How to prepare for an uncertain future in a world of AI
As the world of work changes, so too does what it takes for a graduate to be prepared for the workplace of the future. And educators, such as Hult, face the challenge of preparing future workers for a rapidly evolving job market.
Recent Hult research investigated young people’s hopes and fears related to AI and their future careers. Results revealed that students were both worried (96%) and enthusiastic (90%) about the changes that AI could bring to their working lives.
Change is certain
During discussions with the student participants, there were many emerging predictions about what the future of work and wider society could look like. Imaginative futures emerged where humans no longer need to work and instead spend most of their time creating new ideas, or simply relaxing. Students were also excited by the prospect of new kinds of jobs, and of AI increasing information sharing and communication.
Repeatedly, students spoke of AI and automation as having the potential to completely disrupt and transform whole sectors of employment. Others imagined a dystopian future of high crime rates, corruption, and poverty. Some students also worried about the loss of skills and of human interaction that could accompany the rise of automation and AI, with human workers increasingly substituted by machines. Though students often held conflicting views about whether these futures would be enjoyable or disastrous, the majority agreed that significant change is certain.
The students who took part in our research project had some very sound advice for younger students and for educational institutions. Some students described how universities need to adapt to remain relevant for the future of work, and how it is the responsibility of the educational institutes to prepare them. At the same time, many students also described how it was their own responsibility to prepare themselves to adapt to changes and to remain relevant. A summary of the students’ detailed advice is included below:
Advice to students
Respondents urged younger students to “keep up to date”: to read about developments in the working world and to be prepared to continually upgrade their skills and abilities
“keep up-to-date with developments in technology…..keep eyes and ears open to learn what impact emerging technologies are having on the workplace.”
-Research respondent’s advice to students
As expected, students spoke of the importance of being able to study computing science and have knowledge of big data, AI, and robotics. In particular, wanting to learn how to program and code.
The advice was clear in that the most important thing students can do in this context is be “adaptable”. Rather than exclusively honing specialist skills and developing knowledge in one niche area, it is advisable to build knowledge and skills outwards, by embracing a broader range of interests and investing in these. This was seen as hugely important in a future workplace that will be characterised by continual and rapid changes and that upgrading one’s skills is therefore essential. Note that the research also suggests that Institutions should be far more adaptable in the future too.
Furthermore, students perceived qualities and abilities such as complex decision making, critical thinking, intuition, emotional intelligence, grit, and entrepreneurship as areas that are exclusively human and are therefore less likely to be replaced by AI. Therefore, younger students should reflect on these skill levels and value opportunities to build on these.
This self-development should not only be confined to higher educational studies. Students showed a renewed appreciation that lifelong learning is more than a slogan—it is a survival strategy.
Advice to educators
The advice to educators is simple: embed courses on AI itself and on the impact that AI is likely to have on the workplace in all subjects across the curriculum. How is AI affecting the industry? How might it affect it? What can we do about it?
“I think that for all the Majors, we should have a specific talk about how AI is affecting the industry and what we can do about it.”
-Research respondent’s advice to educators
Among the students in our research who took the AI course (Robotics, Business and Society), several reported feeling less anxious and better prepared for the future after taking the course as a direct result of the knowledge they gained during the course. Many students also expressed a desire for more courses of a similar nature, arguing that students need to be better prepared and to be strategic about their need to continually improve and upgrade their skillset and mindset in order to cope with the coming changes in the workplace. With the right knowledge and the right skills, students felt that the coming changes could work for them rather than against them.
More AI in and around the classroom
As well as teaching about technology and AI, education needs to teach with it. Students wanted all kinds of AI courses—theoretical ones, but also practical ones where they could experiment with coding, 3D printing, virtual reality, and other tools in the classroom and beyond. They asked for “Maker’s Labs”, where they could try and build things using these tools and applications with the support and equipment they needed at hand.
They asked for field trips to companies that use AI and automation, for trips to relevant museum exhibitions and for guest lecturers from academia and industry alike to talk to them about ongoing changes and developments in different companies and sectors. The overall emphasis was on practical sessions with a focus on application rather than pure theory.
Increased soft skills focus
Interestingly, students also asked for more humanities courses in subjects like ethics and psychology. In an age of AI, students felt it is all the more important to understand and study humanity in order to understand how humans differ from machines and how human intelligence differs from AI. Such insights would help everyone by establishing more firmly the strengths of both types of intelligence, and how the two together can improve the workplace, the classroom and human society for the better.
Delivery is key
In terms of delivery, students spoke of a desire to experiment with AI and automation in the classroom. Blended learning and hybrid courses, delivery by hologram, personalised testing, and automated grading were all mentioned.
However, a significant number of students also mentioned the importance of retaining the traditional classroom with its focus on human interaction between students and teachers.
“I think enthusiasm is something that only teachers can show toward a certain subject. For me, personally, if my teacher isn’t enthusiastic about their subject, there’s no point in actually teaching that subject. I don’t see how AI can be enthusiastic about anything, so I think it would be very hard to learn from it.”
Human understanding in a world of AI is crucial
Once more, there was a strong sense that in an age of rapid technological invention, it remains even more important to understand and value our humanity.
Overall, it was clear from the findings that universities need to do more to discuss this topic and also relieve feelings of uncertainty, particularly in this generation of students. Both individuals and educational institutions should view all of the above as an ongoing, lifelong learning experience. In this way they have a long term relationship to navigate a continually changing future.
Note: this blog is the third in a series of three. The first blog post introduces the Hult research project in more detail. The second blog post focuses on the results of the research. This final blog post focuses on advice to students and to educators.
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