Joe Davis

Senior Education Designer


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“I was raised in a working class family. My mother was a first generation college student. My father was a drill sergeant in the military and when our local army depot closed, he had to go back to college as an adult learner. Hard work and dedication played a large role in my development. My mother was a very caring and nurturing individual. I consider myself lucky to have grown up with that dichotomy. I was raised in a small diverse city in Central NY where I was able to learn about many cultures and from people across the socio-economic spectrum.

I went to college to become an elementary school teacher.  When I graduated in 2006, careers in education were incredibly competitive, with a 1000 applicants per job. I didn’t really know what to do with myself, so I started taking civil service exams … and found out about workforce development.  I had a lot of different jobs growing up … food service, electronics, human services, and in labor positions.  Technical skills and career pathways always interested me, but I was not aware that I could make a career out of that. I ended up working for the Department of Labor and then a Local Workforce Development Board before becoming the Workforce Director for the second smallest county in New York State. It is a very rural place, with very unique problems. Workforce development has become my passion. Now, I’m here at the Lab, proudly trying to make sense of the best ways to create opportunities for people and communicate those opportunities, to provide people with a hand up as much as possible. I believe this is very much in line with the person I was raised and wanted to become.”


Designing for Growth

Human-driven growth

“There’s so much money and energy spent in this country on workforce development, higher education and economic development and yet, everything is so siloed that it’s hard for people to see how they’re all really one thing. How do we see the forest through the trees and how do we build communities that are addressing all of their issues, through existing opportunities? How do we get folks to see themselves as part of an ecosystem? If one wins all win, right? I think that is what I perseverate on most. I also think about how economic mobility and advancement for individuals increase the prosperity for an entire region and how it can transform communities.

AI-driven growth

“I do believe opportunity outweighs any of the concerns I have [about AI], although I believe the concerns are always there …. It helps us be more precise. It can help people understand what they’re looking for in candidates … it can help candidates understand the skills and credentials they need for certain jobs. I think it can help colleges start to map curriculum based on skill sets. From the workforce lens, it feels straightforward. You can use a tool like Chat GPT to get you started … just ask it what partners you should have at the table if you’re planning on creating a talent pipeline for manufacturing. Now you have a conversation starter, and you can reach out to those people, and you can deepen your understanding and those relationships.

AI vs. Human-driven growth

“You can have a training plan in place in 15 seconds, or at least a map for one. Personalization is important, but if you say, ‘Well, what would be the map for an entry level Account Clerk? And what would be reasonable career growth for the first six months?’ I think there is an incredible opportunity to frame actions and create templates, so you can build something specialized. It saves so much time that can be used for human interaction and actually being involved with your staff, which I think is incredibly important. I think something that we miss most with technology advancing so far, is the importance of human interaction.  AI really allows us to adjudicate a lot of time consuming activities, so that we can do just that.”

Designing for Agency

Human-driven agency

“Previously in my career, anyone who really trusted me to make choices and to be a part of conversations, were the people that I leaned into, and those were the people I wanted to be around.  I think intrinsically, we all want that. So if we can be empowered, I think there’s a ton of opportunity

I always wanted people to make their own decisions. I wanted them to sit with me and justify them. But I always wanted people to make their own decisions about their approaches to work.  I used to find it incredible how resistant people were to it at first but it was because they have been conditioned to simply follow orders. But for me it was always important to think about staffs’ agency and belonging, and how important those are to their overall well being. I think anyone who invests 40 hours a week in something should feel trusted, should feel like they know best and I think that comes back to human-centered design.  The people most proximate to the problem are the people who should be solving the problem. Who am I to tell someone that I know better when they’re spending their time doing this thing, right?”

AI-driven agency

“Anytime you have a tool, there’s a tendency to be lazy and lean on it fully … [we become complacent] when we allow tools to control us. When we use tools as starting points, I think that it really can serve us well. Agency … is served by that type of approach, [such as having a AI-created training plan in conversations with your employer], because not only can you see your career choices, but you can talk about where your employer might want you to be in five years and what vision they have for you and what steps it’s going to take to get there.”

AI vs. Human-driven agency

“Using AI as a tool is a great starting point. If you bring it to your employees or bring it to your team or bring it to your superiors and say, ‘Okay, this is the starting point, here are my thoughts. Let’s work through this together and see how we can make it better and utilize this information to build upon what we know’ you can understand AI’s true value.

When we’re stressed, and most people are often stressed at work, I think it’s hard to find starting points, or points of connectivity. I think having those types of prompts makes everything more accessible and more easily addressed. When you’re trying to make a collective decision but you are far apart on something… coming back together and breaking down AI generated data, allows us to have open discussions around what problem we are actually trying to solve, then we can share ideas and action plans through compromise and consensus.

Designing for Belonging

Human-driven belonging

“One of the things that has really driven me, especially early on in my career, was my experience with top down leadership.  Anytime I would communicate customer feedback or ideas to leaders I was excluded and dismissed.  When people say, ‘you wouldn’t understand, you don’t get all of the nuance and steps that it takes to change things.’ My perspective has always been, ‘Change is just effort away.’ And so, that’s kind of been a big part of who I’ve tried to be. I feel a strong sense of belonging  around a lot of people at the Lab. I know other people feel it too, I think there’s a lot of connectivity and a shared vision of ways to make the world a better place.

AI-driven belonging

“A college president had approached me about using AI to create templates for Gen Ed requirements. He discussed leveraging AI systems that would allow people to choose their culture and choose their vernacular, and have information delivered to them and then based on their experiences with real world examples and content that matters to them. I think it can be used significantly in that way to reach more people because language and experience is not universal. What means something to you and what means something to me, are not the same. So I think you can definitely diversify and reach a lot more people if you know the right way to use AI.”

AI vs. Human-driven belonging

Relationships should be human. Let’s say, for instance, I call a company’s phone system, most are basically AI controlled at this point. It’s going to take my inputs and it’s going to give me back a canned response. It’s incredibly frustrating as a consumer. But I understand that it gives company’s the ability to filter callers down to specific departments they should need to talk to. Organizations have to find the sweet spot between technology and customer service…. if AI can point me in the right direction, then I can get connected with a human that can help answer my questions and solve my problems. I think that’s the answer. So again, I think it comes back to a starting point, a jump off point, but in the end the human connection matters. I think people want to talk to people.

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