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The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. We need a new education model.

The job market of tomorrow will require people to develop their technical capacity in tandem with human-only skills.

Photo: Kenzie Academy
  • Technological advancements are predicted to take as many as 75 million jobs from humans worldwide before 2022. However, 133 million new jobs are expected to be created in that same time.
  • Software developer jobs are growing more than 4x faster than other occupations, a demand that translates to a median wage of $105,590 per year (or $50.77 per hour).
  • Kenzie Academy, an online software and UX engineering school with an innovative tuition model, teaches technical skills along with soft skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and team collaboration.

Every now and then, seismic shifts remap the economic landscape. While these afford opportunities for some, they can also swallow the jobs people and communities rely on to support careers and livelihoods. Just ask any lamplighter, log driver, or switchboard operator.

Even jobs that are the staples of history—our butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers—feel the aftershocks. Not long ago, these professions were the linchpins of any community. Today, they are split between small, artisanal craftspeople and mega-factories where a handful of people produce enough supply to provision several communities.

And we're already charting the tremors of the next shift. Called the Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, it will see artificial intelligence, digital technology, and advancements in automation supplant vast swaths of the human workforce across many industries.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already underway. Image: Shutterstock


Can we future-proof our careers and livelihoods for this enormous change? Yes, and organizations like Kenzie Academy are moving quickly to help workers develop the skills that will remain firmly in demand in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Don't go the way of the lamplighter

Lamplighters went extinct because electric lines and power grids made their jobs obsolete. Switchboard operators endured a similar fate. As noted by the World Economic Forum in The Future of Jobs Report 2018: "There are complex feedback loops between new technology, jobs and skills. New technologies can drive business growth, job creation and demand for specialist skills but they can also displace entire roles when certain tasks become obsolete or automated."

According to that report, 75 million current jobs are potentially on the line in the upcoming revolution. Unsurprisingly, manufacturing is forecasted to continue hemorrhaging jobs. Despite greater overall output, the U.S. has lost about 7.5 million jobs since 1980. Many blame global trade and shifts in competition for the losses. While those have certainly been catalytic, so has automation and other technological advances.

Other industries that could automate a substantial portion of their workforces include agriculture, food services, transportation, and other forms of manual labor.

At first blush, this places the report in line with folk knowledge that sees the common denominator for occupations in decline to be a lack of high-level education. However, the World Economic Forum also predicts occupations such as paralegals, accountants, administration managers, executive secretaries, and data entry clerks to contract.

That's because the common denominator isn't education; it's job-ready skills.

Precision and manual labor can be performed better, and more safely, by a machine. Similarly, as artificial intelligence advances, digital technology will be able to outperform people in speed and accuracy when it comes to many mental labors. To name a few: memory, mathematics, data collection, time management, and pattern recognition. And the more repetitive an occupation's core functions, the higher the risk it can be automated or computerized.

Hard skills, meet soft skills

most in-demand job skills list The World Economic Forum has defined a new set of skills (left) most required for the jobs of the future. Importantly, they're a mix of hard and soft skills. On the right are the 10 skills that are becoming less important.

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Source: Future of Jobs Report 2018, World Economic Forum

So, is the future job market some judgment day-scenario where technology and artificial intelligence take all the jobs to render humans obsolete? Hardly. The bleak picture above is only half the prognosis. The World Economic Forum's report also foresees 133 million new jobs emerging by 2022 to offset the losses.

The catch? Those jobs require tech skills that many working-age people aren't currently trained for.

Schools like Kenzie Academy understand that in-demand soft skills including creativity, innovation, active learning, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving—that is, "human skills"—are not easily duplicated by an app. That is why they are aiming to teach hard skills like technical design and programming alongside the ability to work with a team, problem solving, and even interpersonal skills like interviewing and networking.

Millions of new jobs will emerge in the technology sector: data analysts, machine-learning specialists, software and application developers, new-technology specialists, and Kenzie is taking the lead to make people job-ready.

