Yesterday we looked at a few of the hypotheses out there about how IT is destroying jobs (particularly: good jobs). Today we look at how institutions should react to these changes.
If I were running an institution, here’s what I’d do:
First, I’d ask every faculty to come up with a “jobs of the future report”. This isn’t the kind of analysis that makes sense to do at an institutional level: trends are going to differ from one part of the economy (and hence, one set of fields of study) to another. More to the point, curriculum gets managed at the faculty level, so it’s best to align the analysis there.
In their reports, all faculties would need to spell out: i) who currently employs their grads, and in what kinds of occupations (an answer of “we don’t know” is unacceptable – go find out); ii) what is the long-term economic outlook for those industries and occupations? iii) what is the outlook for those occupations with respect to tasks being susceptible to computerization (there are various places to look for this information, but this from two scholars at the University of Oxford is a pretty useful guide)? And, iv) talk to senior people in these industries and occupations to get a sense of how they see technology affecting employment in their industry.
This last point is important: although universities and colleges keep in touch with labour market trends through various types of advisory boards, the question that tends to get asked is “how are our grads doing now? What improvements could we make so that out next set of grads is better than the current one?” The emphasis is clearly on the very short-term; rarely if ever are questions posed about medium-range changes in the economy and what those might bring. (Not that this is always front and centre in employers’ minds either – you might be doing them a favour by asking the question.)
The point of this exercise is not to “predict” jobs of the future. If you could do that you probably wouldn’t be working in a university or college. The point, rather, is to try to highlight certain trends with respect to how information technology is re-aligning work in different fields over the long-term. It would be useful for each faculty to present their findings to others in the institution for critical feedback – what has been left out? What other trends might be considered? Etc.
Then the real work begins: how should curriculum change in order to help graduates prepare for these shifts? The answer in most fields of study would likely be “not much” in terms of mastery of content – a history program is going to be a history program, no matter what. But what probably should change are the kinds of knowledge gathering and knowledge presentation activities that occur, and perhaps also the methods of assessment.
For instance, if you believe (as economist Tyler Cowen suggests in his book Average is Over that employment advantage is going to come to those who can most effectively mix human creativity with IT, then in a statistics course (for instance), maybe put more emphasis on imaginative presentation of data, rather than on the data itself. If health records are going to be electronic, shouldn’t your nursing faculty be developing a lot of new coursework involving the manipulation of information on databases? If more and more work is being done in teams, shouldn’t every course have at least one group-based component? If more work is going to happen across multi-national teams, wouldn’t it be advantageous to increase language requirements in many different majors?
There are no “right” answers here. In fact, some of the conclusions people will come to will almost certainly be dead wrong. That’s fine. Don’t sweat it. Because if we don’t look forward at all, if we don’t change, then we’ll definitely be wrong. And that won’t serve students at all.