Technology will displace millions of workers worldwide - here's what we can do about it

It’s not news that the global economy is changing and with it the jobs market. Nor is it news that technology is likely to displace millions of workers in the years ahead.

Indeed in a recent study, Bain and Company says 20-25% of the workforce will be displaced over the the next 10-20 years. The firm’s Macro Trends Group predicts that “as the deployment of automation technology accelerates, as many as 40 million jobs could be lost in the US over the next one to two decades. That’s potentially twice as broad as previous large US labor transformations.”

Source: Bain and Company

What’s true of the US is likely true of other developed markets like Australia.

That’s likely going to be an issue for parents, children, students, teachers, businesses, and of course the policy makers in government. How best to prepare for this changing jobs market and the displacement of workers is going to be an issue which could drive politics here and across the developed world.

But Bain partners Chris Bierly and Abigail Smith say that:

“while many jobs are going away, others — many of them good jobs that provide an opportunity for well-paid and fulfilling careers — are still plentiful. Our education system has struggled to adapt to this new world and, so far, is failing the test. There is a mismatch between the skills and experiences required to succeed in these good jobs and the capabilities we are developing in our students.”

They say it is time for education to move “beyond the traditional educational construct of study-then-work to a study-and-work career-connected learning (CCL) approach that combines classroom instruction with relevant, real-world experience”.

They say that “college” (university) will still be the default choice for many but that, “a single-minded pursuit of college, absent related career experiences and a clear view of how that education will be put to use, is failing too many of our students.”

Of course this is in a US context. And like the United States, university here in Australia seems to have increasingly become the default choice for many students after they finish high school.

Bierly and Smith highlight their research shows “many employers are asking for a college degree as a screening mechanism even if the jobs themselves don’t really require the skills and knowledge developed in a specific undergraduate degree.”

That has to change, the authors say.

“We need new pathways that combine classroom learning with meaningful, on-the-job work experiences that lead to door-opening post-secondary degrees and credentials” they say highlighting that “well-designed CCL programs across the country [United States] are generating great outcomes for students and employers alike”.

Sounds very much like the TAFE system – that was such a part of opening up educational pathways in the past – will become important again in the future.

That’s a clear message for government and employers as they grapple with the payback from running and being part of such courses in a world where employees are more transient than they were in the past.

That, Bierly and Smith say, means the educational system needs to be “both market driven and student centered” which they note is “a tough balance to strike”. And they highlight that “moving programs from merely notable to broadly relevant requires meeting the needs of both employers and students at scale”.

Easier said than done, but Bierly and Smith have an answer.

Source: Bain and Company

“An essential starting point for career-connected learning is the understanding that it is a connected series of experiences that come in three phases, beginning with awareness, building to preparation and culminating with career launch,” they say.

And what this approach does is replace the “A track/B track approach with programs that create multiple paths to success by offering open ended options that allow young people to build toward a career as they see fit.”

It sounds very much like the briefing I once attended from Engineers Australia in Newcastle on the various pathways students can take and the educational attainment requirements to work in the engineering industry.

Bierly and Smith are in effect challenging the very notion of the pathway to and through employment.

They highlight:

“We generally think of education and employment as sequential steps with education ending before work begins. But given the dynamism of the economy and the job market, that approach isn’t working for too many students. Additionally, this rigid framing causes us to miss out on the opportunity to connect classroom learning with hands-on work experience, which makes learning more relevant, meaningful and accessible for many. Going forward, our students will need affordable, practical ways to learn and work in continual self-reinforcing cycles throughout a career, developing new skills as required to meet the demands of an ever-shifting economic landscape”.

In the end that’s good for business, employees, government, the economy, and society.

The full report can be found here. It contains a deeper dive into the concept of CCL but also how policy makers and business can work together to get the outcomes that will drive the new economy forward.

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