Before It’s Too Late: Why Schools and Companies – Together – Must Prepare for AI Jobs NOW

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What do Siri and Alexa have to do with your children’s employment (or even yours)? A whole lot, and we need to get prepared, starting right now.

Anyone with a smart phone knows it: we’re all in when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI). Siri turning your speech into a text message is just one example of computers using algorithms to turn data into meaning. But in this so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, such exciting advancements also mean that work is changing, forever.

By some estimates, 47 percent of jobs now done by humans could be eliminated as early as 2030. But the situation is already serious. Of employers surveyed in nine countries, 40 percent said they can’t fill entry-level jobs because of a lack of skills. And worldwide, not having the right skills is the main reason why 30 to 45 percent of people who could work aren’t working to full capacity.

But we can turn the situation around if we rethink how we prepare people for work, especially those still in school: even basic skills in science, technology, engineering and math can help tomorrow’s workers land well-paying tech jobs (including creating the kind of AI that power Siri and Alexa) as well many jobs that now require computer skills, like manufacturing.

Here are three clear reasons why schools and workplaces should partner to together prepare the next generation of workers and students to work in AI:

1. Our education system can’t do it alone. Schools are sadly unequipped to prepare young people for future workforce realities. U.S. high school graduates still perform poorly in science, reading and mathematics compared to students from other countries.

What’s worse, only about 40% of U.S. schools teach computer programming and one third of U.S. states don’t even count computer science classes toward graduation. While more students are taking the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science than ever before, it’s still only a fraction of young people taking AP Calculus.

American schools can greatly benefit from businesses guiding them on what and how to teach our kids about AI. In return, companies can hold schools accountable for graduating better-prepared college- or military-bound young people, and for supplying them with job-ready graduates, as classes like welding and typing did in previous eras.

2. We desperately need diversity in the workforce creating AI. It is well-documented that tech companies in general, and in Silicon Valley in particular, are not diverse. Yet when it comes to artificial intelligence, diversity is critical to fairness across our society.

AI involves programming machines to make decisions, and how those decisions are made, whether intentionally or not, can at best be wrong – not meeting everyone’s needs and therefore bad for business – and at worst highly unjust. After all, AI has broad impacts on society and the economy, and is even used to determine people’s future: their credit-worthiness, experiences in the criminal justice system and, soon enough, whether a self-driving car should sacrifice the car’s passenger to save multiple pedestrians (or vice versa) if a collision is unavoidable.

The more women and minorities are trained to develop AI (and run AI companies…), the better. And we can democratize access to AI training by teaching STEM skills in our schools.

3. It’s good for business. By 2030, U.S. employers are expected to need more workers than the country can supply, with the biggest gaps in STEM jobs. As AI becomes part of an increasing number of business solutions, having the right workers with the right AI skills will be critical to our economy.

Senior executives in every industry know they have no chance to succeed without the talent to develop and deliver their products and solutions. And they should know that diversity leads to better business outcomes, like improving customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making as well as winning top AI and other talent.

Companies, especially in tech, who have their finger on the pulse of what skills are needed, can join forces with schools and governments – in public/private partnerships – to move education, and our nation’s workforce, forward. Here are some promising beginnings:

In the U.S., the Microsoft-sponsored TEALS program pairs high school teachers with computer professionals who can help prepare them to give students needed skills. And in France, a machine learning device company called Snips is part of a research group partnering with the government to prepare the country’s workforce for AI (Snips CEO Dr. Rand Hindi was motivated by his own father losing his finance job to AI-powered “algorithmic trading”).

SAP established very successful Early College High School programs in partnership with local schools and colleges in Boston, New York City, Oakland and Vancouver. With an emphasis on bringing technology to students and preparing them for careers in STEM fields, students graduate with a high school degree, a post-secondary degree and real-world experience, all in six-years' time and at no expense to the students.

With more win-win investments like these, today’s young people will participate in a flourishing AI economy of the future.