Automation will change jobs, not eliminate them, study finds

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As technological changes continue to restructure society and citizens begin to grasp that automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning will accelerate the pace, and educators are wrestling with how these innovations will ripple through the classroom.

The concept of artificial intelligence being used in the classroom was the topic of one keynote at the Consortium for School Networking’s 2018 annual conference, as was the role of school system CIOs in facilitating adjustment to the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

But a new study and toolkit from Pearson, the world’s largest education company — working with Nesta, a U.K. nonprofit research firm, and Michael Osborne, a machine learning expert at the Oxford Martin School — finds that fears of worker obsolescence are not necessarily founded in reality.

“[M]any jobs we recognize today will still be in demand by 2030 and beyond,” the study states. “However, the job you have today may require different skills for success tomorrow.”

Technology isn’t the only factor in sizing up how the job market in the future. The study identified seven “megatrends” affecting labor markets in both the United States and the United Kingdom:

  • Technological change
  • Globalization
  • Demographic change
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Urbanization
  • Increasing inequality
  • Political unrest

“Our goal in putting this out is to raise questions about the fast rate of change, that roles will have to change,” said Irene Spero, chief strategy officer for CoSN, in an interview Monday. “Our goal [for our members] is for us to inform, to provide the information to help school system leaders understand what’s happening.”

Each of the megatrends presents its own challenges. Taken together, they show that changes in the workplace will be due to a complex web of factors. The authors note that “occupations and their skill requirements are not set in stone. Occupations can be re-designed to pair uniquely human skills with the productivity gains from technology to boost demand for jobs.”

The study identifies a number of implications for educational systems:

Moving beyond generic definitions of “21st century skills:” Educational systems will need to develop better understanding and assessment of the specific skills that will be in greater demand;

Developing pedagogies to support dynamic knowledge and skill development: Schools will have to provide more support to educators being called upon to teach these new skills, which also may require significant changes of teacher education;

Adapting faster to the changing needs of labor markets: Educators will need to start planning far more in advance for a future that is decades away;

Offering more flexible and adaptive pathways: Students — of all ages — will demand more ways to “convert learning to earning,” such as new credential or badge programs.

One implication for employers is moving beyond using the college degree as a ticket-punch that a person is employable. “The college degree has long been an imperfect signal for employment readiness and this is likely to become even more complex,” the study notes.

For the individuals, the real human beings that must navigate the upheaval, the study suggests placing emphasis on uniquely human skills, such as originality and creativity, ability to communicate ideas and active listening, as well as a commitment to lifelong learning and acquiring new skills.

The accompanying toolkit offers a number of activities focused on facilitating conversations on these broad and challenging topics. Their aim is “to assist community conveners in supporting meaningful multi-sector and action-oriented discussions that lead to concrete next steps that support future workforce development,” the study states.

CoSN is looking to bring about the dialogue among its membership regarding the ways all these trends will affect K-12 education, Spero said. “We want to be a convener of school systems to discuss these changes, what they might do, share best practices and [identify] what changes might be needed.”

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