Automation, education, and the future of work: A reading list

Most conversations about the “future of work” focus on how new technologies and ways of working — such as artificial intelligence and the gig economy — will dramatically reshape modern industries. But very few answer what the earth’s 7.4 billion humans should be doing now to prepare for an unpredictable future.

As it turns out, the future of work conversation is inherently a future of education conversation.

If the hallmark of 20th century learning was access to a college education, the 21st century will emphasize frameworks that support lifelong learning. Education is no longer a linear process with the endpoint of a single diploma, but a continuous and fluid process that should help us adapt to changing technological, economic, and social conditions.

If AI and automation are the new offshoring, we need to prepare students of today for the jobs of tomorrow while also helping today’s workforce reskill and upskill to meet changing requirements. Both are Herculean tasks that require closing the gap between education and industry, as well as developing a stronger framework for credentialing in a highly fractured education landscape.

Over the past three years, our ongoing work on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education has included hands-on approaches to developing critical thinking, attaining next-generation skills, exploring career pathways, and upskilling  American adults — all of which suggest that the the future of education is really about the future of work. If you share our curiosity, these resources will help you understand the complexity of the problem at hand.

  1. How to prepare the next generation for jobs in the AI economy (Harvard Business Review) — Experts from Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science look at skills we’ll need to effectively work alongside AI and the changes education must make to bring our future workforce up to speed.
  2. The Math Gap: Implications for investing in America’s workforce (Power in Numbers report produced by Luminary Labs under contract with the U.S. Department of Education) — Most jobs already require math skills, and math-related careers are expected to grow at four times the average rate over the next decade. Meanwhile, more than a third of adults have low math skills. This report outlines the demand for skills and resources, and the opportunities for using new tools to close the skills gap.
  3. To close the skills gap, start with the learning gap (Brookings) — In addition to cognitive competencies (literacy, mathematics, science), humans will need to hone uniquely human capabilities — critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, collaboration — to succeed.
  4. For a long, successful career, LinkedIn says nothing beats a liberal arts major (Quartz) — A report from the World Economic Forum and LinkedIn examined how degrees pursued by recent college graduates differ from those of previous generations, and found that specialized, career-specific degrees are increasing in popularity. And that’s probably not a good thing.
  5. 5 things to know about jobs and skills in 2017 (World Economic Forum on Medium) — A global study of human capital finds that countries who use talent most effectively “have set up virtuous cycles around education, work and growth.” WEF’s report calls for a “human-centric vision of the future of work” and says companies should think of reskilling and upskilling as both an investment and a social responsibility.
  6. What skills will you need to be employable in 2030? (MIT Technology Review) — A report from British innovation foundation Nesta and University of Oxford examined the jobs that are least likely to be automated and identified the skills they have in common.
  7. These are the biggest skills that new graduates lack (Fast Company) — A 2016 report found that 87% of recent graduates felt prepared for the workforce, but only half of hiring managers agreed. And the deficient skills might come as a surprise.
  8. Why do smart people do foolish things (Scientific American) — In our quest to be smart, have we completely forgotten what it means to be successful? Intelligence and critical thinking are two different things, and researchers found that only one is associated with wellness and longevity.
  9. Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy (McKinsey) — While many marvel over the gig economy, McKinsey points out that not everyone participates in it by choice. Across the United States and Europe, 49 million people take on independent work because they can’t find a traditional job or they can’t make ends meet with their primary income.

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