With 38% of U.S. Jobs at Risk Due to Automation, We Need a Plan of Action

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Jobs at Risk Due to Automation

An in-depth report detailed in the Los Angeles Times warns that U.S. employers could automate nearly four out of 10 American jobs before 2035. Workers in the United States face a higher risk of unemployment than those in other countries such as Japan, Britain and Germany. Another prediction was slightly more conservative but still forecasted up to 36 million layoffs. There is a significant shift occurring in many industries and our education systems must pivot to empower the next generation of leaders and workers to be ready. To prepare our youth for the future, we don’t need to completely reform education but we do need to make changes to historical patterns of educating youth and young adults.  I’ve been talking a lot lately on iHeart Media and SiriusXM about the balance of liberal arts and vocational education (listen here), and preparing for my keynote next week for the 100th anniversary of the California Agricultural Teachers Association has pushed my thinking even deeper.

Specific Industries Impacted

Both reports noted above point to several vulnerable sectors. Students might lose their jobs to robots if they plan careers in hospitality, finance, manufacturing, data entry or insurance. Self-driving vehicles could put truck and taxi drivers out of work as well. On the other hand, automaton probably won't replace composers, athletes, artists, supervisors, dental hygienists or nurses, at least not yet... Fortune magazine highlighted education itself as the sector "least susceptible to automation," but I believe that to ensure that, teachers must pivot from being deliverers of knowledge to becoming facilitators of lifelong learning.

What Students Need

Most robots perform routine work in controlled environments. This has also been historically the type of work for which our technical trade courses (vocational, career technical education/CTE, etc.) prepared students.  We must make changes now to help young people learn to accomplish tasks that machines simply do not and may never understand. Students need to develop more sophisticated technical skills as well as the ability to think critically at a high level. A liberal arts education offers valuable benefits in the critical thinking realm but doesn't provide the specialized technical expertise that many careers demand. The jobs of the future will require a different but critical balance of liberal arts with technical instruction.

Learning to Pivot

In the not-so-distant past, things like driverless cars only appeared in science-fiction films. No one could predict if or when they would really exist, but they are emerging right now. Why does this matter? We don't know how far robotics and artificial intelligence will advance in the coming decades, but it will continue at a fast pace. Consequently, students must be prepared to adapt as technology swiftly develops.

Pew Research Center and Elon’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a survey in 2016.  A key finding was that among the future worker capabilities with the highest value was the “ability to adapt, or ‘pivot,”’(Pewinternet.org). Students must now be equipped with the mindset and skills to learn new skills regularly. Creating a culture of lifelong learning must be the primary goal of every education system.

The Need for Entrepreneurial Mindset

Young people can prepare for automation by becoming innovators. Robots still lack creativity and discerning judgement, so they have little ability to invent anything new. An entrepreneurial mindset promotes innovation, even if you work for a well-established employer. It demands creativity and benefits from a desire to help people. We must change priorities and goals before we can truly encourage all students to think like entrepreneurs.

What to Prioritize

Young people become closed-minded and overly fearful of failure when teachers focus on memorization and penalize students who make errors while testing unconventional ideas. Instead, we ought to reward students for thinking about new possibilities and taking risks. In order to develop vision, one must be willing to take risks and learn from failure--as I have heard educators say, FAIL is just the First Attempt In Learning. Students benefit when they feel comfortable talking about ideas or alternative ways to accomplish a task. One must keep an open mind as often there is more than one “right” decision or "right” answer in achieving something.

The Need for Cultural Competence

We can also prepare young people for the future by helping them better understand themselves and others. They should know how to efficiently communicate and cooperate with those whom are culturally different, and this requires presentation and social skills. Globalization and immigration have bolstered the importance of this. Teachers can promote cultural competence by educating students to first become aware and understand their own implicit biases (handwriting is a great exercise for this because it forces one to slow down their thinking enough to become aware of one’s thoughts) as well as about foreign traditions, beliefs and habits. For instance, one could explain why Chinese people don't like to receive clocks or watches as gifts.

No Substitute for Human Relationships

Cultural competence and standard social skills help individuals develop positive, friendly relationships. This ability holds the key to career success for many people. It's hard to replace a caring, likable person with a robot. Bartenders, insurance agents, financial advisors, doctors and salespeople have something in common. Although employers can automate some aspects, the public doesn't just want a product. Customers also desire to do business with a kind, genuine person who willingly befriends them and earns their trust.

The education system in the U.S. needs to pivot to prepare students to pivot throughout their lives.  Automation is coming and jobs will change. The job opportunities of the future will require new skills that demand a mix of what we now often separate into liberal arts versus technical skills.  Specialized technical learning currently prepares young people to find their first jobs. Liberal arts with an emphasis on critical thinking, along with an entrepreneurial mindset, cultural competence and developed social skills will enable the young people of tomorrow to adapt as the economy undergoes rapid change and be highly employable in the future job market.

What shifts can you make today to better prepare students for tomorrow?  Please email me and let me know.

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Ravi Unites Schools Update

We are planning our first three-way interaction when schools are back in session in August, and it will span three continents, three cultures, and three languages!  

Stay tuned for more information in next month’s newsletter.

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"Songwriting Safari" in Chile

Join Ravi in Chile for a “Songwriting Safari” – February 21-March 1, 2020.

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In this ten-day songwriting workshop, participants will stimulate the creation of music working with each other, the teacher, and well known guest artists which results in a creative and unique body work. Each participant should expect to participate in the creating of three original songs over the duration of the workshop. In addition, there will be discussion on using music as a form of cultural diplomacy, artist-entrepreneurship, and more.

By participating in this unique opportunity, you will be creating timeless songs, building global friendships and memorable artistic collaborations, and using your talents to bring humanity closer to world peace.  Tell your friends and students about this unique opportunity!

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