The fastest-growing occupation in America

A software developer solving a problem Photo: Kenzie Academy

Software developers are already enjoying the windfall of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects software development to be among the United States' fastest-growing occupations from 2018–28, increasing at the "much faster than average" rate of 21 percent. In 2018, that demand translated to a median wage of $105,590 per year (or $50.77 per hour).

Kenzie Academy, a campus-based and online software and UX engineering school, focuses its educational model on software development and UX design to prepare its students for that future. Co-founder and CEO Chok Ooi explains the school's philosophy: "Students learn by building projects and solving problems daily under the guidance of industry practitioners. We teach technical skills along with workplace skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and team collaboration which are equally important for students to master."

Notice the overlap of both hard and soft skills that match the World Economic Forum's analysis. Kenzie teaches students the technical skills and the soft, human skills that are not reproducible in the digital space. Both are essential to the 21st-century marketplace and thriving in a world community bound by shared, interconnected technology.

"It's not just a skill; it's a new language that controls a majority of our world and knowing it will give you opportunities to work in new fields and be ready for the future of work. It is a language that transcends borders and can allow people to work with organizations around the world," says Steven Miller, team member at Kenzie Academy.

Speeding up adaptation

The solution seems easy enough: adaptation. If the skillsets of the current workforce are no longer marketable, we need to develop ways to build new ones or upskill old ones. Were it so simple. Unfortunately, many social and economic barriers impose themselves between large portions of the population and the education and networks necessary for entry into these occupations.

"Our current education system adapts to change too slowly and operates too ineffectively for this new world," Stephane Kasriel, former CEO of Upwork, writes in an article for the World Economic Forum.

Kasriel argues that our education system must be overhauled to meet the future's challenges. It should be a lifelong pursuit, one accessible to citizens regardless of social and economic status. It should also be rewired to equip people with the "meta-skills" machines aren't good at yet, like entrepreneurship, teamwork, and curiosity—not designed toward rote memorization of facts on a test.

He adds: "Skills, not college pedigree, will be what matters for the future workforce—so while we should make sure college is affordable, we should also make sure higher education is still worth the cost, or revisit it entirely and leverage more progressive approaches to skills training. Skills-focused vocational programmes, as well as other ways to climb the skill ladder (such as apprenticeships), should be widely accessible and affordable."

Rethinking student debt

Another barrier is financial. Few people can afford to pay for a bachelor's degree and those who can't take on immense debt to try. This leads to an untenable pattern where the debt, not the learning, becomes the lifelong pursuit.

Kenzie Academy's solution is a unique income share agreement that doesn't force students to repay their tuition fees until they earn a baseline of $40,000 a year. When they begin, they repay 13 percent of income for up to four years. The school also secured $100 million in financing to help further reduce the financial burden.

"There are millions of Americans who are barred from high-quality post-secondary education because of where they live and their financial situation. And many who are 'lucky enough' to go to college find themselves buried in debt and without a job," said Ooi in a release announcing the funding. "This $100 million will level the playing field, enabling deserving individuals, regardless of their background, to access high-quality training that leads to a high paying job in tech for only $100 upfront."

Is the future secure?

Jobs of the future The jobs landscape in 2022. Source: Future of Jobs Report 2018, World Economic Forum

Will software development and other emerging jobs one day go the way of log drivers and lamplighters? Will Silicon Valley become tomorrow's Rust Belt? While possible, that future is incredibly unlikely or, at the very least, far off.

In a 2013 study out of Oxford University, researchers used a Gaussian process classifier to estimate the probability that occupations could be computerized. The researchers assigned a probability for 702 jobs. The probability that software development would be computerized was 4.2 percent. The top 10 emerging jobs roles listed by the World Economic Forum in its Future of Jobs Report: 2018 held similarly low probability. (For the record, the researchers found that occupations such as telemarketers, insurance underwriters, and mathematical technicians all faced a 99 percent probability of computerization.)

