The role of higher ed
Who should be responsible for ensuring the workforce is prepared for these challenges?
Amazon’s answer, essentially, is “we’ll take care of it.” One of the more telling aspects of Amazon’s announcement was that it plans to use its own programs to retrain employees, such as Amazon Technical Academy and Machine Learning University.
There was no mention of universities and colleges. Other companies, such as Google, similarly say they are relying on partners outside of traditional academia to support their training needs.
While corporate universities are hardly a new development, I believe the coming labor market challenge requires higher education to get in the game.
The problem is, at present, higher education is designed for the last industrial revolution, not the current one. Universities and colleges deliver degrees at a glacial pace. The average completion time for a bachelor degree is five years. That’s too slow.
Imagine a young computer science major entering a college this fall and graduating in 2024 – at which point researchers expect AI to be capable of coding in complex computer languages like Python. By the time she graduates, not only will she be competing against humans for jobs, but she’ll also be going up against a more efficient and cheaper AI bot.
Higher education needs to become more adaptive and innovative. If it doesn’t, industry will continue to take the lead on its own.
Retraining the future
The question then becomes, do we want corporate training programs to be the basis of participation in the future of work and the only way for workers to get up to speed?
With well-founded concerns that organizations like Amazon represent a growing monopolistic threat, I don’t think we want these organizations to dominate education as well. Or to focus retraining efforts in ways that are likely to only suit a company’s short-term business needs.
Industry should play a part, but higher education needs to be the foundation.
[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]