelphia," says Piccoli of their Temple team's work. (Two MPP teammates-Julie Blust and Jared Moser-also contributed to the team's semester-long project for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation.) "The sad thing for the city is that we are a really undereducated city. Only 27 percent of our population 25 or older have a bachelor's degree. The jobs that are going to be most affected by AI (Artificial Intelligence) are jobs for those who don't have a bachelor's degree.

"So, Philadelphia really needs to work together. Our corporations, our city government, our nonprofits and other entities need to find a way to make sure that our most vulnerable people don't necessarily lose their jobs because those are the people who can't go to reskilling workshops because they live paycheck to paycheck so they can't take time off to go to these unpaid workshops or retraining things."

Bumbaca adds that they also examined the timeline for Philadelphia having to start countering the effects of automation. Some actions are necessary within the next 10 years, which Bumbaca claims is really not much time at all to plan solutions and put them in place. This is particularly true for the food preparation sector, which has a large footprint in Philadelphia with companies like Aramark being headquartered here.  The team interviewed leaders from that field as well as those from communications technology, trucking, port operations and healthcare among other fields.

Outlining the Solutions

"There needs to be a really strong investment in retooling and reskilling Philadelphia's workforce," says Bumbaca of the potential solution.

He echoed Piccoli in pointing to the city's troublingly low percentage of bachelor's degree holders. And while Bumbaca stresses that this may not be the best measure of workforce viability, it's still very important to many HR professionals and hiring managers.

"So, we really emphasize this need of workforce development and having city and nonprofit and other stakeholders really buy into this idea of being able to train and reskill our workforce in order to move them from one sector to another if technology dictates that that's necessary," continues Bumbaca.

Piccoli says it's important that for Generation Z, this development starts even before high school begins. Kids need to be trained on the technology of tomorrow by the time they're through middle school. Doing so, says Bumbaca, will require a broad coalition between academia, industry and government, which has been accomplished to some degree in other cities they studied. Piccoli thinks their Fed presentation may have won some key figures from all three over.

"It picked people's brains and made them think differently," she says, "and we were much younger than a lot of people in the room. I think sometimes the sense of a fresh set of eyes is good because a lot of people who work in this stuff had been entrenched in it for so long that they see it one way, but there's a lot of ways to see a problem like this and a lot of ways to craft solutions."

The project affected Bumbaca and Piccoli's futures, too. Bumbaca gained a newfound interest in how city planning for land use could be a part of his career in the nonprofit sector. Piccoli, meanwhile, is excited about how the research skills she learned in class will help further her existing career in politics.

Thanks to their CLA graduate educations, Bumbaca and Piccoli are prepared for the future of work. Now they can help the rest of the city catch up.