We are living through what some experts call the fourth industrial revolution – a time when rapid changes in artificial intelligence, robotics, and other digital technologies are disrupting industries across the globe in ways that few could have imagined.
This revolution will result in exciting new products for consumers, but what it means for workers isn’t entirely clear. Cheryl A. Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says these breakthroughs will likely lead to the automation of more and more jobs, even in service-oriented sectors like legal and accounting work.
“But things that require humans and human emotion, that’s not going to go away,” she says. “There’s going to be as much job creation out of this fourth industrial revolution as there will be automated away. It’s just going to be different.”
That will make job training even more crucial as businesses compete for workers prepared to perform the jobs of tomorrow. Oldham discussed these and other workforce development issues on KET’s Connections with Renee Shaw.
Fostering Collaboration Between Business and Education
Finding a skilled workforce has always been a priority for employers, but Oldham says that’s especially challenging today with a growing economy, global competition, low unemployment, and the rapid pace of technological change. Given those factors, she says it’s important for business to work with all levels of education to ensure a good supply of skilled workers.
“There’s no one silver bullet,” says Oldham, “so we really focus on what we call ‘the talent pipeline,’ so everything from early education and child care all the way through to lifelong learning.”
Much of the recent focus in workforce training has been on education beyond high school. In fact almost two-thirds of jobs in Kentucky will soon require some form of postsecondary education. But Oldham says that doesn’t necessarily mean a college degree.
“We’re also in a place now as a nation where we’re comfortable saying not everybody needs to go the traditional four-year path,” she says. “I think everyone agrees some postsecondary education is critical, but what [does] that path look like and it’s not necessarily the same for everyone.”
But with jobs and jobs skills evolving so rapidly, what should schools be teaching students to prepare them for the workforce? Oldham says it’s incumbent upon business and industry to work closely with educators to communicate what capabilities they need in workers now and will likely want in the future. That way educational institutions can implement the appropriate coursework to ensure students will learn the proper skills.
Oldham says business should also share that information with current and potential employees so they can determine what jobs may best suit them as they map out their career and education plans. She says workers can’t obtain the skills an employer desires unless they know what skills the job demands.
“Obviously you want to help your workers to continue to advance and train and lifelong learn,” says Oldham, “but it’s also in the company’s best interest to ensure that they have the talent that they need.”
Specific Challenges for Kentucky
With strong economic growth and record unemployment, there are more than 6.5 million jobs open across the nation, according to Oldham, who is also senior vice president of the education and workforce program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
“Those are interesting data points,” she says, “but it really is not useful unless you drill down into what do you need in Kentucky, and what do you need in Lexington versus what do you need in Louisville because they could be very different.”
In the commonwealth, officials are focused on five key employment sectors: construction and trade skills, advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, business and information technology, and health services. The state is fostering partnerships among business and industry, high schools and colleges, and related organizations to ensure that young people and adults are prepared for jobs in those areas.
“When it comes to workforce and this idea of trying to manage the talent pipeline and align resources, Kentucky, with the leadership of the Kentucky Chamber [of Commerce] and the Kentucky Chamber’s Workforce Center, is doing amazing work,” says Oldham.
The state chamber is also partnering with the U.S. Chamber on a project called Job Data Exchange, or JDX, to use technology to standardize job postings. Oldham says the goal is to improve communication between employers who are looking for certain skills, and job-seekers who may have those capabilities or want to develop them.
But are Kentuckians ready for the jobs that will emerge in the fourth industrial revolution? Oldham says that could be difficult for some older workers, or for those who have held the same job their entire careers.
“It’s very easy to sit back and say ‘retrain,’” she says. “There’s going to be a certain population of folks that just won’t be able to do it… but I think many will.”
That’s where collaboration between businesses and education is key. Oldham says that will benefit students of any age.
“We need everybody off the bench and in the workforce, especially now. So what do we do to support that?” she says.
“We’ve got to create a culture starting from very young of agility and this idea of lifelong learning and that you’re not going to have one job,” says Oldham. “You’re going to train and you’re going to have a job, and you’re going to train some more and you’re going to have a different job.”
Pathways for Tomorrow’s Workforce: A KET Forum