When it comes to tech news, no matter the topic, there’s a rabbit hole for you to wander down. And so an article about Alexa can easily lead to an article about a toothbrush that gives you pointers on your brushing technique. Nowhere is this more true than the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the workplace. Whatever the industry, the possibilities dazzle. And yet the same tech that gets us googly-eyed is also slowly replacing us as employees. With all this talk about the jobs of the future, what if there aren’t any left by the time we get there?

Tomorrow Never Knows

In 2016, The Pew Research Center conducted a nonscientific canvassing of over 1,400 “technologists, scholars, practitioners, strategic thinkers, and educational leaders” to determine the prevailing ideas behind whether or not the skill sets of the human workforce would be able to keep pace with innovation in AI, automation, and robotics in the coming decades. The respondents were asked a single question:

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?

70 percent said yes, 30 percent said no. But, regardless of the hopefulness or despondency of each participant, researchers were able to delineate five common themes that emerged from a majority of the responses. The first three themes represent optimistic scenarios; the final two envision a much bleaker future.

Theme 1: “The training ecosystem will evolve, with a mix of innovation in all education formats”

The million-dollar word here is diversification. For education and training, this doesn’t simply consist of eradicating traditional forms like the four-year college and on-the-job work training, but rather the question is how to synthesize these old concepts with revolutionary technologies. As innovations speed up, an incredible agility will be required of universities to prepare students for the ever-increasing fluidity of their respective disciplines, while workplaces must create an environment that inspires and facilitates continual learning.

What does this look like?

  • More learning systems online
  • A mix of self-direction and required courses in both the university and professional settings
  • Unique combinations of online and real-world classrooms
  • Supplemented learning via augmented reality, virtual reality, and AI

Theme 2: “Learners must cultivate 21st-century skills, capabilities, and attributes”

Like a basketball coach might say, “You can’t teach the intangibles.” As machines continue to replace computational and analytical tasks, “functions requiring emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, and creative judgment and discernment will expand and be increasingly valued in our culture,” says Susan Price, digital architect at Continuum Analytics. An anonymous respondent believes that such intangibles will be useful in creating the most efficient architectures for humans and AI to work in tandem.

Theme 3: “New credentialing systems will arise as self-directed learning expands”

As things are already, a bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee a job right out of school anymore. According to the Pew Research Center’s report, this trend looks to deepen. Many of the respondents believe that, though four-year schools provide unrivaled life experiences that help shape the aforementioned soft skills, more specific credentialing systems like badging will prevail as top indicators of competency.

But, in some industries, even pre-workplace experience means very little. That’s where comprehensive, interactive e-portfolios come in handy to help demonstrate skills that can only be developed in the real world.

Theme 4: “Training and learning systems will not meet 21st-century needs by 2026”

Thus begins the pessimistic scenarios. The 30 percent of respondents fear the worst, not because they don’t believe in an individual human’s ability to adapt and learn new systems, but because they don’t see a viable way to teach these skills en masse while keeping up with innovation’s pace. They also see our human institutions–education, business, and government–as having already failed to show much ability to evolve with recent technology. Political will is the oft-forgotten variable in any innovation equation, and gridlock has become the name of the game in Washington.

Theme 5: “Jobs? What jobs? Technological forces will fundamentally change work and the economic landscape”

Innovation may be fast-paced in the 21st-century, but the population rate grows even faster. And that means job automation could leave even more people out of work. Glenn Ricart, CTO of US Ignite, outlines Theme 5 very succinctly:

“Up to the present time, automation largely has been replacing physical drudgery and repetitive motion – things that can and should improve the quality of people’s work lives. But in the next decade or two, there is likely to be a significant amount of technological innovation in machine intelligence and personal assistants that takes a real swipe out of the jobs we want humans to have in education, healthcare, transportation, agriculture and public safety. What are the ‘new jobs’ we want these people to have? If we haven’t been able to invent them in response to international trade pacts, why are we sure we will be able to create them in the future?”


The Future Began Yesterday

As an innovation and entrepreneurial center, tekMountain strives to work with companies in the southeastern US to help integrate existing and emerging technologies into any type of business model. With our three core focuses being medical, human resources, and educational technology, we navigate daily through the constant change of how our world cares for its people, its employees, its students.


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumAmanda SipesBill DiNome and Beth Roddy with lead writer Zach Cioffi.

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