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Imagining a New World of Work

From the rise of AI to the growing reach of social media, inaugural Future of Work Conference prepares participants for “the landscape of tomorrow”

Hassan Akmal, Maria Coates, Brandon Joe, Sabrina Cheng, Victoria Morales Vargas and Tod Oliviere hold up heart hands symbols
From the left, Hassan Akmal, executive director of career and professional development; Maria Coates, Future of Work LAEP research assistant; Brandon Joe, co-founder of Treasure Hacks; Sabrina Cheng, junior designer at the Design Lab; Victoria Morales Vargas, LAEP research assistant; and Tod Oliviere, director of student employment and career development show their "heart hands" during UC San Diego's inaugural Future of Work Conference. (Photo courtesy of UC San Diego Career Center)

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“ChatGPT Took Their Jobs.”

“Gen Z is Struggling to Work with Boomers.”

“Full-Time Office Work is ‘Dead.’”

These real-life headlines have topped stories from major national news outlets over the past year, highlighting the uncertainties that plague today’s college students as they prepare to join the workforce of tomorrow.

How should they navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead? What tools will they need to adapt and thrive in a world where skills, agility and collaboration are the keys to success?

These questions were at the forefront of UC San Diego’s inaugural annual Future of Work Conference, held at locations across campus April 1-5. The event was hosted by the university’s top-five ranked Career Center (Princeton Review, 2023), which is currently undergoing a multiyear ambitious reimagination.

Under the leadership of Hassan Akmal, Executive Director of Career and Professional Development at the UC San Diego Career Center, conference organizers curated a robust five-day lineup of keynotes, panels, workshops, career fairs and more. The dynamic event—which was open to students, faculty, staff, employers and alumni—garnered nearly 5,000 registrations and featured session topics ranging from “Gen Z and Global Job Disruption” to “The Importance of Soft Skills in an AI World.” Many of the in-person sessions were also offered via virtual livestream, allowing members of the campus community to access the conference content and join in the discussion from their rooms, homes, offices and beyond.

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Career fair tents spread across Sun God Lawn
Day two of the Future of Work Conference brought employers, students and recent alumni together on Sun God Lawn for a Career and Networking Spring Fair. (Photo by Erik Jepsen/University Communications)

“I challenge every one of you to seize this moment—to harness the power of imagination and dare to dream of a world where work is not merely a means to an end, but a conduit for creativity, collaboration and fulfillment,” Akmal said to the participants in his welcoming remarks. “Let us remember that the future is not a destination to be reached, but a series of moments and experiences to be lived. Let us let go of the past and imagine a world where every individual has the opportunity to unleash their full potential—where every career is a testament to the boundless capacity of the human spirit.”

At the start of the conference, Akmal introduced the “five catalysts for positive change,” or five “Cs” to correspond with each of the conference’s five days: Choices, Clarity, Confidence, Courage and Conviction. With these words serving as a framework for the remainder of the conference, he urged attendees to let these pillars guide their actions throughout the week. The welcome address ended with attendees making a “C” with their hand, joining their hands together, and joining their hands with others to make a heart hand, triggering a “chain reaction” of empowerment and achievement.

Day One: Choices

After applauding participants for choosing to attend the conference events, Akmal welcomed Pedro Manrique, CEO of DRP Systems, author, professor, inventor, strategic analyst, business consultant and coach, to the podium. Manrique delivered an illuminating keynote entitled “Adapt & Elevate: Proactive Strategies for Future-Proofing Careers.”

As a senior business consultant to industry giants such as Google, Walt Disney Animation Studies, Deloitte and Nike, Manrique drew from his extensive experience to share insights on the value of “side hustles,” the importance of cultural intelligence and sensitivity, the future of retirement and more. He encouraged those in the audience to think about what characteristics differentiate them in the workplace and capitalize on those attributes to elevate their own personal brand. This, he said, is key to “future-proofing” careers in the wake of automation, generative artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.

“Embrace disruption: It’s permanent,” Manrique advised. “AI is here to stay.”

The remainder of the first day’s events included a panel on global talent acquisition trends and transformations, an interactive workshop on AI-driven innovation, a presentation on inclusive AI for neurodiverse people and much more.

Day Two: Clarity

Student high-fives employer during outdoor career fair
Students and recent alumni who attended the event's career fairs had the opportunity to network with dozens of employers to learn about jobs and internships. (Photo by Erik Jepsen/University Communications)

“See what’s out there and think about where you envision yourself,” said Akmal as he emphasized that the second day of the conference was all about finding clarity.

With these words in mind, more than 800 Tritons flocked to Sun God Lawn—resumés in hand—for a Career and Networking Spring Fair spearheaded by Megan Martinez-Montano, Senior Associate Director of Career and Professional Development, that allowed employers to meet with students and recent alumni and share opportunities for jobs and internships. From the California Department of Transportation and the City of San Diego to Maravai Life Sciences, ReadyEdgeGo and dozens of others, a broad range of industries and fields were represented at the fair, giving students a glimpse of what the future of work will look like in the trajectory of their own lives.

