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"Tectonic Shifts" in Employment

Robert Heiny

Research Scientist of Learning and Education
Flight Instructor
In a book review in the January/February, 2012 edition of MIT's Technology Review, David Talbot suggests that "information technology reduces the need for certain jobs faster than new ones are created." The power of some information technologies is essentially doubling every two years or so.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee discuss this fact in their reviewed book Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. They study information-supercharged workplaces and the innovations and productivity advances these venues continually create.

They argue that the efficiencies and automation opportunities made possible by IT (information technologies) are advancing too fast for the labor market to keep up.

McAfee points out that technology is encroaching on skills that once belonged exclusively to humans. This encroachment will likely continue, leaving even fewer human jobs available.

He believes that entrepreneurial thinking, different institutions, and new organizational structures can prevent humans from being left behind by the machines.

I expect this encroachment is beginning to impact the social institution of education as we have known it for the past 100 years. Based on projected employment data published in the 1980s and 1990s, I told in- and preservice educators with whom I worked that their school graduates would likely change jobs five times during their working lives, and that at least one of those jobs had not even been invented yet. (I haven't kept up with such projections, but expect that new jobs will likely continue increasing around new forms of engineering and advancing communication technologies.

Too few PK20 educators have addressed this impact sufficiently, so that their students can be among those employed in the future, which has already pushed employment up the schooling and income distribution scales. That means, those with the right schooling will have jobs. Even now with high unemployment, employers have 3 million jobs they cannot fill with U.S. schooled graduates.