PK Agarwal: «The new workforce: Aligning jobs and skills in the age of tech disruption»

«There is a rising tide of concern in the U.S. This concern has always been front and center in Silicon Valley. It centers around the shortage of skilled IT workers and the threats modern technology poses to today’s blue-collar workers and those without a STEM degree.

»Policies abound about this issue. The White House wants every child in the United States to learn computer science. President Obama’s TechHire initiative, launched in early 2015, is centered on $4 billion in funding for state-level programs. Another $100 million is allocated for districts to train teachers and purchase tools so elementary, middle and high schools can provide computer science opportunities to all students.

»San Jose’s own talented mayor is chasing down a sizeable chunk of this money for residents and schools within the capital of Silicon Valley to not only make sure we stay on the path of technological innovation, but also ensure that it is inclusive of women and minorities.

»The most recent World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs report practically shouted the need for these long-overdue initiatives with its sobering predictions that robotics and AI will affect all of us over the next five years.

»Currently, 5 million people in the U.S. operate vehicles for a living. What will happen to these jobs when autonomous vehicles become part of our daily reality in the next 5-10 years? Also consider the sharply reduced need for related jobs in auto sales and repair, parking lots and insurance. Driverless cars will (hopefully) usher in many positive changes (fewer accidents, improved traffic flow and energy efficiencies), but the gaps between the skills required for professional driving and the skills required by the autonomous car industry will upend employment and lifestyles for decades to come.

Currently, 5 million people in the U.S. operate vehicles for a living. What will happen to these jobs when autonomous vehicles become part of our daily reality in the next 5-10 years? Also consider the sharply reduced need for related jobs in auto sales and repair, parking lots and insurance.

»The challenges we face are more complex and nuanced. Regional differences and periodic spikes in demand create near-term scarcity in specific roles and markets that have a ripple effect throughout the national economy. A frequently referenced projection claims that 65 percent of children entering school today will work in job types that don’t currently exist.

»Failure to transform American education may undo the very building blocks of our nation’s innovation toehold, especially in Silicon Valley. While measures such as H-1B visas have offered some temporary relief, and greatly enhance the diversity of our communities, our housing shortage is also exacerbated. We cannot solve one problem without contributing to another without a substantial and concentrated investment in STEM education.

»While the focus on computer science education in elementary, middle and high schools is timely and important, these students won’t enter the workforce for another 5-15 years. We must address the interim period, and come to grips with the more urgent challenges at hand: specific skills shortages in crucial areas like cybersecurity and data science and the retraining of workers who will be displaced by automation.

»The situation is especially urgent in the Bay Area, where there are 13,700 computer science job openings, but only 416 master’s degrees in computer science granted this year. For biotechnology, there were 8,200 job openings and only 22 master’s degrees granted. The repercussions of such shortfalls result in slower time to market for innovative products and services, and compromised ability to compete on a global scale.

»Today, two-thirds of service sector employment consists of low-wage jobs in sectors like retail and food service, positions that will also be impacted by automation technologies. The other third consists of higher-paid knowledge workers in technology, education, healthcare, law and finance. Soon, purely manual or technical jobs will be automated or disappear, lower-wage service jobs will require more interaction with technology and advanced manufacturing jobs will require a higher level of analytical capability. Everyone needs to shift up.

»We must align industry needs and educational opportunities, both in the near term for displaced workers as well as for current and future generations of students. The pipeline of skilled workers has to be strategically developed in tandem with job creation. Looking out to the 30-year horizon, a number of studies indicate that all net positive job growth will be created by companies that are currently less than five years old. We must align ourselves with the needs of these companies to rapidly re-educate through flexible and accessible programs that include real-world experience, so that graduates are highly prepared and ready to hit the ground running.

»We need fresh approaches — more vocational training, bootcamps and online degree programs developed with a clear understanding of disruptive forces and tailored to specific skill sets (e.g. data analytics, robotics, machine learning, IoT). Secondly, to prepare ourselves for knowledge-sector jobs that require an advanced degree, we need to take a look at expanding our educational offerings to include prospective STEM students who do not currently have a STEM background.

»To face our challenges, we must promote a culture that values soft skills, lifelong learning and adaptability, global awareness and ongoing collaboration among industry, academia and the public sector. As an integral part of all this, we need to promote and nurture those “doers” who carry the entrepreneurial torch, and pave the way for the next great STEM innovation.»

An innovator

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