How community colleges can prepare students for careers in an AI era


How community colleges can prepare students for careers in an AI era

As the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution transforms what work will look like in the future, community college leaders must take the lead in reskilling our workforce. Learn three key takeaways to consider.

The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution is upon us and even the experts are torn on whether it’s to be welcomed or feared. The rest of us are…decidedly less ambivalent. In fact, 70% of Americans fear robots are taking over their lives, a Pew Research survey found. Thank you Hollywood and the media, for stoking our fears.

So when I received an invitation to a Politico event titled, “Winning the Age of AI: The Future of Work, Workers, and Education,” my interest was piqued. I wondered: How should we prepare the workforce of the future? How do we ensure segments of the population aren’t left behind?

As a main driver of workforce preparation, community colleges have an unmatched ability to reach diverse groups of students. As the AI revolution transforms what work will look like in the future, community college leaders must take the lead in reskilling our workforce. Based on what I heard from researchers, politicians, and other thinkers, here are the top three things you should consider:

1. AI can’t take your job, yet

Amidst apocryphal warnings about the impact of automation, should we all expect to lose our jobs to AI in the near future? Not quite. Malcolm Frank, a business technologist, and economic forecaster, shared the following outlook of our future workforce in 10 years’ time:

  • Due to AI, 12% of jobs will be lost
  • Thirteen percent of jobs will be brand new (mostly STEM)
  • Seventy five percent—the vast majority of jobs—will be enhanced by technology

The biggest AI advances to date have been in perception and cognition. Think self-driving cars or accounting. If you’re like me, you might avoid the former but rejoice in the latter (thank you, Turbo Tax!). This leaves a lot of occupations for which the human mind is still better suited. Dr. Osonde Osoba, professor of engineering at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, put it this way: “AI cannot possess and match humans when it comes to social intelligence, creativity, and fine motor skills.”

College leaders should double down on helping students develop skills in “robot-proof” areas, while also cultivating their students’ quantitative skills. Counterintuitively, this actually calls for coursework that engages students in the kind of problem solving, critical thinking, and constructive debate central to the liberal arts—so don’t retire your liberal arts curriculum just yet.

To cultivate students’ quantitative reasoning, Purdue University launched an Integrative Data Science Initiative (IDSI) curriculum which embeds data science into every major. You may not need to go this far, but ensure that any curricular redesign focuses on quantitative thinking and creative problem-solving.

2. The age of continuing studies is upon us

If you haven’t already, it’s time to become a lifelong learner. Representatives John Delaney (D-MD) and Pete Olson (R-TX) envision a future in which employers demand an ever-evolving skillset. In an AI-augmented economy, tomorrow’s workforce will need to train and retrain at an increasingly quicker pace, especially if their chosen field is susceptible to automation.

However, current investments in reskilling workers fall short: The United States invests just 0.1% of GDP in workforce training and support programs. This often means colleges are left to fill the gap. Community colleges, in particular, have become the best bet to provide programs that support displaced and current workers in high-need urban and rural areas.

While you may think you understand your students’ professional development needs, do not go at it alone in an AI world. As you rethink your college’s workforce training programs, ensure your college is meeting with local industry regularly and initiating a community and employer needs assessment to construct appropriate programs.

3. Architects of AI must continuously root out bias

Many of us would like to believe that technology can be neutral in ways that humans, with our prejudices and fallibility, cannot. But, AI may actually replicate systemic inequalities or latent unconscious biases due to a homogenous workforce. Byron Auguste, CEO at Opportunity@Work, observed, “People decide how AI is deployed.” If women and minorities aren’t at the table designing the algorithms, we all may be in a bit of trouble.

In EAB’s own Student Success Management System technology, we’re embracing the promise of artificial intelligence but fully aware of its potential to perpetuate existing prejudices.

Learn what our data scientists are doing to mitigate bias in our technology

What’s next

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