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Now Hiring Qualified Robots: Shifting how we learn to survive in today’s workforce

Despite the necessity of an able-bodied workforce, many people are fearful that their job will be the next in the not-so-distant future that’s snatched up by a robot or program …

Despite the necessity of an able-bodied workforce, many people are fearful that their job will be the next in the not-so-distant future that’s snatched up by a robot or program whose sole purpose is to take on a single task with unmatchable precision. From a big-picture perspective, it’s safe to say we won’t be hoodwinked by artificial intelligence (AI) with the realness of HBO’s “Westworld” anytime soon. However, our tendency to ponder our permanence in the workplace may simply be the failure to recognize the origin of technical innovation: the human mind. 

The human brain is key to mankind’s place; only we are responsible for the functionality and creation behind automation. Still not convinced? Fear not, as research from Gartner Analytics predicts that AI will create a net 500,000 jobs by 2020 and 2 million by 2025. Researchers at the McKinsey Global Institute corroborated the data with their own study, concluding that as many as 73 million jobs may be at risk of being automated by 2030, but new ones will be created in their wake.

If the workforce desires to continue innovating, retaining jobs and ensuring the operational food chain, we ultimately must understand the necessity to retrain and relearn – no matter how hard it is to let go of skills potentially on the decline.

The existence of automated systems can only exist through humans, and evolution is symbiotic to our dedication to being lifelong learners. Educators today are proactively adjusting how they are preparing the youth to not just learn about what’s here now, but to be prepared to take on the educational obstacles required to stay up to speed in their future career.

Lansing Community College (LCC) is one institution that’s consistently looking at the ways workforce needs are changing. It’s aim is to help anticipate the changes that must be made in the classroom to ensure that curriculum is up-to-date and provides students will the tools needed. 

“In all of our technical education programs we have what we call an advisory committee, that’s comprised of industry partners from local businesses and industries in the area we serve,” said Mark Cosgrove, dean of technical careers at LCC. “Through these partnerships, we provide a workforce for those individuals through the programs we offer here at LCC, and by doing that we’re helping to serve the community.”

Cosgrove agrees that a mentality of becoming a lifelong learner is a must for future workers. However, it’s the responsibility of educators and students alike to meet existing needs first, while preparing for what’s around the corner. 

“We invite industry partners around the area to connect with programs that fit their industry and we ask them not only what is happening in their industry and what is going to happen, but what are your industries’ need and how we should be preparing our students to meet them,” explained Cosgrove. “They help keep us up to speed and inform our curriculum. We can’t turn on a dime because of budgets and things, but we recognize the need for our students and employees to be properly trained within those industries.”

Skill shifts have become the norm for many within industries altered by automation. As a result, many large-scale organizations have begun implementing educational programs, training seminars and more. The industries that have witnessed the need for consistent recalibration include manufacturing, retail and other skilled labor sectors. It’s safe to assume that other industries will soon join them. 

According to a 2017 study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, overall, service industries, primarily retail and storefront-based sales positions, accounted for three-fourths of job losses among more than 350 sectors of the private economy. Last year’s top job-losing sectors included wired telecommunications sales (-27.2K jobs), department stores (-26.8K jobs) and sporting goods stores (-15.5K jobs). 

The fall of retail positions is compelling, but some might argue that it’s because of an increase in online sales and convenience; related advances in artificial intelligence are primarily focused on the efficiency of specific tasks over entire jobs.

No job is immune to technological advancements, but you should rest easy knowing that opportunities on the horizon are far more expansive than one might imagine. Today, younger generations won’t be able to paint a black-and-white expectation of their careers in comparison to paths taken by their elders. The future of many industries and career paths may lay in the hands of one’s ability to be nimble and ready to learn.

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