Maria Coates, Brandon Joe, Sabrina Cheng, Victoria Morales Vargas sit in chairs during panel discussion
Undergraduate students Maria Coates, Brandon Joe, Sabrina Cheng and Victoria Morales Vargas participated in a panel discussion entitled "The Student Employment Experience: On-Campus Opportunities in Upskilling." (Photo courtesy of UC San Diego Career Center)

Day Three: Confidence

Labeled “Social Media Day,” the programming on the third day of the conference urged participants to have the confidence to share the power of their stories united under the hashtag #UCYou.

“In a world where every click carries the potential to spark a revolution, every post possesses the power to ignite change and every hashtag holds the promise of collective action, the significance of our presence in the digital sphere cannot be overstated,” said Akmal as the day began. “Success in the digital age is not merely measured by the number of followers or likes—no, it is defined by our ability to engage authentically, to inspire action and foster meaningful connections that transcend the parameters of cyberspace.”

Suzaita Hipolito speaks in microphone
Suzaita Hipolito, MBA '13, delivers the Wednesday keynote address during the Future of Work Conference. (Photo by Long Truong/University Communications)

UC San Diego alumna Suzaita Hipolito, MBA ’13—a coach, entrepreneur, disruptor, speaker and author—delivered the day’s keynote address, “Beyond the Limits: For Gen Z and Young Millennials—Your Life, Your Rules,” during which she equipped participants to create a vision for their lives that will help them gain clarity on who they are and what they are capable of.

One of the afternoon’s many session options included a panel entitled “The Student Employment Experience: Leveraging On-Campus Opportunities in Upskilling,” which highlighted the significance of student employment programs in shaping students’ professional trajectories.

The panel, which featured Sabrina Cheng, Brandon Joe and Victoria Morales Vargas, three UC San Diego students who have benefited from on-campus opportunities for career development, was moderated by third-year transfer student and Communication major Maria Coates.

“We wanted to do this panel to bring awareness to the abundance of opportunities that exist at UC San Diego and how important it is to leverage that while you have immediate access to this network,” said Coates, who helped plan the conference in her role as a Future of Work Learning-Aligned Employment Program (LAEP) research assistant for the Career Center.

Qui-Shawn Tran recites poem in front of audience
Qui-Shawn Tran '24 recites his original poetry during a session entitled "The Creative Process: Orchestrating a Symphony of Success Enhanced by the Power of Storytelling." (Photo courtesy of UC San Diego Career Center)

Through her involvement in planning and then attending the week’s events, Coates said there were a few key points that particularly resonated with her—including the importance of being intentional about who you surround yourself with and nurturing the relationships that will help you in getting closer to achieving your dreams. Additionally, she walked away from the conference with a sense of the power of social media and how important it is to build an online brand for yourself and create online connections.

“The future of work is all about connection and empathy, and our biggest advantage over AI will be, ‘How human can you be?’ The more ‘human’ you can be—through soft skills like empathy, being personable, utilizing active listening—the further you will go in life,” said Coates.

Another highlight of the third day was a musical “fireside chat” entitled “The Creative Process: Orchestrating a Symphony of Success Enhanced by the Power of Storytelling.” Hosted by Tod Oliviere, Director of Student Employment and Career Development, and featuring the talents of songwriter, music producer and poet Qui-Shawn Tran ’24, the session allowed attendees to explore the transformative role of storytelling in the creative journey while enjoying engaging dialogue and live performances.

Day Four: Courage

With presentations on the future of leadership, harnessing AI tools in career searching and more, the conference “day four” programming aimed to help participants gather the courage to find meaningful work and build meaningful lives.

The focal point of the day’s events was a second career and networking spring fair—this time, held virtually—connecting UC San Diego students and recent alumni with even more opportunities to build their networks and learn about employment opportunities.

Participating employers were invited to attend an informative session entitled “Diversifying Talent Pipelines,” led by Judy Reilly, director of the Center for Neurodiversity and Employment Innovation at the University of Connecticut, and Stephen DeStefani of Wells Fargo. Participants learned how understanding and implementing organizational practices that better include neurodivergent individuals ultimately expands employers’ access to and retention of talent across all communities.

Day Five: Conviction

On Friday, the conference culminated with the Future of Career Services Symposium, which was open to career services professionals and employers from around the globe.

Alongside sessions that covered topics like accessibility, inclusion and global job disruption, the symposium also provided an opportunity to showcase two areas in which UC San Diego is leading the way in higher education. These included a session about TritonGPT, UC San Diego’s new specialized AI assistant, as well as a presentation on the Career Center’s trailblazing Triton Career Readiness Passport, a transformative initiative designed to empower students in crafting their career and life roadmap.

As the first-ever Future of Work Conference came to a close, Akmal encouraged those in attendance to use their newfound knowledge to not only embrace positive change and disruption, but also to play an active role in shaping their own futures and never cease in their pursuit of purpose, passion and possibility.

“We will shape this new world: one that is inclusive, equitable and empowered by the limitless potential of human ingenuity,” said Akmal. “Let’s reflect on our own artistry of career and life design—a mosaic composed of diverse experiences, talents and aspirations intricately stitched together by hand. Like a masterful artist, each of us holds the brush, the palette and the vision to craft a life that reflects our deepest passions and values.”

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