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Who Cares if 67% of our Jobs Didn’t Exist When We Were in Primary School?

At a recent robotic focused event in the City of London attendees were asked the same question the World Economic Forum reported on in 2016: yes or no, did your job exist when you were in primary school?

By Ellie Burns

Amongst a base of change management professionals, robotic process automation experts and digital service centre of excellence delivery managers, the 67% ‘no’ response was hardly a surprise – surely every few decades jobs will evolve so much that roughly 2/3 of us will not be on a career path set in stone starting in infant school.

In today’s ‘age of automation,’ this type of headline is often interpreted in a leading/bleeding way, firmly associated with notions of robots replacing humans in every profession except those very few where substituting human empathy with artificial intelligence just won’t do. Whether it’s Mark Carney or the BBC prophesising the end of the human workforce, we seem to have accepted these headlines at dismal face value rather than looking to a future where automation may give rise to a new generation of careers.

If we can, even reluctantly, accept that the glass may just be half full, there’s plenty of room for optimism as well as scope for the creation of a plethora of new jobs that could rather delightfully emerge over the next 15 years. So instead of lamenting the fact that our current occupations may not have been predictably planned during early stage education, perhaps we should celebrate the fact that we somehow emerged adequately prepared for the jobs we have today. It might help us rest easy to think that the workforce of the future is fully capable of successfully taking the same path if we give them the right guidance.

Smarter, Faster, Stronger – The Rise of the Super Robots.

The fact that government is backing education initiatives that will support today’s school aged children in their future professional endeavours is a real step forward.

2017 was the year that some smart and liberated educators took the first steps to change school curriculum to consider the way they educate children for a future with AI – the creation of new courses and qualifications dedicated to ‘new’ skills such as leadership collaboration and other human centric skills was proof of this.

This can be seen amongst others Sevenoaks School’s Middle School Diploma and Gloucester High School for Girls ‘The DEAL’.  It’s refreshing to hear that 2018 is set to be the year that the government begins to back educational initiatives with cyber skills training, and it would be encouraging to see more government funding surrounding training for the jobs students will need to pursue as roles become increasingly automated.

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In the meantime, we must focus our education on the things that will allow students to compete in a world where AI has moved the goalposts. The essence of jobs that will be done by kids who are currently in primary school will be their humanity. Curriculum is evolving, but it must continue down this path so that children leave school with skills that focus on collaboration, resilience and flexibility. The time has come to stop focusing on the retention of endless facts, and to teach students how to question facts as well as their interpretation.

And while subject based learning may be helpful, multi-disciplinary cross functional needs to become the norm as students prepare for the fifth industrial revolution by bringing ideas from different subjects together into themes.

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The other side to the education question is how we’ll fill the gap for the skills needed in robotics and AI. For this we’ll need to invest in areas such as software development, systems design, engineering, programming and data science so that current and future workforces are sufficiently skilled to maintain a lead in the robotics and AI world. Bearing a mind the hole in numbers in STEM subjects currently in university, we have a five year lag in students moving into this area.

There needs to be some smart thinking from the government on incentivising capable students in this direction, and it may come from not-so-radical ideas like reducing tuition fees for STEM subjects, and creating conversion routes from other subjects.

If we can manage to continue the current momentum and actively bridge the gaps to continue fuelling new automation driven careers, perhaps the headlines of 2018 and beyond will be rooted in positivity, underpinning a bright future for today’s students where robots and humans work together to deliver better services and new opportunities for growth.


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