One of the most common fears about technological advancement is that existing jobs are going to be destroyed. But that doesn't mean jobs are not going to exist.
In 2018, we are in the midst of a technological revolution. Over 100 years ago, the development of the automobile rapidly changed our entire economy. But while many were concerned at the time about how the auto industry would harm the horse and carriage industry, in retrospect, we see that fear is unfounded. More jobs were created building cars than former carriage workers could fill.
That same exact principle applies to our situation today, where artificial intelligence is becoming smarter and more capable with each passing day. The fear is that AI will take more and more of our jobs, as some work is being automated over time. Already in manufacturing, robots are assisting in the creation of many of our everyday items, like cars and appliances.
So how do we prepare for the changes coming from increased AI capabilities? Bret Swanson, scholar of technology, writes that technology is actually helping our employment opportunities, but we have to change our educational system to prepare people for the jobs that will be available.
[W]e are beginning to see how technology will improve employment opportunities. For example, in the latest in a long series of reports on the topic, Michael Mandel shows yet again how technology usually helps workers. In manufacturing, he laments, the labor share of value added declined from 61 percent in 1991 to just 46 percent in 2016. And yet in technology and telecom, industries that use information technology much more intensively, the labor share of value added rose from 45 percent to 51 percent.
It is true that technology will make some jobs obsolete, that’s the nature of change. However, that’s not a bad thing on its own.
The issue that we now face is the fact that the workforce is largely unprepared for these new jobs. That’s why educational reform is needed to make sure that future prospective workers will be able to fill these jobs.
Swanson points to suggestions from John Bailey, who focuses his research on reequipping people who have lost their jobs. He emphasizes the need to begin reforming our education system from K-12 right on up through post-secondary schools.
K-12 students will need multiple pathways to careers, not just college. Alex Hernandez, a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, compares our current education system to a game of “Chutes and Ladders,” where career and technical education has been a chute, “an off-ramp for students who . . . were not succeeding in ‘traditional’ education.” Career and Technical Education should become an option for all students, not just for those that the system has sorted as not being ready for college. For example, Carmen Schools of Science & Technology offers career-preparation programs to all students. In addition to traditional high school classes, students can earn certifications and college credits and even participate in apprenticeships with local companies.
As we’ve discussed here at TPOH, one option to prepare students for these jobs is to change the Pell Grant system to make educational funding eligible to students who choose technical schools that may fall outside the traditional scope of post-secondary institutions.
Secondly, learning needs to be a life-long process. Jobs in one particular field may be obsolete within a decade or so, and workers need to be prepared for the time when they may have to look for employment elsewhere.
Being prepared is half the battle. A new world of many more opportunities is coming our way, and it’s time to start changing our approach to education so that we are ready for it.