The Big Reveal

There are teachers who get it. They see the robots coming. They see the ones already here. Teachers see the same statistic you do: By 2025, one-third of today’s jobs will be replaced by machines, according to research by Gartner.

Lowe’s, the home fix-it store, is using LoweBot in San Francisco area locations to guide customers to the aisle to find the right fuse. Bots are on the way for the plumbing aisle, too.

Furthermore, many teachers understand they’re instructing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet in the Age of the Bot.

Understandably, there is angst about the shallow talent pool for tech-based businesses, which includes just about every profession these days. Just how does the pool get filled?

First, start with this “teachable” truth as a foundation. It is something business and education should be acutely aware of. It comes from Jonathan Cohen, an assistant professor in Georgia State University’s College of Education & Human Development’s Learning Technologies Division. “The trend is that routine tasks will continue to be automated,” he says. “Keep your eye on anything non-routine. The jobs growing are the non-routine ones.”

Second, business and education have to collaborate to meet the need for non-routine jobs. The fast pace of technology in the workplace is making it difficult for education to keep up, but business can help.

“Transforming schools from places that are more focused on ‘content knowledge’ to places that understand that content knowledge is there to support the student’s skill development is a difficult shift,” Jonathan says, “but there is growing national recognition that it needs to happen.”

Students have to be given more than facts to memorize. They are being taught these skills:

  • Problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Effective communication using technology
  • Information literacy
  • Media literacy
  • Technological literacy

Adaption is the key

From where he sits, Jonathan Cohen sees it every day. Students need technological literacy so that when something new comes out, they can adapt to it and get up to speed.

“Critical thinking and problem solving are what employers are thinking about, which is tricky to do in this assessment-environment we are in,” he says. “Schools are starting to realize that we need to spend a lot of time thinking about skill development, that the point of schooling is not just a pile of content knowledge that you need to know before you graduate.”

FSG is a mission-driven consulting firm for leaders in search of large-scale, lasting social change. Jeff Cohen, a managing director in the Seattle office who specializes in education, believes there should be more emphasis on the connective tissue between education and technologists in the business world to fill the talent pool.

“There is very little in the way of connective tissue between the end of the education pipeline and the labor market,” he says. “There is not a lot that helps you navigate that transition. One of the challenges is this disconnect.”

“Critical thinking and problem solving are what employers are thinking about, which is tricky to do in this assessment-environment we are in.”
– Jonathan Cohen, Georgia State University

The Helmsley Charitable Trust helps fund the Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator for high school students. The program’s goal was to expand the number of students with STEM degrees, particularly among the underserved population of the state.

“They were funding public, post-secondary institutions in getting access to real-time labor data and using it both at the student advising level and also at the level of developing course offerings and majors,” Jeff says. “Academic administrators could look at the data and see the demand, for instance, in petroleum product processing. These are the skills you need – it pays $70,000 a year. Administrators could talk to local employers and build a pipeline, which is the connective tissue.”

The Ladder Approach

Another way to meet demand of technology-driven businesses is “stackable credentials.” Jeff Cohen says the model exists in the United States, where all the work is done up front, all the way through the Ph.D., and then you go get a job.

“There are a lot of problems with that,” he says. “One is that it requires a huge upfront investment before you start to see any economic benefit. Another is that it requires you take a big guess about what profession you want to be in. You credential yourself for that, and then if it doesn’t work out, you have to re-purpose that education.”

Jeff says the ladder approach has worked in nursing and it can work in other career fields, too. It would involve some restructuring of the education system and the employment system. The major players in the technology boom – the privileged companies that can attract candidates with the best pay, and the Ivy League schools with career resources galore for their students – feel less pressure to change the technology/education divide. They will not be the leaders in turning the ship.

“There is very little in the way of connective tissue between the end of the education pipeline and the labor market. There is not a lot that helps you navigate that transition.” – Jeff Cohen, FSG

“The places that are going to be more responsive and scramble are the places under pressure to bring in people and bring in money,” he says. “And where you see the most response is at the community college level and the regional four-year schools not sitting on endowments. They have to make a case to a student why education is relevant.”

Bellevue College started an IT program to feed the tech boom in the Seattle area. Both Bellevue and Seattle are thriving. Another example is Walla Walla Community College in eastern Washington, which is training students to go into the burgeoning wine industry, which increasingly relies on technology.

It’s another win-win.

The rush for talent to fill a void is not going to come with a sweeping national agenda for education. It is going to be the drip, drip, drip of local, local, local. Places like Bellevue and Walla Walla are at the front of the line with schools like Duke and Princeton.

“A lot of times, people are looking for a national solution or big-scale solution, and my take is things happen in local context,” Jeff Cohen says. “There is not a silver bullet that everybody everywhere can do to update the software in the whole education system.”

Jonathan Cohen does not look at the labor market with angst and declare that there is a “war for talent.” Rather, he looks at possibilities. He says there are underserved students yet to be fully included in the discussion of building a technology savvy workforce. “There is a lot of talent not being developed for a lot of social reasons. We need to try and increase participation in STEM to those typically under-represented in the field.”

Companies are paying for talent that will help fulfill the company’s “purpose” and “values.” But the skills are not always technical. Remember, one of the traits in the non-routine job is “the ability to collaborate.” A very smart worker cannot produce on an island.

Companies are paying for talent that will help fulfill the company’s “purpose” and “values.” But the skills are not always technical.

“There is a lot of talent out there, but the question becomes connecting the companies to the talent,” Jonathan says. “The companies need to understand that the talent might be a little raw and need some molding into whatever the job is. People are not staying in the same job 50 years any longer. They are moving around.”