Colleges May Not Be Training Young People for the Automated Future

Many areas of society continue to snooze through the building automation revolution in employment that is beginning to take shape, with a major gaggle of sleepers populating the halls of governance in Washington DC.

Colleges are supposed to be preparing young people for what the future needs in terms of employment skills, but higher ed doesn’t seem to grasp that a more basic change in strategy and teaching philosophy is needed beyond just adding some coding classes.

At least that’s the reasonable opinion in a recent Washington Post report, which seems right given the monumental nature of the changes suggested by the automated future.

Are colleges preparing students for an automated future?, By Jeffrey J. Selingo, Washington Post, November 19, 2017

President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about the decline of the working class blames trade, immigration and the outsourcing of American jobs overseas for the decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector.

But the bigger culprit is rarely acknowledged by politicians or the media: automation. Nearly nine in 10 jobs that have disappeared since 2000 were lost to automation, according to a study by Ball State University. As former President Barack Obama said in his farewell speech in Chicago earlier this year, the next wave of economic dislocations “will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

And that includes many jobs that today require a college diploma. While robots driving trucks or operating machines on a factory floor make for attention-grabbing headlines, nearly half of American jobs are at risk of being taken over by computers within the next two decades, an often-cited report from Oxford University predicted in 2014. On that list were occupations long seen as stable careers, such as accounting, insurance underwriters and personal financial advisers. . .

For centuries, the answer to advancing technology was education. The belief was that additional schooling and more educational credentials would keep workers one step ahead of automation in almost any job. In the race between education and technology, education has always won.

But it’s not clear that simply adding education, particularly early in one’s life, will be enough to keep up in this new era.

“If a job can be automated in the future, it will be,” Joseph Aoun, the president of Northeastern University, said. “Very few are talking about the implications for higher education. We owe it to our students to be thinking about how to prepare them for the coming sea change to the future of work.”

Aoun is the author of an engaging new book, Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, about how colleges need to not only reform their curriculum but also their entire approach to education. Only a few universities, he maintained, have started to plan for what’s next in the economy. In the book, Aoun suggests three approaches that higher education needs to adopt to prepare students for the automated future.