STEAM, NOT STEM!

Over the past 50 years, automation and the machines (robots, machine-reading, big data, artificial intelligence, etc.) have been creeping into our workplace, replacing workers in performing various routine job functions.  And, unlike other historical labor disruptions, the advance of machines—performing the tasks they have been programmed to do—is being felt throughout the entire industrialized world.

To better understand the advance of the machines, both in memory and speed, let’s review “Moore’s Law”.  Gordon Moore, before he co-founded Intel, 50 years ago remarked that the capacity and speed of silicon chips will double every two years, over the next ten.  Well, fifty years later, that hypothesis is still on target, and it is often used to describe the exponential advances of computers as their capabilities accelerate over time.

For instance, the computer that took the astronauts to the Moon in 1969 was merely comparable to the Nintendo of that era.  The capacity of today’s iPhone, however, is considerably faster, and can perform more functions, than the fastest super computers of even 30 years ago.  So, how are schools preparing our children for the labor market of the future?

It seems that that many school systems, over the past ten to fifteen years, have emphasized the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), while de-emphasizing the Arts and Humanities for college bound students.  Such a focus can make the job skills of such employees similar to those of the machines, and thus easier for the machines to displace.

Skills that reflect the humanity of the worker—such as intuition, relationship building, good writing skills, an ability to cope with adversity, creative thinking–may set him or her apart from their co-workers, in similar jobs.  “This is Money” provides a fairly in-depth list of job occupations that are most, and least, likely to be replaced by automation.

For the most part, school curricula, through the 12th Grade, appear to have changed little over the years.  As the advance of the machines continues at an ever-increasing speed, school administrators and teachers need to be honing their skills, and begin to plan for the challenges of the Twenty-First Century, which has already arrived.  Business, government and labor also need to be part of the planning process.

Many computer engineer jobs have already been outsourced to India.  And, this time, many white collar jobs, requiring college and advanced degrees—such as associate attorneys and some radiologists (yes, M. D. s), who perform many routine functions, may also be at risk.  That’s why it would be important for the employee to set him or herself apart from their colleagues.

Since automation will impact the entire labor market, to one degree or another, the number of displaced workers could easily outnumber the available jobs, and probably drive the pay scales.  That’s where the Arts and Humanities skills may set some employees apart from the crowd, and help them keep their jobs!

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