Automation Increases Need for Higher Education

There’s good news and bad news about the impact of automation on our world. On one hand it will increase productivity and bring economic growth. On the other hand it will cause some jobs to decline or be eliminated. In the midst of uncertainty, one thing is certain: business leaders, policy makers and individuals must all prepare to meet new demands.

The impact of automation is all about change. The McKinsey Global Institute report Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation is really about jobs change. The report says that automation could perform about 30 percent of the work in 60 percent of jobs today, but the automation will also create new jobs that don’t exist today, just as past technology has changed the nature of jobs.

By 2030, the report predicts, 75 million to 375 million workers, 3 to 14 percent of the global workforce, will need to change occupation catagories. Even if workers don’t have to change they still will feel the impact. “Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines. Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment, or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills relatively hard to automate.”

Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained predicts that the demand for workers could increase as businesses become more productive, workers’ incomes and consumption increase, and economies expand. Demands for future workers will come in occupations such as healthcare for aging populations world-wide, raising energy efficiency, increasing production for increased consumer demand world-wide, and expanding existing and developing new infrastructure. All these opportunities demand businesses, policy makers and individuals plan for continual education. “Midcareer job training will be essential, as will enhancing labor market dynamism and enabling worker redeployment.”

The Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force Report The Work Ahead: Machine Skills and US Leadership in the 21st Century says that the most important challenge facing the US is to create better pathways for all Americans to be able to adapt to the new job market challenges. Continual education will give workers the skills to adapt and be successful in a more automated job market. This will have a broad impact. “Embracing technological innovation and speeding adoption are critical for U.S. national security and economic competitiveness.”

One of the best ways to create pathways for Americans to access continual education is for businesses to offer comprehensive tuition assistance plans. TAP will enable workers to gain education that will help them succeed in their occupation. This worker success will create businesses that are economically competitive in a global market. Businesses that encourage strategic use of tuition assistance will develop a workforce that is able to apply technology to its fullest. Workers that use their tuition benefits to learn skills that make them “robot-proof” will be able to adapt to a job market that utilizes technology. The World Bank states, “Evidence is also clear that behavioral skills – such as teamwork, diligence, creativity, entrepreneurship – are essential to thrive in today’s rapidly evolving, technologically-driven globalized economies.”

The skills that workers need to be successful in a changing job market are skills that automation can’t provide. In turn, these skills develop workers that can use technology to its fullest to benefit their companies. The World Bank names these skills as:
• Problem-solving skills, capacity to think critically and analyze;
• Learning skills, ability to acquire new knowledge;
• Communication skills, including reading and writing;
• Personal skills for self-management, making sound judgments, and managing risks; and
• Social skills to collaborate with, motivate others in a team, manage client relations, exercise leadership, resolve conflicts, and develop social networks.

Increasing automation is inevitable in the workplace. Using tuition assistance to prepare workers and businesses for a world that includes employees using technology efficiently will develop a highly productive and competitive business. The McKinsey report shows how this will happen. “Machines can take on work that is routine, dangerous, or dirty, and may allow us all to use our intrinsically human talents more fully. But to capture these benefits, societies will need to prepare for complex workforce transitions ahead. For policy makers, business leaders, and individual workers the world over, the task at hand is to prepare for a more automated future by emphasizing new skills, scaling up training, especially for midcareer workers, and ensuring robust economic growth.”