Employability and beyond

Andrew McAfee, the Co-Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, gave a very inspiring TED talk on the future of jobs. He described a future in which many of the ‘lower-level administrative tasks’ of our society may well be performed by machines. Other traditionally ‘highly respected’ jobs (doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc.) may well be at risk – unless we can re-invent them in light of the new technologically advanced society.

McAfee was careful to acknowledge that the threat of humans becoming unemployed because of machines has always been a scenario in post-industrial societies. However, he argues that the future will be different because machines are now beginning to demonstrate skills that they have never demonstrated in the past, such as understanding, speaking, seeing, and hearing. Numerous reports over the last few years have offered us predictions of what type of jobs are most likely to be needed in our future society (see for example the World Future Society Report : 70 Jobs for 2030). Some of the highlights include:

  • Residence Technician: A combination of today’s appliance repair, alternative energy capture, and medical equipment technician, the Residence Technician will be responsible for all house systems.
  • Personal Brand Manager: Because most people will hold many jobs over the course of their working lives, personal brands will become as important for individuals as product brands are today. Personal Brand Managers will serve as talent agents, coaches, and scouts — helping individuals plan their careers, and match their skills and preferences to jobs.
  • Bio-botic Physicians and Bio-botist Assistants: These individuals would look at the integration between biological functionalities and implanted enhanced life extensions (nano-robotics). People in this field would repair internal chips, resolving complications between the natural biology and nanobots (biological machines) in the “evolved” man.

The encouraging news is that many of the jobs of the future are still in full alignment with our very own and unique human nature: doctors and nurses, teachers and technicians, managers and lawyers. However there is one important common component: skills of a digital society. That is, our ability to perform our tasks, practice our jobs, and make professional decisions in conjunction with the full integration of new and emerging technologies in our everyday practices.

So the big challenge for us, as educators, is not only how can we educate our students to get a job now (the over-emphasized employability agenda), but perhaps most importantly how can we start preparing our students to be professionally wise, to develop the ability to “grasp the truth involving reason, concerned with action, about what is good or bad for a human being” (Aristotle, trans. 1999, p.154). Critical thinking, reflective practice, ethics, and learning democracy (citizenship) are just a few of the skills we should seriously consider adding in our curricula in order to make sure that our students, the citizens of the digital (and not-so-distant) future, are equipped to make the right decisions about what professions and jobs are needed, and towards what direction the professions should grow in order to promote our wellbeing and put technology in just use. Professional wisdom may be a more suitable approach than employability when it comes to the higher education agenda.

Aristotle (1999). Nicomachean ethics. (T.H.Irwin, Trans) Indianapolis, IN:Hackett