A week rarely goes by without a new dystopian prediction about technologically driven mass unemployment. As artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic technologies advance faster than even their own developers expected, studies are finding that many of the tasks and occupations that employ people can already be automated.
Estimates of the share of automatable employment vary widely, from 14% of all jobs in OECD countries to nearly 50% of all jobs in the US. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 9-32% of the workforce in developed economies could be displaced within the next decade.
Economists predict that technological change will eventually create as many jobs as it destroys. But there will be significant hurdles along the way. As things stand, too many US workers lack the skills needed for the good jobs of the future. Though around one-third of US adults have a four-year college degree – the highest proportion on record – an equal share has no more than a high-school diploma. For workers at all educational levels, acquiring additional skills to stay abreast of technologically driven occupational changes will require less “seat-time” in traditional classrooms, and more dynamic forms of workforce training.
A good example of such training is offered by Skillful, a nonprofit venture supported by the Markle Foundation, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and the state of Colorado. Skillful is running a pilot project in Colorado to help workers without a college degree upgrade and market their skills. The idea is to focus both on job seekers and employers, and on skills rather than degrees.
For Skillful CEO Beth Cobert, the goal is to get employers to start appreciating “hard” skills, such as carpentry or web design, and “soft” skills in communication or leadership, even if such skills weren’t acquired in a formal setting, and to recognize workers’ potential for future development. Workers can acquire many of these skills through new forms of training such as targeted certification programs, technology “boot camps,” apprenticeships, and on-the-job classes.