Education for Life

Author:Nagwa Riad

Labor markets are changing, and millennials must prepare and adjust


Education for Life Finance & Development, June 2017, Vol. 54, No. 2

Nagwa Riad

Labor markets are changing, and millennials must prepare and adjust

One in three people around the world was born between 1980 and the early 2000s. Most of these millennials are in the workforce. Yet their work future won’t look much like the world of their parents. 

Technological advancement is transforming the way we live and the way we work. Although previous generations may have experienced significant technological changes, millennials likely will have to cope with much faster disruption. This means that many, if not most, will need to retool and learn new skills several times during their working life. 

The implications for education are critical. The 2016 World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report estimates that up to 65 percent of children entering primary school today are likely to work in jobs that do not yet exist. So not only must education adapt to the needs and attributes of future workers, it must also anticipate and prepare them with the skills to flourish in an evolving workplace. Only then can the race between humans and machines give way to collaboration that harnesses the power of technology to benefit individuals and societies. 

Changing workplaceTechnology is already changing industries and occupations in many countries. Some of the most in-demand jobs were not even around 10 years ago. Think app developer jobs, which emerged with the advent of smartphones, or the cloud computing of more than half of US businesses. Evans Data Corporation estimates that there were 12 million mobile application developers in 2016—by 2020 there are expected to be 14 million. 

Developments in previously disjointed fields are merging and amplifying each other. Artificial intelligence and self-teaching computer programs that replicate human skills are combining with other technologies, such as sensors, to produce self-driving cars and trucks. Such innovations usually require a parallel transformation in workers’ skills to implement the new technology and business models.

David Autor and others at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology find that the demand for higher-order cognitive skills—including numeracy, literacy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments—increases with an economy’s technological sophistication. In the United States, the surge in demand for nonroutine jobs between 1980 and 2000 coincided with greater investment in the knowledge economy’s infrastructure; demand for routine and manual jobs declined steadily (see chart). This shift will only...

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