21st century career survival skills, Part I

AI-related technologies are already replacing white-collar positions

Increasing job insecurity in the 21st century

Manufacturing automation began with the introduction of simple pneumatic and hydraulic assembly line systems in the early 20th century. Since the turn of the 21st century, we’ve experienced the rapid emergence of AI-enhanced robots in industry, further accelerating the disappearance of manufacturing jobs that began in the last half of the 20th century.

Because new generation computers take only a few seconds to digest all the information that students get during a full eight years of high school and college (eventually forgetting 97%, by one estimate)–it should come as no surprise that AI-related technologies are already replacing white-collar positions. And this is only the beginning…

Can formal education meet the challenge?

This raises several questions–

  • What kind of skills do we, as professionals, need to remain ‘hirable’ in the longer term?
  • A related question–what kind of formal higher education do we need that won’t be quickly outdated by AI-related systems and devices? Universities have been grappling with this issue. 

When I earned my degrees decades ago from three well-respected universities years ago, it was amazingly affordable. On the downside, there was little integration between curricula/’disciplines.’ Business courses, in particular, were segregated from the liberal arts. Unfortunately, this old departmental structure is still the standard.

Two schools of thought now dominate how best to move forward– 

  • The first is that higher education should continue to provide students with the tools they need to accurately discern and act upon valid information, to be flexible and creative in ways that computers (some argue) never can be. Fareed Zakaria takes this position in his new book, “In Defense of a Liberal Education.”
  • The second is that education needs to be more practical, more business-oriented; that education should focus on the real world and its entrepreneurial opportunities and challenges.

I don’t believe that these two positions are necessarily in conflict. In Part II of this article, I’ll hone in on the ‘cross disciplinary’ skills that we all need as professionals.


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