As robots, automation and artificial intelligence perform more tasks and there is massive disruption of jobs, experts say a wider array of education and skills-building programs will be created to meet new demands. There are two uncertainties: Will well-prepared workers be able to keep up in the race with AI tools? And will market capitalism survive?

BY: LEE RAINIE AND JANNA ANDERSON

Machines are eating humans’ jobs talents. And it’s not just about jobs that are repetitive and low-skill. Automation, robotics, algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) in recent times have shown they can do equal or sometimes even better work than humans who are dermatologists, insurance claims adjusters, lawyers, seismic testers in oil fields, sports journalists and financial reporters, crew members on guided-missile destroyers, hiring managers, psychological testers, retail salespeople, and border patrol agents. Moreover, there is growing anxiety that technology developments on the near horizon will crush the jobs of the millions who drive cars and trucks, analyze medical tests and data, perform middle management chores, dispense medicine, trade stocks and evaluate markets, fight on battlefields, perform government functions, and even replace those who program software – that is, the creators of algorithms.

Multiple studies have documented that massive numbers of jobs are at risk as programmed devices – many of them smart, autonomous systems – continue their march into workplaces. A recent study by labor economists found that “one more robot per thousand workers reduces the employment to population ratio by about 0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25-0.5 percent.” When Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center asked experts in 2014 whether AI and robotics would create more jobs than they would destroy, the verdict was evenly split: 48% of the respondents envisioned a future where more jobs are lost than created, while 52% said more jobs would be created than lost. Since that expert canvassing, the future of jobs has been at the top of the agenda at many major conferences globally.

Several policy and market-based solutions have been promoted to address the loss of employment and wages forecast by technologists and economists. A key idea emerging from many conversations, including one of the lynchpin discussions at the World Economic Forum in 2016, is that changes in educational and learning environments are necessary to help people stay employable in the labor force of the future. Among the six overall findings in a new 184-page report from the National Academies of Sciences, the experts recommended: “The education system will need to adapt to prepare individuals for the changing labor market. At the same time, recent IT advances offer new and potentially more widely accessible ways to access education.”

Jobholders themselves have internalized this insight: A 2016 Pew Research Center survey, “The State of American Jobs,” found that 87% of workers believe it will be essential for them to get training and develop new job skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace. This survey noted that employment is much higher among jobs that require an average or above-average level of preparation (including education, experience and job training); average or above-average interpersonal, management and communication skills; and higher levels of analytical skills, such as critical thinking and computer skills.

A central question about the future, then, is whether formal and informal learning structures will evolve to meet the changing needs of people who wish to fulfill the workplace expectations of the future. Pew Research Center and Elon’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a large-scale canvassing of technologists, scholars, practitioners, strategic thinkers and education leaders in the summer of 2016, asking them to weigh in on the likely future of workplace training.

Some 1,408 responded to the following question, sharing their expectations about what is likely to evolve by 2026:

In the next 10 years, do you think we will see the emergence of new educational and training programs that can successfully train large numbers of workers in the skills they will need to perform the jobs of the future?


The nonscientific canvassing found that 70% of these particular respondents said “yes” – such programs would emerge and be successful. A majority among the 30% who said “no” generally do not believe adaptation in teaching environments will be sufficient to teach new skills at the scale that is necessary to help workers keep abreast of the tech changes that will upend millions of jobs. (See “About this canvassing of experts” for further details about the limits of this sample.)

Participants were asked to explain their answers and offered the following prompts to consider:


  • What are the most important skills needed to succeed in the workforce of the future?
  • Which of these skills can be taught effectively via online systems – especially those that are self-directed – and other nontraditional settings?
  • Which skills will be most difficult to teach at scale?
  • Will employers be accepting of applicants who rely on new types of credentialing systems, or will they be viewed as less qualified than those who have attended traditional four-year and graduate programs?


Several common expectations were evident in these respondents’ answers, no matter how hopeful or fretful they were about the future of skills- and capabilities-training efforts. (It is important to note that many respondents listed human behaviors, attributes and competencies in describing desirable work skills. Although these aspects of psychology cannot be classified as “skills” and perhaps cannot be directly taught in any sort of training environment, we include these answers under the general heading of skills, capabilities and attributes.)