Because of their proximity, artificial intelligence and programming jobs are certainly interconnected. Despite this, the trend today is for A.I.-powered tools to take on programming's busywork, leaving the programmer the time to solve novel and complex problems in creative ways.

Of course, no one can divine the future. Some paradigm shift may one day invent an app that's better at being human than, well, humans. Until then, the future of work looks to value the very skills that make us human—and some technical know-how too.

Ready to learn the skills needed for the future of work? Click here to learn more: Kenzie.Academy

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Chronic stress and captive orcas

A new study lays out the case for the damaging effects of stress on orcas living in tanks.

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  • There are currently around 60 orcas living in concrete tanks globally.
  • Orcas' brain structures and behaviors strongly suggest smart, emotional, self-aware beings.
  • The study provides compelling evidence that the stresses inherent in captivity do damage to these naturally free-roaming cetaceans.

A study, "The harmful effects of captivity and chronic stress on the well-being of orcas (Orcinus orca)" recently published in Journal of Veterinary Behavior is the product of a unique collaboration of experts in marine mammal science, veterinary science, internal medicine and psychiatry. It makes the case for a careful consideration of the impacts of chronic stress on captive orcas, at least 60 of whom are currently in captivity. Most have spent years or decades of their lives in these conditions. 56.7% of these orcas were born in captivity, with 26 captured young. (Orcas are actually the third most commonly confined cetaceans — there are even more bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales held in tanks.)

The study explains how the continual, oppressive stress inherent to a captive orca's life is unhealthy and should be more thoughtfully addressed. Study lead author biopsychologist Lori Marino tells Big Think in an email:

"Our review shows that intelligence, complexity, and awareness are characteristics that make an animal more — not less — vulnerable to the effects of captivity. That seems counterintuitive because a lot of people think that the more mental resources you have the better you are able to cope with various situations. But it is also the case that the more mental capacity you have the greater your needs in order to thrive and the more extreme the impact of living in an artificial environment, that is, an environment outside your adaptive envelope."

While skeptics may consider it a leap to assume that orcas are intelligent and emotional enough to suffer the ill effects of stress, Marino responds, "That would be a claim in search of evidence. Stress is a common phenomenon in all mammals and many other organisms. The effects of chronic stress have been well-studied in mice, rats, dogs, etc." The study provides ample evidence that orcas are exceptionally intelligent, feeling creatures in any event.

The orca brain

Image source: FineShine/Shutterstock

The orca brain exhibits neurobiological traits that are considered prerequisites for complex psychology, emotion, and behavior:

  • a large brain size
  • an expanded neocortex
  • a well-differentiated cortical cytoarchitecture
  • an elaborated limbic system.

Even more important than sheer brain size is its size in relation to an animal's body. This is captured as the organism's encephalization quotient, or EQ. Says the study, "Odontocetes, and in particular Delphinoidea [the superfamily to which orcas belong], are the most highly encephalized nonhuman taxonomic group known … except modern humans."

Orcas also have the most highly convoluted, or folded, neocortical surface of all mammals including humans, and their ratio of neocortical surface to brain weight also exceeds the human brain's, suggesting an organ well-suited to higher-order functions.

Among a range of other clues presented by the study that suggest orcas are highly intelligent creatures are these:

  • Areas associated in the human brain with high-level cognitive and social functions including attention, prediction, social awareness, and empathy are all highly developed in orcas.
  • Orcas have a well-integrated mammalian limbic system that supports having emotions, memory, motivation, reasoning, learning, and abstraction.

Supporting behaviors

Image source: Willyam Bradberry /Shutterstock

Observations of orca behavior richly supports the implications of their neurobiological structures. Marino says, "Free-ranging orcas live in tightly-knit social groups that are necessary during their long juvenile periods and afterwards. They support each other, help each other when in trouble, and grieve each other. Mothers and calves are very tightly bonded. In some groups, male orcas stay with their mom their whole life and if mom dies [the male offpsring] may go into a deep depression and die as well. Family and social group are everything."

