robotics

Careers Advice for an unpredictable AI future

All Careers practitioners know that a portion of their professional skills toolbox should be dedicated to gaining an understanding of the future labour market and the winds of change that are likely to shape that market.

For years, Careers Advisers and the wider education system have been accused of practicing their roles with a lack of regard of the skill demands of the business world that young people will enter into. In recent years, curriculum’s have been rewritten, qualification routes come and gone and entire new types of schools founded all with the aim of aligning education to be closer to the labour market.

Careers practitioners know the barometer for the requirements of this word of work that is forever in the future is known as Labour Market Intelligence (LMI). Through the data of job growth and decline in regions, in industry areas and at qualification entry points, the future demand for certain skills, qualifications or numbers of workers can be predicted.

This data isn’t always easily obtainable or decipherable for the (young) members of the public who it would benefit so it falls to Careers practitioners to be the translator and broadcasters of these resources. Sites such as Nomis, services such as LMI for All and local resources such as LEPs offer the data and practitioners determine when to use it, how to use it and what messages to amplify. We rely on the clearness of the message. If the data says that manufacturing jobs are not likely to grow in the north of England, then we paint a clear picture of the challenge facing a young person wanting to work in that area. If our local LEP is clear on the growth prospects of the nearby airport, then we work hard to get to those employers in contact with our young people to shape their employment prospects view.

Facing the Careers profession today though is a very muddled picture of what is surely the most fundamental disruption of the labour market in the next five to ten years; the growth of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation across a wide swathe of workplaces.

For some, T2 is just a skull crushing step away

On the one hand, the prophecies of doom make for more arresting headlines and grab the attention.

These predictions build likely or probable scenarios onto small-scale tests of technology

Consider: Last October, an Uber trucking subsidiary named Otto delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser 120 miles from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs—without a driver at the wheel. Within a few years, this technology will go from prototype to full production, and that means millions of truck drivers will be out of a job.

to extrapolate out disaster scenarios.

That isn’t to say that they don’t consult expert opinion but the futurists they do consult are unwavering in their belief in the progress of AI.

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And these experts, such as Max Tegmark, MIT Professor, or Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots, are explicit in their advice that, not only should society and the State start preparing for the consequences of AI (through policies such as Universal Basic Income) but that children should be receiving advice on this future work space now.

For others, AI will complement people skills

Other studies are reaching similar conclusions that automation and AI will fill the labour market in roles requiring logic, process or repetition but that it will be the very human skills of community building and socialisation that will still lead to in-demand employment.

Research by David Deming, a professor of education and economics at the Graduate School of Education and a professor of education and public policy at the Kennedy School, shows that workers who combine social and technical skills fare best in the modern economy

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And that, educators and advisers, should be nurturing the skills of change management, teamwork and project work in their students to prepare them to succeed in this labour market.

Other skills such as literacy or numeracy (which the current UK education system places heavy emphasis on) are also ones which will computers will (and already do) outperform humans.

Almost a third of workers use these cognitive skills daily in their jobs and yet their competency levels have already been matched by computers. About 44 per cent are still better than the machines. The remaining 25 per cent have jobs that do not use these skills every day.

This is not to say that low skilled jobs will completely vanish but that even those workers will need to build their human skills to be able to work alongside technology

Research by Richard Blundell, an economics professor at University College London, suggests the low-skilled tend to fare better in big companies that invest heavily in research and development. They have higher wages than other low-skilled workers and tend to stay with their employers for longer.

This collaborative ideal is still a fundamental change in the labour market due to the numbers of low skilled roles that will be affected. The question remains on the scope of this new market to soak up the displaced and provide employment at the levels we see today.

And that Governments should act upon the things they can control. If the capital and resources gained by technological progress is more fairly redistributed by the State, then the offsetting factors of commercial expansion and growth would provide new employment opportunities elsewhere in the labour market. The pool of employment opportunities would change shape but not drastically shrink.

In this scenario, Careers Advice becomes a sign poster of the future jobs such as Drone Traffic Controller or Augmented Reality Designer.

And for some, AI won’t make much of a difference at all

Here, the faith is placed in the churn of technological progress and investment in new areas of business to bring new jobs to replace those lost to automation. Economies with high levels of automation such as Germany and Japan have strong job growth. The percentage of people in full-time work in the USA and the UK is growing steadily. In short, there just isn’t any evidence that AI is effecting the jobs market.

How can the CEIAG profession react

In a recent post, Professor Tristram Hooley covered much of the same ground in this post and suggested that, due to this uncertainty between competing visions of the future labour market, advice could be offered across three frameworks:

  1. Adaptive Guidance – Preparation for change
  2. Expanded Career Guidance – broaden concepts of meaningful work
  3. Emancipatory Guidance – encourage realisation of and challenge of the system

and that a possible curriculum

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would plan opportunities for clients to grow these capabilities.

Which is all work Advisers would be happy to cover and would provide clients with enriching learning experiences but what strikes me is the fact that the profession is tasked with preparing for this wide range of eventualities. The lack of clarity from both Governments and Business voices on the shape of the future labour market is unhelpful. The Business lobby is not shy on coming forward with the skill demands they place on education and CEIAG to meet more definitive labour market needs. Whether looking at the strategic needs of nation economies or drilling down to an oversupply of graduates from a particular vocational area, Business leaders are clear on what they require from education. For such a large disruption potential to employment, the lack of clarity on what we should actually be expecting is noticeable. The type of preparation work outlined by Professor Hooley would be much better served alongside as clear guidance from business leaders on what will likely be the reality of the impact of AI and automation on the labour market.

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