The real reason this elephant chart is terrifying
Kaila Colbin

Great article on an incredibly important topic.

In my job, I help educators and government officials understand the impact that technology will have on our workforce and society, and the changes we need to make within education, to prepare for it.

Over the past 18 months I’ve spoken to more than 7,000 educators of all levels, and government officials as high ranking as ministers of education.

Of those 7,000 people, literally five had a strong understanding of the impending changes, prior to us talking.

These are the people who are largely responsible for shaping our future, and they don’t know where the goal posts are. We’re at the brink of the greatest workforce and societal transition in the history of mankind, and nobody even knows it’s coming.

For the sake of clarity, I don’t blame educators for their lack of knowledge. Their time is over-taxed just trying to maintain the status quo in the face of budget cuts and increasing class sizes.

I believe that a great parallel can be drawn to the computer industry.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s the computer industry existed as a silo industry - making one-off programs for other industries such as banking, medicine, and accounting.

The industries that brought in computer programs experienced great benefit and increased productivity… so as a society we would have said, “it looks like we’ll need more programmers in the future”…

and while that comment has proven to be true, it doesn’t speak to the larger picture - that computers would become a layer across all industries.

Today, anyone without computer literacy is significantly disadvantaged when it comes to applying for 90% of “good paying” jobs around the world.

The same will be true of robotics and technology, where high school graduates that don’t have a high level of tech literacy will be increasingly dis-advantaged over the coming years.

This is already true in a number of industries that you wouldn’t expect. For example, in 2015 I was giving a presentation on this topic at a robotics conference. Following my presentation, I was surprised to met 20+ people from the fashion industry.

When I asked them why they were at a pure robotics conference, every one of them told me, “if you want to get a job in the fashion industry today, two of the most important skills are 3D Printing and Robotics”.

There likely isn’t a high school in the world that teaching those skills to our aspiring fashion designers.

Simply put, all high school graduates need strong tech skills and robotics literacy - starting today.

There’s also a second layer to this that will lead to additional hollowing out of the middle class.

In my presentations, I like to ask the audiences, “how many of you worked your way through university”. I typically get about 60% to 70% of people putting their hands up.

Then I ask the question, “what kind of jobs did you work?”

The answers are invariably, “retail”, “waitress” “coffee shop”, “chef”. The very type of jobs that will be largely eliminated by technology and robotics in the coming decade.

Then I say, “so what happens if there are significantly less of those jobs, and you can’t get them because the ones that do remain are being clung to desperately by people who lack other employable skills”?

The realization is that many people wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to university.

This is an important aspect that doesn’t seem to get talked about. Even if technology doesn’t specifically eliminate “your” job, the changes that are coming will transform virtually every aspect of society over the next two decades.

When looking at how we prepare our society for these changes, it all starts in our schools, and it’s important to understand that we don’t simply need more programmers or roboticists… we need humanitarians and politicians and environmentalists and people from all facets of society to have robotics and tech literacy.

The future has the potential to be incredible, but it also has the potential to be filled with much pain and social unrest. Where we end up will largely be based on how rapidly we adopt change within our education systems.

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