Orcas also demonstrate culture, with vocalizations and even hunting methods unique within groups and passed from generation to generation.

"Orcas at Punta Norte, Argentina, hunt sea lion and elephant seal pups by beaching themselves and capturing the pups, typically in the surf zone," according to the study.

Captivity morbidities

Image source: Peter Etchells/Shutterstock

In the wild, free-ranging female orcas live an average of 46 years — some live as long as 90 years — and males 31 years, or as long as 50-60 years. Captive orcas rarely live more than 30 years, with many dying in their teens or 20s. Their medical histories can be difficult to access due to facilities' desire for confidentiality. Nonetheless, some morbidities, or causes of death, have become clear over time.

One review from 1979 identified infectious disease as the culprit behind the death of 17 captive North American orcas who'd died since 1965 prior to the report's writing. The new study cites publicly available documentation revealing that between 1971 and 2017, SeaWorld parks alone have experienced 35 documented orca deaths, and that, "When causes of death were available, the most commonly implicated conditions were viral, bacterial and fungal infections, gastrointestinal disease, and trauma."

Infections such as these may not in and of themselves have necessarily been lethal, but when combined with orcas' "weakened immune system, chronic exposure to chemical irritants or trauma to the skin, excessive or improper use of antimicrobials, and an imbalance in the microbiota of the body or environment (which may exist in tanks)," they become deadly. Common fungal infections may also especially dangerous in this context "as a result of long-term and aggressive antibiotic treatment, overtreatment of water for purity, or both." The same is true for untreated dental infections.

Another frequent cause of orca death: gastrointestinal ulceration — ulcers — caused by prolonged exposure to stress.

The destructive power of stress

Image source: eldeiv/Shutterstock

"Importantly, the poor health and short lifespans of captive orcas are most clearly understood as connected elements in a cycle of maladaptiveness to the conditions of captivity that involves behavioral abnormalities, physical harm and vulnerability to disease."

The paper shows, says Marino, that "when you examine the totality of the welfare findings for captive orcas the whole picture fits best within a larger common framework of evidence on how stress effects captive animals. We know that, when confined, other animals show the same kinds of behavioral and physiological abnormalities that captive orcas do. This is not mysterious or even controversial. It is basic science."

Marino cites as especially damaging the manner in which captivity prevents orcas from making social connections. Tanks also deprive them of places to retreat, making conflicts inescapable even temporarily. Finally, captive orcas are likely to become bored and chronically demotivated by the frustration over their loss of autonomy.

The study also notes physical effects brought on by long-term stress, including:

  • the release of too much cortisol by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal, or HPA, axis, causing elevated blood sugar, suppression of the immune system, as well as metabolism and blood pressure issues.
  • alterations of the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex due to prolonged stress, potentially leading to Increased anxiety, post-traumatic stress, cognitive impairment, depression, and mood dysregulation.
  • organ degradation in response to unrelenting stress.
  • a loss of natural sensory information, about which, says the study, "a growing body of research has found that exposure to excessive or unnatural levels or types of acoustic input can cause a number of impacts to cetaceans, including but not limited to … accelerated aging, suppression of the immune response, as well as premature hearing loss."

A valuable conversation

Marino explains why it was important to conduct this study, saying, "My co-authors and I wrote this review to bring all of the available information on captive orca well-being together in one place and to suggest that we might all best be able to understand the effects of captivity within a very familiar and well-researched model of how chronic stress effects all organisms. We want this paper to be a catalyst for dialogue and further scientific exploration based on data as to how we can better understand who orcas are and how we can identify the important elements needed in a captive environment for them to thrive."

The Whale Sanctuary Project is hosting a free public webinar to discuss the study and the effects of stress on captive orcas with three of the study's authors Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

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