Op-Ed: We are teaching kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet – A 2019 Update

“We are teaching kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

Most teachers have heard that phrase, or some variation of it, during a professional development somewhere along in their career journey.

It became popular around 2007 along with a video by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod called “Shift Happens” which successfully started many conversations about what schools need to do to get their students ready for a world that we a) cannot see b) cannot imagine and c) are not prepared for.

You can see the latest version of the video here:

That phrase about “jobs that don’t exist” has been used to ask educators about what is important in education, and has been a stimuli for a multitude of sessions, where educators look at what is really needed in education.

For instance a question that comes up again and again is whether or not students need to know “factoids,” those little pieces of information that they probably will never in their lives need to know expect to impress someone at a dinner party, but can be easily looked up on the internet.

Does a student need to spend time learning that the General that led the Union Soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg was Major General George Gordon Meade? Probably not. Yet some classes spend inordinate amounts of time learning those kind of minutia.

Now, the conversation has shifted even beyond that, with some questioning if students need to learn how to do such intricacies as differential equation problem solving, when there are faster and much more accurate technology means to do the same thing.

Perhaps, some like Wolfram Alpha founder Stephen Wolfram have speculated, that students should learn more about what type of problem to be used in what situation, and let the computers do the “heavy lifting” of computation.

Any decent education system should focus on the future, that place where students will spend the rest of their lives living in. However I think that the statement about preparing students for jobs that do not exist needs to have a corollary question to go along with it: “Are we preparing students for jobs that will not exist in the future?”

One doesn’t need to take a trip into a time machine to see that many jobs we currently have are going the way of the Dodo bird. Speaking at a recent workshop, EdSurge founder Betsy Cocoran said that “Any job that can be systematized can be automated.”

What does that mean exactly, to “systemitize” a job? Essentially, any job that currently requires steps, from A to B to C to final product can be systematized. Think of making a car. That is a very systematic process.

Part 1 is added to Part 2, to Part 3 and so on until a car is born. An assembly line of almost any kind is ripe for automation. But often , we think of “systematized” jobs as those in big industries like manufacturing.

Now, with artificial intelligence, jobs that we once thought could not be systematized are indeed on the verge of being sytemitized. Everything from CPAs to lawyers, mortgage brokers, even entire fields in medicine like X-ray technician and sonogram reader are on their way to the dustbin of history.

Machines have already shown that they can read and identify cancers in mammograms better than humans , can diagnose disease better than humans , and can even tell strikes and balls better than human umpires. It is not hard to see that jobs that require drivers, from trucking to airlines are going to be automated in the near future.

Newspapers today are using “robotic journalists” to write stories without any human help. You probably have read a robotic news article and had no idea it was written by a machine. And it was possible because every single one of these examples can be systematized. Truck driving, cooking, hamburger flipping, plane flying, bank tillering CPA-ing, lawyering, are all on the AI chopping block.

Are we training students for jobs that are not going to exist in the future?

If it can be systematized, then yes, we are. Education needs to be looking at training students for jobs that require a new way of looking at the job market. What kind of jobs SHOULD we be training students to have in the future? According to Career Addict, there are three types of careers that are pretty safe for now from the rise of systemized automation:

  • Creative Jobs: Artists, scientists, writers, poets, musicians, actors, Those job require inspiration, something AI just won’t have in the foreseeable future.
  • Relationship Based Jobs: Even though AI has its foot in the procedural doorway of medicine, there still will be a need for doctors and other types of professions that rely on building relationships with people.
  • Unpredictable Jobs: Those jobs that require someone to be in an unpredictable situation such as an emergency service worker, a plumber (or any trade that requires immediate help from an unpredictable situation).

Are we preparing our students for jobs that won’t be affected by AI, perhaps even teaching them to be in AI as programmers and not receivers of the programs, or are we preparing them for careers that won’t exist 15 or 20 years from now?

Good educators should be preparing students for the future. Great educators should be preparing students for how to navigate it.


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.