Technology in the Workplace Requires Education

The idea of AI, automation and technology in the workplace generates uncertainty and fear among workers who worry that it could eliminate their jobs. The truth is that most jobs will change rather than disappear. Technology can completely automate less than 5 percent of jobs. However, in 60 percent of jobs, it will automate about 30 percent of the activities. Most jobs won’t disappear; they will change. This requires that workers and employers adapt to changes. The McKinsey Global Institute report The Future of Work in America says, “All workers will need to adapt as machines take over routine and some physical tasks and as demand grows for work involving socioemotional, creative, technological, and higher cognitive skills.”

For workers adapting will require education. For employers this means it is important that they participate in “creating a workforce that is resilient, able to navigate the changing workplace, and adapt. We need to create a workforce attuned to life-long learning,” says Art Bilger, Founder and CEO of WorkingNation.  “To be clear, there is a gap in what employers need from their workers, both now and in the future, and the skills Americans actually have. It is not just unskilled laborers facing the threat of unemployment; technology is changing highly-skilled positions in white collar industries as well.”

One of the ways that employers can help employees prepare for changes created by technology in the workplace is to identify career paths. This will help employees pursue relevant education. An example that the McKinsey report gives involves bookkeepers, accountants and auditing clerks. These workers have many job responsibilities that can be automated. However, a career map will show that these workers also have skills that compare to insurance underwriters, loan officers or credit analysts. With additional education to acquire skills they may need, people with complementary skills can adapt to changes created by technology in the workplace. This allows employers to fill positions that improve productivity and profitability.

Employers play a vital role in ensuring workers at all levels of employment can adapt to changes brought about by technology in the workplace. Workers who can fill positions when they attain graduate education are important for businesses, but so are workers who need to complete post-secondary education. Workers with the lowest levels of education attainment are most apt to be displaced by technology. The Future of Work in America states thatindividuals with a high school degree or less are four times more likely to be in a highly automatable role than individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher—and as much as 14 times more vulnerable than someone with a graduate degree.

Offering education benefits to employees at all levels of their workforce is highly beneficial for employers. Education benefits that include tuition assistance and student loan repayment assistance will help employers create a skilled workforce as well as create a robust economy that helps businesses thrive. Workers in some minority groups often have lower levels of education attainment and work in jobs that technology in the workplace could eliminate. For example Hispanic workers are highly represented in food service jobs that technology can automate and they have a high “potential displacement rate” of 25.5 percent. That represents 7.4 million people. For Black Americans the potential displacement rate is 23.1 percent, representing 4.6 million people. Only 24 percent of Blacks 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree; this is 10 percentage points lower than the white population of the same age.

Providing education benefits for all workers can help those with lower levels of attainment prepare to move into positions where they will work alongside technology in the workplace. It won’t replace them.  They will have the opportunity to advance in the workplace, experience improved prosperity and generate a stronger economy. Education technology developer Ulrik Juul Christensen says, “Reskilling as many workers as possible and at all levels creates and supports greater equality of opportunity. When more people with higher skill levels have improved prospects for lifelong employment, fear is minimized. Then the hope and promise of the AI-enabled workplace can be realized — tangibly and realistically — in areas where jobs are not disappearing but being created.”