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At the Top of the Skills Ladder

October 4, 2017

schoolgirl is ready for future.Skills

I found some interesting information from the US Census Bureau. It seems that, according to their 2015 data, about 88% of adults have at least a high school diploma. For the purposes of this report, the adult population comprises those 25 years old and older.

“We have already eliminated all jobs several times in human history,” said Kurzweil, pointing out that “for every job we eliminate, we’re going to create more jobs at the top of the skill ladder.”

And it appears that about 32.5% have a bachelor’s or higher degree. I noted that 12% reported holding an advanced degree. Now look again at what Kurzweil said, “. . . create more jobs at the top of the skill ladder.” If things don’t change, it seems that about 1/3 of the adult population will be able to help shape the future. A small percentage may be able to work with intelligent machines without advanced degrees. But the major employment will be at the top of the skills ladder.

Education

So it seems to me that education of our future workers is critical to getting us through the transition period we’re already in. Education will have to change though. Since we don’t know the details of future skill requirements, it is not possible to provide detailed instruction. And even if we had some idea of what is required from today’s vantage point, that view is surely going to change tomorrow!

The best guess I can make is to develop a solid, general education in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects along with critical thinking, entrepreneurship and some basic business foundation courses.

Off the Mark

I like Kurzweil. He is an amazing futurist. I’ve read many of his books. I read his newsletter. And he missed the mark on this one. I doubt we are going to raise the skill level of our population to a point where everyone is a STEM maven. There are many reasons for this, not simply mental ability. And as automation increasingly takes over knowledge-worker functions (paralegals, technical writers, etc.) and repetitive jobs (flipping burgers, taking orders, assembly line, etc.), there will increasingly be only “top of the ladder jobs.”

Trends in Education

There are some signs that people are trying to move to more relevant education: trades such as carpentry, plumbing and electrician schools are sprouting up.

  • One disturbing trend is that the wealthy private institutions continue to get richer.
  • Public universities are looking more and more like the large private universities.
  • Smaller universities are struggling with deficit budgets

One question might be “How will Artificial Intelligence (AI) help or hurt the education sector?” Other questions might be, “Will employers look for specific training rather than a degree?”  “Will students migrate to online education rather than the traditional institutional education?” One of the things I enjoy in my present life is delving into specific subjects not tied to a curriculum. I don’t need another degree. I do, however, need to continue learning about new things.

Conclusion

The skills ladder, as Kurzweil puts it, is missing some rungs in the middle. There will be manual skills at the bottom (trades) and then a huge gap to the next set of rungs comprising professional skills. The middle rungs used to be skills that built the middle class in our country — manufacturing skills.

I also see a trend against manual labor. According to research, our young people do not like or aspire to manual labor. They see, apparently, construction as being too hard for too little reward. I think we’re in for some rough transition work!

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