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Job Security: Or How To Prepare For Jobs That Can’t Be Automated

It used to be that parents who wanted job security urged kids to get a degree with immediately practical applications—like Eboo Patel’s mother, who wanted him to major in business instead of sociology, as he recalls in this blog from the Chronicle of Higher Education. But now, more and more jobs that used to seem impervious to automation turn out to be, well, open to increasingly advanced robots.

“A particular kind of human being”

The post by Patel, the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, about the increasing value of liberal arts degrees, is based on an understanding that Michigan Future shares about the new realities of our economy. Increasing globalization and automation mean that the greatest job security comes from being highly skilled in capacities that computers will not be able to replicate. Right now those uniquely human capacities include empathy and listening, creativity and innovation, and the ability to apply expertise in decision-making. Managing people and connecting knowledge to social interaction are not things computers will do. Drawing from a number of articles, Patel writes:

A computer can undoubtedly give you the right pill for pain, and a robot can provide electrical-stimulation treatment, but for the interaction, creativity, and judgment that a therapeutic conversation requires, a particular kind of human being is needed. Where are we going to get these knowledgeable and caring “relationship workers”?

The value of liberal arts degrees

Not only are these the jobs that are least susceptible to automation, they are also the jobs that are growing. A McKinsey report cited by Patel shows that between 2001 and 2009, jobs requiring human interaction grew by 4.8 million. Fortunately, liberal arts degrees, formerly the bogeyman of practically-minded parents, are already designed to prepare students for this impending economy. Patel goes on,

The hallmarks of a liberal education — building an ethical foundation that values the well-being of others, strengthening the mental muscles that allow you to acquire new knowledge quickly, and developing the skills to apply it effectively in rapidly shifting contexts — are not luxuries but necessities for preparing professionals for the coming transformation of knowledge work to relationship work.

Michigan’s education system, from pre-K to college and beyond, needs to be reflective of this reality. At every level, we need to be growing the skills in our people that our robots cannot replace.

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Sarah Szurpicki

Sarah is a policy associate for Michigan Future, Inc. and partner at New Solutions Group, LLC, a consulting firm devoted to smart, collaborative, innovative approaches for organizations serving the public good. At New Solutions she focuses on urban policy, strategic planning, and education and has led the firm's work on projects with the Michigan Municipal League, Let's Save Michigan, and Michigan Future Schools.

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