Students vs. machines: Who will emerge as the most employable?

Students vs. machines: Who will emerge as the most employable?

Advances in automation are inevitable. While that’s good news for businesses looking to streamline, it has students a little shaken. Many are rightfully concerned that technological breakthroughs will change the workplace landscape before they’re even able to secure a degree.

A 2013 study out of Oxford backs up this fear, claiming that nearly half of all current jobs are “susceptible to computerization.”

Completing one’s studies while also attempting to future-proof a career is a tall order. But these tangible teachings and soft skills can help steer students in the right direction.

Get familiar with smart machines

Claiming that “Robots are coming for our jobs!” might be a bit premature – if not a little dramatic. Still, getting to know the machines and devices that will likely augment our work is a strategic move for students.

As Julia Kirby, a contributing editor at the Harvard Business Review and the co-author of “Only Humans Need to Apply: Winners and Loser in the Age of Smart Machines,” recently told The Atlantic, “Virtually every kind of work will be affected – but every kind will still be available… So the thing to focus on in college is gaining experience in working with smart machines – learning what they’re capable of and what you’re capable of.”

The thing to focus on in college is gaining experience in working with smart machines.

It’s like studying the chess moves of your competition before a match or brushing up on company culture before an interview. The more exposure the better.

Master mental adaptability and flexibility

The World Economic Forum (WEF) officially deemed cognitive flexibility (CF) as the most sought-after skill in the post-2020 workplace. Teaching students CF now will help them solidify this invaluable professional skill.

It makes sense that after one of the single-most disruptive years on record since World War II, the global workforce would come to exalt extreme adaptability. Whether transitioning an entire school to remote learning, finding new ways to collaborate online or responding to unforeseen disruption, CF skills are key.

Or as Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor of information technology at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the co-author of “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies,” puts it, “The first industrial revolution was all about replacing muscles with machinery. The second machine age is about augmenting our minds.”

Focus on creative skills too

Even as smart machines get smarter, there are plenty of roles and tasks that will still require a human touch. Sharpening students’ creativity and people skills is a great place to focus as they prepare to enter the 21st-century labour market.

Specifically, that means bolstering the online learning day with opportunities to exercise empathy, have off-screen interactions, and get in touch with their creative side.

A curriculum that centers STEAM-based principles encourages students to problem-solve their way out of the unknown and sets them up to become the creators of technology – another great way to future-proof their careers.

STEAM learning benefits also prime youth to:

Think creatively
Express their ideas
Have the confidence to innovate
Take initiative
Collaborate and communicate better
See how different principles work together with technology

One e-learning platform put it this way: when students participate in STEAM programs, they “become increasingly curious about the world around them and feel empowered to change it for the better.”

Ultimately, it’s impossible to know exactly how technology will alter the workforce in the coming years. Still, the better students prepare now, the more employable they’ll remain when those changes do unfold.