How Workforces can Prepare for Software Stealing our Jobs

It’s time to face facts: Employees throughout the world are are struggling to compete in a fast-moving and dynamic global job market, thanks to an unprecedented number of technological advancements and highly linked information networks.

The pace of transformational technological change has been greater in the past few decades than we have seen in all of human history. We are now living in a period of exponential growth. These technologies are beneficial in the long term, but they often come with a short-term displacement of jobs, which creates workforce anxiety and temporary unemployment.

For example, think of the most ubiquitous type of employment in the world: drivers of motorized vehicles. Just this week, Uber started deploying self-driving UberX cars on the streets of San Francisco, after three months of testing them in Pittsburgh.

While it’s a small-scale deployment for now (and Uber still needs to have a human driver at the wheel as a backup), this will lead to a huge decline in driver jobs. Imagine the possible displacement of these jobs once we are able to deploy driverless cars at scale. We simply won’t need many human drivers, so what will happen to all these workers?

Combine that with advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), and some experts think that between one-third and one-half of the world’s jobs are vulnerable to being replaced by automation. Today, it’s Uber drivers who have to start thinking about their next source of income. Tomorrow, it could be almost half of us.

The upshot is that we do not have an unemployment problem, we have a jobs mismatch challenge. Such mismatches have happened many times in history, especially in times of rapid unexpected rapid changes to the economy.

So what can we do about this, and how?

We can take advantage of the same technologies that are displacing our workers and point them more aggressively towards education that specifically helps retrain our workforce. This can be done on an ongoing basis throughout one’s career, and we can do this today at scale and at an affordable price.

In short, the technologies like big data, AI, cloud technologies and consumer mobile apps are all available, but the focus and level of urgency placed on education is simply not there. Education should be a mandatory company benefit, for example, just like health benefits are today. Companies must now rethink how they treat employees, and employees also need to rethink how they think about their own careers.

Both must invest heavily in constant, life-long practical training. We need to create a working class that’s fundamentally anchored to a self-empowered entrepreneurial attitude, not a specific skill or trade. In other words, we need to create agile and malleable life-long learners, not “set-in-their ways” craftsmen and women.

Failing to Train the Workforce

The stark reality is that the vast majority of employees don’t feel that their companies are doing enough to give them the skills they need to grow and advance. A mere 11 percent of U.S. employees feel that their company provides them with the skills needed to move up.

This is a huge missed opportunity because the opportunity to learn new skills and to grow is one of the most important aspects of a job. That’s especially true for millennials, who view their jobs as stepping stones to advance their careers. As a result, one LinkedIn study found, millennials hop between jobs twice as fast as the previous generation.

For workers further along in their careers, the lack of opportunities to learn new skills can lead to workplace lock-in, where people get stuck in the same job or role year after year, rather than learning new skills that can help them (and their companies) grow in new ways. This “lock-in” is very dangerous in a world where technology is rapidly making many jobs obsolete. For a mid-career worker with a young family and big bills, the prospect of their job being made obsolete by a computer is very scary. lt’s no surprise that feeling “locked in” with a job leads to unhappiness and anxiety.

Neglecting employee education costs companies, too. A workforce that turns over too rapidly can become a drain on resources and morale. Replacing an employee costs about 20% of that employee’s annual salary, so the greater a company’s turnover, the more money it’s burning on replacing staff. The startup community, in particular, feels this strain acutely: With so much pressure to create rapid growth, tech startups often don’t prioritize employee growth and training. As a result, they often let high-quality talent go out the door who search –for good reason– for better options that diversify their skills.

The Alternative: Continuous Education

There is an alternative. Companies can embrace education as part of their commitment to employees, adding education benefits and integrating them into employment contracts via online courses and other educational technologies (edtech).

In fact, according to our survey, 74 percent of employees believe they learned the majority of their day-to-day skills in the workplace. Eighty percent of millennials say they would be more likely to stay in a job that provided them opportunities to learn. Employers can reduce boredom by tailoring educational opportunities (“learning paths”) for each employee.

Individualized learning paths at work might sound like the kind of special-snowflake privileges that only really big, rich Silicon Valley companies provide, like sushi bars and meditation rooms. That cannot be farther from the truth. Edtech makes this approach accessible to a much wider variety of organizations in many different ways. If Edtech is global and affordable, why shouldn’t employees in all parts of the US benefit from education and retraining?

Online classrooms can also be more interactive and engaging: Students become teachers, helping to teach other students, in an environment designed around two-way interaction and immediate feedback. This peer-to-peer scenario also makes perfect sense in the workplace, where the person across the office from you may be the exact expert you need to learn from What’s more, with online education employees don’t have to travel to time-wasting offsite training sessions. They can learn on their own time, through online courseware or hybrid online-offline “flipped classroom” models.

Finally, big datasets derived from massive education marketplaces like Udemy, Coursera and Lynda are bringing about a generational shift in how education is delivered. The more data we can collect about how people learn, the more effectively we will be in teaching them. Companies and employees alike can benefit from the rapid, data-driven advances in educational techniques that Edtech companies are pioneering.

In short, Edtech is changing the way learning happens, making it more compatible with what today’s employees and their companies need. More importantly, Edtech can deliver education at a pace that can actually keep up with the fast pace of our economy and workplace needs.

But don’t wait for your employer to train you. In order to prepare yourself for the future and avoid being eaten by software, you absolutely need to start thinking about education as an integral part of your life, even after college. Lifelong learning is the only path forward to a brighter and more profitable future.



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