How do schools train for a workplace that doesn’t exist yet?
We’ve all heard the dire predictions about the coming robot apocalypse. Automation threatens 47 percent of jobs. As many as 800 million people worldwide could be displaced and need to find new jobs by 2030. Middle-class families will be hit the hardest.
Chris Burns has heard these sorts of predictions, too. He’s also seen just how fast changes are happening in his own industry, information technology. Burns works for a business near Cincinnati that sells cloud computing and other technology services, and he says there is a big shortage of skilled IT employees both nationally and in his metro area. His company has started working with local high schools to introduce students and teachers to tech tools and career paths, but he wonders whether it’s enough and what sorts of approaches he ought to be taking given the uncertainty around what jobs will look like in the future.
I asked Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, for his thoughts on this question. Carnevale told me that, first of all, the story of robots creating mass unemployment has been overhyped. To the extent that automation alters people’s work lives, it’ll affect the tasks they do, but few occupations will be completely wiped out. We still need people training to be computer programmers and nurses and engineers — some of those individuals may just have different specialties within their fields in a decade or two.