Can education make your career be robot-proof?

A 2015 McKinsey Report found that using technologies that existed at the time, over 45 percent of U.S. jobs were at risk of being automated, equating to $2 trillion in wages that would be lost. This raises the question of what skills humans need to acquire that cannot be replicated by machines within the current or foreseeable future advancements in technology. Is our education system equipping us with skills robots can’t replicate?

For years our education systems has focused on teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. The space race added a focus on science to the mix. In 2016 a survey was sent to employers to identify skills they sought in college graduates. The most valued talents included leadership skills (80 percent of respondents cited) and ability to work in teams (79 percent). Both are traditionally what neuroscientists say are skills controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain, responsible for intuition and creativity. The left hemisphere of the brain is associated with logic and analytical thought. These logic skills are valued, but are also most readily replicated by machines.

The highest valued talent mix is a hybrid set of skills. Hybrids don’t focus on one skill, but a set of diverse skills. Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analytical company, recently produced a report that compared levels of “hybrid” jobs. The combinations included engineering and sales, or data science and advertising. These jobs used skill sets including both right and left hemispheres. Burning Glass predicts overall job growth will be 10 percent between 2018 and 2018, but predict hybrid jobs will grow by 21 percent.

Other researchers have indicated education of the future should include the area of humantics, which contains three new literacies: technological, data, and human.

Technological literacy focuses on knowledge of mathematics, coding, and basic engineering principles. These skills allow us to understand machines and how they work. Many compare the importance of coding now to the importance mathematics took on during the space race.

It is estimated by 2020 there will be over 50 billion smart objects that will be able to be controlled remotely ranging from thermostats to watches recording your biometrics — with every one constantly collecting data, making data literacy vital to understanding the information we are collecting.

Human literacy is vital to be successful in the emerging world of global collaboration. Understanding different cultures, successfully communicating with them, brainstorming and making collective decisions with them will all be needed. These new literacies also form the basis for successful life-long learning, the foundation of our future personal and career success.

Overall, our current education systems focus on needs for the more recent industrial revolution. It focuss on convergent thinking, finding a single correct answer to each problem. Evidence can be found in multiple-choice tests, seeking a single correct answer.

Our future education system needs to focus on divergent thinking. We need to teach students to generate multiple options to solving a problem, engaging creativity and taking risks to offer new solutions others have not thought of.

Arguably, artificial intelligence is currently limited to operations of our brains left hemisphere. To become robot-proof we need to teach our students to develop communication between both hemispheres of our brain using divergent thinking, adapting the new humantic literacies which helps us develop these hybrid sets of skills. Our education system needs to adapt and prepare our youth to the coming fourth Industrial Revolution for them to be productive and prosperous in their lives and careers.

Steve Patchin is director of Career Services at Michigan Technological University.

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