AI and automation are having a huge impact on the future of work

By Michelle Selinger and Peter Hamilton, EdTech Ventures


As we head for the middle of the 21st century, we are experiencing an unprecedented rate of change in society, economy, and workplace that humanity has ever experienced – the fastest ever! A recent study by PwC[1] found that “up to 30% of UK jobs could potentially be at high risk of automation by the early 2030s”. The study also found the risk in the US to be 38%, 35% in Germany and 21% in Japan.“ The study suggested that “for individual workers, the key differentiating factor is education. For those in the UK with just GCSE-level (16+) education or lower, the estimated potential risk of automation is as high as 46%, but this falls to only around 12% for those with undergraduate degrees or higher.”


There is no doubt that the triumvirate – AI, robotics and automation – will affect jobs. In some instances it will change their nature, whilst in others it will eliminate them all together. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that is accelerating, and we must adapt to both new and different challenges.


We contend that it isn’t just the level of education that is important; it is the whole tenet of the education system. The notion of 21st-century skills has been discussed and quantified since the 1990s, yet here we are, 17 years into the 21st century, and we are still challenging education systems around the world to change and to prepare students for an uncertain future. Yet what we have is a tinkering to a system that is more resistant to change than any other sector.


Recent political upheavals are testament to the fact that we are already suffering the impact of increasingly irrelevant and outdated education systems. The European Commission’s assessment of the workforce[2] shows that 35% of its members do not have the digital skills required for today’s world of work. This gap will grow further as the forecast levels of automation increase unless the education system can work out how to produce significantly better informed, more highly educated and digitally literate people. Without a well-educated and well-informed civil society, the levels of strife and discontent we saw at the start of the 21st century will only increase as the pace of change accelerates towards the middle of the century.


A two-year old child today will be an early career worker of 35 years of age in 2050. In a learning system capable of preparing our students for the post 2050 world, higher-order skills, transversal cross-curriculum skills, and strong STEM skills will be key to success. Robust literacy, communications, and interpersonal skills will also be essential for success in the workplace, whilst a thriving arts and culture skills base and community will be essential for a strong civic society. There are no shortcuts to being a leading economy in the not-too-distant future, and we will need to do it all – or hand our position over to the strong-growth economies of the world that will have embraced the education challenge.


However, our institutions are battling reform at every step. We have an education system still catching up with what was required for the late 20th century, and thus woefully unprepared for the needs of the second half of the 21st century.  Conservative interest groups and vested interests, government indecision, and constant and chronic underinvestment are holding back progress, while our people and workforce, as our greatest asset, need to be prepared.


To ensure a stable society and economically sound global economy, new creative and transversal themes need to be introduced, and rich tasks need to become more mainstream. Furthermore, action must be undertaken on the radical changes required in assessment that have been discussed for more than thirty years but rarely put into practice. Innovations in teaching and learning that support the development of new thinking and additions to the current set of higher-order skills within this setting will be essential to engender creative ‘makers and shapers’. We need to move from perceptions of learning as creating stores of knowledge to creating streams of knowledge – how knowledge is put together in a creative way[3].  Design Learning[4], like Design Thinking, a model for collaborative problem solving, ideation, reimagining made famous in Silicon Valley by IDEO[5] and practiced by leading education innovators including Bridge21 at Trinity College, Dublin will be one essential tool for reinventing our learning processes.


Education will continue to be the single highest priority for successful societies and economies through the 21st Century if we are to create a well-informed and agile society that is ready to make the most opportunity from the increasingly rapid pace of change humanity has ever experienced.


Peter Hamilton and Michelle Selinger will host a session at OEB (December 6-8, Berlin) that will focus on what needs to be done to prepare today’s young people – especially future leaders and managers – for employment and citizenship in the future.



1 PWC (2017) Section 4 – Will robots steal our jobs? The potential impact of automation on the UK 30 and other major economies. UK Economic Outlook. London, PWC. Available at

2 European Commission (2017) Digital Single Market: Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition

3 Araya, D, & McGowan (2016) Education and accelerated change: The imperative for design learning, Brown Center Chalkboard. Available at

4 Mor, Y & Winters, N (2007) Design approaches in technology-enhanced learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 15(1).

5 IDEO is a global design company. See


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