A diversifying education and credentialing ecosystem: Most of these experts expect the education marketplace – especially online learning platforms – to continue to change in an effort to accommodate the widespread needs. Some predict employers will step up their own efforts to train and retrain workers. Many foresee a significant number of self-teaching efforts by jobholders themselves as they take advantage of proliferating online opportunities.

Respondents see a new education and training ecosystem emerging in which some job preparation functions are performed by formal educational institutions in fairly traditional classroom settings, some elements are offered online, some are created by for-profit firms, some are free, some exploit augmented and virtual reality elements and gaming sensibilities, and a lot of real-time learning takes place in formats that job seekers pursue on their own.

A considerable number of respondents to this canvassing focused on the likelihood that the best education programs will teach people how to be lifelong learners. Accordingly, some say alternative credentialing mechanisms will arise to assess and vouch for the skills people acquire along the way.

A focus on nurturing unique human skills that artificial intelligence (AI) and machines seem unable to replicate: Many of these experts discussed in their responses the human talents they believe machines and automation may not be able to duplicate, noting that these should be the skills developed and nurtured by education and training programs to prepare people to work successfully alongside AI. These respondents suggest that workers of the future will learn to deeply cultivate and exploit creativity, collaborative activity, abstract and systems thinking, complex communication, and the ability to thrive in diverse environments.

One such comment came from Simon Gottschalk, a professor in the department of sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas: “The skills necessary at the higher echelons will include especially the ability to efficiently network, manage public relations, display intercultural sensitivity, marketing, and generally what author Dan Goleman would call ‘social’ and ‘emotional’ intelligence. [This also includes] creativity, and just enough critical thinking to move outside the box.”

Another example is the response of Fredric Litto, a professor emeritus of communications and longtime distance-learning expert from the University of São Paulo: “We are now in the transitional stage of employers gradually reducing their prejudice in the hiring of those who studied at a distance, and moving in favor of such ‘graduates’ who, in the workplace, demonstrate greater proactiveness, initiative, discipline, collaborativeness – because they studied online.”

Other respondents mentioned traits including leadership, design thinking, “human meta communication,” deliberation, conflict resolution, and the capacity to motivate, mobilize and innovate. Still others spoke of more practical needs that could help workers in the medium term – to work with data and algorithms, to implement 3-D modeling and work with 3-D printers, or to implement the newly emerging capabilities in artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality. Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft, commented, “People will create the jobs of the future, not simply train for them, and technology is already central. It will undoubtedly play a greater role in the years ahead.”

About a third of respondents expressed no confidence in training and education evolving quickly enough to match demands by 2026. Some of the bleakest answers came from some of the most respected technology analysts. For instance, Jason Hong, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote, “There are two major components needed for a new kind of training program at this scale: political will and a proven technology platform. Even assuming that the political will (and budget) existed, there’s no platform today that can successfully train large numbers of people.

MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] have a high dropout rate and have serious questions about quality of instruction. They are also struggling
with basic issues like identification of individuals taking the courses. So in short, we can train small numbers of individuals (tens of thousands) per year using today’s community colleges and university systems, but probably not more.”

Several respondents argued that job training is not a primary concern at a time when accelerating change in market economies is creating massive economic divides that seem likely to leave many people behind. An anonymous scientific editor commented, “Seriously? You’re asking about the workforce of the future? As if there’s going to be one? … ‘Employers’ either run sweatshops abroad or hire people in the ‘first world’ to do jobs that they hate, while more and more unskilled and skilled people end up permanently on welfare or zero-hour contracts. And the relatively ‘job-secure’ qualified people who work in the ‘professions’ are probably a lot closer than they think they are to going over that same cliff. The details of how they earn their credentials aren’t going to be an issue.”

Most participants in this canvassing wrote detailed elaborations explaining their positions, though they were allowed to respond anonymously. Their well-considered comments provide insights about hopeful and concerning trends. These findings do not represent all possible points of view, but they do reveal a wide range of striking observations. Respondents collectively articulated five major themes that are introduced and briefly explained in the 29-page section below and then expanded upon in more-detailed sections. Some responses are lightly edited for style or due to length.

Source:
http://www.pewinternet.org