It’s Not a Battle with the Bots: Bettering Our Existing & Emerging Workforce to Thrive in the Future of Work
Today, more people are using mobile phones than toothbrushes globally. It’s no secret that technology is transforming the way we work and live. From warehouses to retail to healthcare, we’re seeing shifting requirements for our roles in the workplace that, for many, can feel like a threat. And yet, our relationship with robotics doesn’t need to be confined to the negative narrative that is often relayed. By reacting to the challenge in a positive way and by proactively educating the next generation, we can transform our markets, our work, and our lives.
While the age-old skepticism of automation stealing jobs is one we don’t expect to dissipate, this matter is a two-sided coin. Robotics and AI are replacing many low-wage, repetitive tasks and roles, but these technologies are also creating demand for new careers. Incredible opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are taking the place of traditionally dull, dirty, and often dangerous jobs. These are the roles that are responsible for programming, developing, and collaborating with robotics, automation, and AI.
In the midst of the fourth industrial revolution that continues to digitize our daily lives, work remains relatively similar to the past. And yet, as has been true in every prior industrial revolution, we’ve adapted and ultimately benefited due to the introduction of automation. It’s a pattern that is sure to continue to ring true. Today’s collision of declining costs and increasing capabilities of technology is the very reason for all of those cell phones sitting in our pockets—and the reason for the apprehensive anticipation of how technology and robotics will shape the future of work.
We have reached a point of convergence that requires both a reactive and proactive approach to adopting and adapting to advanced automation.
A REACTIVE APPROACH TO THE ROBOT REVOLUTION
This societal shift is forcing the drivers of the global economy to react quickly to transform how and where technology can be utilized. Massive corporations and scrappy startups alike are recognizing the importance of retraining, rather than replacing, their workforce in preparation for a world revolving around robotics. This mindset is a critical one.
Amazon announced last month that it will be enacting a new retraining program to support its existing internal skill sets. Employee retention remains an important cost saver and culture creator for the company, which has pledged $700M to the program over the next six years to retrain one-third of its US workforce in robotics, technology, and automation knowledge. Actions like Amazon’s will set the foundation for a new path geared toward both preparing and embracing the age of automation.
Other companies are taking an alternative approach to education. WorkingNation is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading awareness and education about workplace solutions, and through storytelling, connecting companies, workers and communities seeking their own workplace solutions. The organization’s FutureProof Quiz gives workers of all kinds the ability to see how their careers are likely to be impacted by robotics and automation, as well as the opportunity to learn how to improve their existing skillsets and prepare for a changing job market.
A PROACTIVE APPROACH THROUGH STEM
While some may fear that the infusion of robotics into the workplace will take jobs away from a human workforce, the real numbers tell us that we are currently undergoing a shortage of human talent to fill the career opportunities created by robotics and AI. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, 2.4 million STEM-related roles went unfilled in 2018. The only way to change that equation is through a proactive approach to STEM education.
The Smithsonian Science Education Center is an organization focused on helping to better prepare students in the US to meet the science and technology challenges of the future. Our future generations should be equipped to combat the massive global changes to come. Looming pressures like a massive influx of elderly people, global food shortages, and shifting climates will rely on and require the intelligence and dedication of our youth. By building a stronger awareness and curriculum in schools, we can solidify a foundation for our future.
Source: STEM Education Coalition
One of the most profound advocates of STEM-focused education is Dean Kamen. Kamen has quite the resume as the inventor of the first wearable, diabetic insulin pump, as well as the Segway and the FDA-approved prosthetic LUKE Arm. But perhaps his most impactful project has been the FIRST organization, which he founded in 1989.
FIRST—which stands for ‘For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’—was created to encourage young people to participate in fields of technology through mentorship, competitions, and other educational programming. The ultimate goal is to foster confidence, leadership, and knowledge across the board.
Beyond being an outstanding educational outlet, the winners of FIRST competitions are awarded a portion of an $80M scholarship fund. With more than 570,000 students participating in the FIRST organization this year alone, it’s clear that Kamen and FIRST are working wonders in promoting the fields of science and technology to our future generations.
CONTINUED EFFORTS IN ROBOTICS EDUCATION
Combining these proactive and reactive approaches to education and training in robotics and related science fields is the key to providing job-assurance and market growth globally. By focusing on increasing the skills and ability to adapt to a robotics and AI-assisted workplace, we can strengthen today’s existing and emerging workforce to thrive in the future. And by prioritizing an inclusive educational environment in the STEM fields, we can prepare the next generation for a world in which robotics and AI enables, empowers, and enriches almost every type of work we do.