Universities in the United Kingdom are changing the way they teach to prepare students for a future in which many jobs will be automated. A few numbers are enough, to sum up how far the working process is changing. More than six million workers fear their jobs could be replaced by machines in the next 10 years. Around 1.1 million people now work in the gig economy, using online platforms to find small, often on-demand, jobs. And a third of graduates find themselves mismatched to the jobs they secure on graduation.
“What universities can do to prepare their graduates for an unknown future”, was the subject of a roundtable, sponsored by HSBC, held in Birmingham last week and attended by senior academic leaders, employers, and policy-makers.
“It appeared that the numbers did not paint the full picture.” Scott Corfe, the Chief Economist at the Social Market Foundation, pointed out that automation did not necessarily mean fewer jobs – just different ones. And politicians were wrong to assume that these would largely be in programming; in fact, programming was likely to be automated in the future, while more creative skills would still be in demand. “The key thing is to enable people to reskill and move around the job market in a more nimble way than they currently can do,” he said.
Paul Faulkner, Chief Executive of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, questioned the idea that an ever-changing, unknown job future was something new. “Every generation will have felt that way.”
Were students graduating without the skills needed by employers? “It was important not to confuse learning skills with content that becomes quickly outdated”, said Kathy Armour, Pro Vice-Chancellor (education) at the University of Birmingham, while Alec Cameron, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Aston University, said “Content matters but mainly as the context around which you can develop skills and attributes”.