The workplace of the future will be marked by unprecedentedly advanced technologies, as well as a focus on incorporating artificially intelligent algorithms of automation to drive higher levels of production with fewer resources. Employers and education stakeholders, noting the reality of this trend, question whether students will be workforce ready in the years to come.

SwissCognitiveThis has become a significant concern for higher education executives, finding that their business models could be disrupted as they fail to meet workforce demands. A 2018 Gallup and Northeastern University survey shows that of 3,297 U.S. citizens interviewed, only 22% of those with a bachelor’s degree said their education left them “well” or “very well prepared” to use AI in their jobs.

Still, there are those who say automation is not as drastic as many are predicting. Researchers Melanie Arntzi, Terry Gregoryi and Ulrich Zierahn found in their study of 21 member countries of the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that only about 9% of jobs on average are automatable .

Two AI perspectives at odds with each other

When it comes to the future of the workforce there are largely two stances on what will happen. Some predict that vast swaths of jobs will become obsolete as automation replaces the need for human labor; others, however, claim automation will manifest slowly and the number of jobs that will be affected will be much smaller than over-hyped predictions.

Nevertheless, a t a Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board panel briefing about the Higher Education Act, Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University, said higher education needs to be turned on its head.

“We’re now in an information age powered by the Internet, and we are going to need to make that change a lot quicker than we did before,” Pulsipher said. “The credit hour that emerged in that past is not the only measure of learning anymore that’s going to be needed for the workforce.”

However, another panelist, Chris Gabrielli, the board chair of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and a former employee of an artificial intelligence company, said the effects of automation are over hyped.

“I know the autonomous acts that recently happened make it seem that way, but these are single events, said Gabrielli. It’s going to change rather more slowly, which is not to say we don’t need to make skills and credentials and opportunities available throughout life, of course we do. But, just at the time when so many people are knocking at that door I do think it can be empty rhetoric at time.”

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Gabrielli said is that ultimately the skills debate — whether there’s a focus on only hard technical ones or soft communication skills — is a bit of a wash. For instance, a 2016 survey from ACT, which interviewed 371 workforce supervisors and 2,252 college instructors and administrators, found that employers do not think career readiness is linked to academic achievement. The characteristics most valued by employees, according to their responses, are qualities like “sustaining effort,” “acting honestly” and “keeping an open mind,” along with communication and critical-thinking skills.

Meanwhile, college instructors are focusing on being able to use complicated technological tools; this is evident with the emphasis on STEM. But, articles from groups like McKinsey still focus on the argument that students need technical skills and should go to bootcamps that focus on “technology-based solutions, such as online applications,” or they will find themselves “at risk of being disconnected from the workforce because of background or education.” […]