Recently there has been lots of talk about how the rise of automation is changing the workplace—as if a robotic takeover was just around the corner. I don't see automatons massing at the gates, but we need to acknowledge that there's some data fueling this anxiety. For example, a recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research tells us that for every industrial robot added to the workforce (per one thousand workers), up to six workers in the region lost their jobs and wages decreased by as much as a half percent. I can't argue against the fact that the rise of automation will continue to disrupt the job market, and cause some pain as it does. But ultimately I remain optimistic about the future.
In 1880, more than 50 percent of American jobs were in farming and agriculture, according to data from National Bureau of Economic Research. Recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate a far different landscape, with agricultural jobs making up less than two percent of American jobs in 2015. Jobs and employment trends are constantly evolving and there are professions today that we didn't even know existed 10, 20, 50, or 100 years ago. As we transition to a new era of work, I believe we are headed toward a changing world where humans, machines, and artificial intelligence will form powerful new partnerships we are only beginning to imagine today.
The emerging era of partnerships between humans, machines, and artificial intelligence brings with it a new wave of job opportunities. A recent report from Forrester Research argues that automation won't destroy American jobs, but rather transform the workforce. The report findings indicate that automation and artificial intelligence will create close to 15 million new jobs in the U.S. over the next ten years. These new jobs are expected to be technologically oriented and require new skillsets. And this workforce transformation is not unique to the United States. According to a Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions Report, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) estimated that in the EU, close to half of new job opportunities will require highly skilled workers.
Let's take manufacturing as an example. What most think of as manufacturing is still anchored in 19th and 20th century notions of the industrial age. In today's post-industrial world, the way you make things has fundamentally changed. Manufacturing is increasingly driven by software and data and is becoming much more integrated. You can go from concept to manufacturing all in the same application and with much shorter production cycles. And when we put those manufactured things out into the world, software will wrap them in a digital nervous system that collects data about their performance and use. This data loop will feed back into the manufacturing process, making it more flexible and responsive to the ways products actually perform in the real world under varied conditions of use.
According to Deloitte's Manufacturing Institute report, as the manufacturing industry embraces these new and advanced technologies, executives are faced with a talent shortage. Indeed, our customers have already voiced real concerns that their current workforce is not prepared for the way professional roles are evolving. Higher education can help bridge this gap in skills and knowledge by repositioning and integrating those disciplines supporting the emerging advanced manufacturing professions.
Today's education system is an outdated product of the industrial revolution. This assembly line learning compartmentalizes the way students develop skills and does not account for dynamic technological advancements and the professions of tomorrow that will require much more integrative ways of thinking. Learning isn't something that happens just in school — but instead takes place "K through grey," as jobs change and new skills are needed in the workplace. An approach that shifts learning from a linear to a nonlinear model will help tomorrow's graduates adapt as professions rapidly shift shape and require new skills and mindsets in the workplace. Curricula should emphasize teaching learners how to work in a dynamic professional world where automation augments human capabilities. Collectively, these emerging technologies form a new kind of "colleague" that requires us to develop unique collaboration skills and new professional sensibilities.
Recognizing that changing our education system takes time, we also encourage students to look outside academic institutions to sharpen their skills and expand their mindsets. A new group of learning organizations like General Assembly sit between our legacy educational institutions and the workplace—helping to align those worlds. Using these organizations to earn micro-credentials is a great way to gain exposure to new specialized skills not available to students in the traditional university environment. These 'mini-degrees' or certifications can help prepare students for the jobs of the future by pursuing skills and knowledge across disciplines and throughout their lives.
The debate around the workforce impacts caused by robotics, automation and artificial intelligence will not cease any time soon. And the effects are real. Yet, moments like this contain seeds of tremendous opportunity and hope if we focus on the right things. And at the center of our strategy to adapt and thrive should be continuous learning, inside and outside of traditional educational institutions.
Title image: Robot 3D Printing Metal; courtesy of Autodesk
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There is much to consider in the future of technology, but I rather fear too little is made of the very basic, even essential part of life which seems to get largely overlooked, and that is in the production of food. With even minimal population growth it is patently obvious that we need technological developments to improve crop production, gathering and distribution. We need to move away from live animals for protein, as even on an humanitarian level animal production is an inefficient, and non-economically viable resource for the future. Bio-technology and physical technologies should concentrate on these areas (http://norwegianprototypes.com), and not be so concerned about factories producing more products. Food and food supply involves us all, and is a basic need.