Disruption of work – what students need to know

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This week we are looking at work and jobs disruption and potential opportunities, what students need to know and how they can learn for the future. First, we are starting with two articles via The Exponential View about how worker shortages are forcing the adoption of robots in some industries. 

The first example is from Hungary, where worker shortages are automating production lines and generating new business. The challenge is now that the workers needed on these new lines need to be highly skilled, and there is also a shortage of them, to the point where further business and opportunities to automate are being turned away. These jobs are well paid, and the opportunities are available to those who understand these trends, then position, prepare and train for the work.

The second example is from the United States, in which robotic dairy farming units are replacing workers, again due to labour shortages. For the moment, it’s only cost-effective for units of a certain size, and although these farms have fewer total jobs available, the ones that do exist are more technical and better paid. This trend will likely continue globally, and again these jobs exist but there is a shortage of qualified people – being a low-skilled farm hand is no longer enough for dairy work.

Yes, jobs are being lost, but there are opportunities for highly-skilled and paid work for those who are trained and prepared. Traditional academic pathways may not be the solution to filling these positions, but rather skill-specific training on an as-needed basis. How well are our schools preparing students for this new, emerging reality of business and work?

Two related articles via 1843 magazine and Bloomberg both look at the artisans and craft makers leaving traditional professions and making businesses out of their passions. The first article from 1843 magazine argues that these new pathways of pickle makers, bakers and brewers may be an answer to the challenge of automation and job loss in the near future. Artisans charge a premium price for a premium product, generally live well, tend to be business savvy and carve out niches for themselves that are impossible for machines to fill.

Bloomberg goes a step further, looking at craft brewing as a possible pathway to middle-class wealth, which is an ever-decreasing probability for many.

Do our students understand that these pathways exist? Are they exploring emerging trends around the future of work, and having critical discussions about learning and identifying the skills they need? If not, why not?

Our next article this week comes from Brookings Brief, looking at the likely political and economic fallout from large scale automation and job disruption. The article references several pieces of research that indicate that increasing automation and computerisation of work is likely, with up to 50% of US jobs automated within 20 years, and 30% likely to be disrupted by the year 2030.

The pain will be felt by lower-skilled workers, as these are the roles most likely to be automated, and if workforce disruption is as significant as predicted, social and political turmoil is a very real possibility for decades to come. More low-skilled workers will compete for fewer positions, wages will continue to stagnate or fall, and the inequality gap will grow, raising the risk of serious social disruption. Even if work disruption is not as large as feared, social challenges will still be significant, and there will likely be implications for how governments respond, with some fearing a trend towards authoritarianism.

Let’s get in front of this by having a discussion about the coming disruption of work as a matter of urgency. We need to figure out what learning in our schools needs to look like to meet this challenge, and then understand what needs to be done to make it happen. Let’s also talk about the new positions and work tasks that will emerge as human work is augmented by machines – workers can be up-skilled and retrained. Whose responsibility is this?

Continuing in this theme, our next article from The Guardian newspaper shares growing alarm about the coming reality of automation in the British job market, and why political systems and society are almost completely unprepared for what’s about to happen. Whole regions of Britain are at risk of sweeping job losses due to automation, because clusters of at-risk industries such as retail, manufacturing, mining and agriculture lie within certain geographical areas.

The article argues that radical plans are necessary, but automation of jobs unfortunately does not appear to be on the current government’s policy agenda. If preparations were to be made, learning in schools would be at the forefront, with an attempt made to “maximise the numbers (of people) skilled enough to work at higher tiers”. In an education system that teaches children to code in a manner that is 19th century in its delivery, a radical transformation will be needed, at huge political and economic cost.

Education globally needs to be disrupted. Learning must develop a set of competencies and knowledge that will prepare students for life-long learning and enable them to adapt to what’s coming and prosper from new opportunities. The danger is that the more things stay the same in our schools and education systems, the gap between what students are learning and what they actually need to learn grows ever larger. Traditional school-based learning may lose its relevance to an even greater degree.

Here we have an interesting research summary piece about the risks of job automation in OECD countries. Of particular note is that training participation rates in jobs at higher risk of automation is significantly lower than those in other jobs. This is similar to research we have seen of coal miners in America turning down retraining and awaiting the reopening of their mines, despite new opportunities being available. Education gets a mention towards the end, with reference to how learning systems will need to adapt to the changes being brought about by automation and technology adoption. Details are light, but there are references to cognitive and social intelligence, and learning skills needed to function effectively in a digital context.

What is the reason for the reluctance to retrain? Is it because the jobs at the highest risk of automation are low-skilled? Is it because these workers are not accustomed to a mindset of continuous learning?

More from The World Economic Forum next, with further analysis of a report previously posted from Boston Consulting Group. It’s yet another repeat of a consistent message, quoted here:

“The global labour market will experience rapid change over the next decade. The reason: more jobs becoming automated as technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics take over the workplace.

Workers will have to adapt quickly, rushing to acquire a broad new set of skills that will help them survive a fast-changing job market, such as problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity, as well as developing a habit of lifelong learning.”

The report identifies transition opportunities for workers as jobs are lost, and thankfully jobs most at risk of automation also have the most transition opportunities, provided that workers have the skills.

Problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and a habit of life-long learning – are our schools and education systems in their present form structured to deliver this? Today’s 10 year olds will be 22 in the year 2030 – has the way these 10 year olds are learning fundamentally changed in the last 50 years? If not, what change needs to be made?

Our final article today comes from Bangladesh, with news that 80% of garment workers could lose their jobs to automation within the next 15 years. Bangladesh is a global centre of garment production, and to say that the loss of most of a major national workforce might cause some social and economic challenges is an understatement. It’s a story that’s familiar to us – with retraining and new jobs available for some, questions are being asked about what opportunities less skilled workers will have.

The garment market is expanding globally, and to compete Bangladesh must increase productivity through automation. Details on how to manage this transition are sketchy but one commentator states that “Higher productivity begins with the training of workers. The factory owners will have to think the workers are important for them,” he said. “The real problem in Bangladesh is that workers are not properly valued in the garment sector.”

There may be an opportunity to generate wealth and prosperity, up-skill workers and value their contributions, and that will come through learning about and for the future.

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at info@indigoschools.net or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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