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Business leaders launch action plan for education in the age of automation

20 Apr 2016

A huge shift in the way we think about education is needed in order for the UK to adapt to the unstoppable force of technological change, business leaders warned today. In a new report, the Institute of Directors said that the focus of our school system must be altered if it is to give today’s students the best chance to get ahead in a future in which more and more work is taken over by robots or computers. But, with up to 15 million jobs vulnerable to automation in the next 20 years, the business organisation said that many people currently in work will also have to be ready to re-train, as existing jobs are affected.

Seamus Nevin, Head of Employment and Skills at the IoD, and author of  the report, said:

“History has shown that each major technological revolution, from steam power to the invention of the digital circuit, has created more jobs than it destroyed. There is every reason to believe this trend will continue, but with technological change moving at a pace never seen before, and reaching into more areas of the workplace, we must act now to prepare ourselves.”

The IoD is today launching an action plan for government, education providers and businesses to put the UK in the best place to secure the massive potential benefits of new technologies:

  • Remove political interference from the school curriculum. Instead, curricula should be advised upon, and continuously re-examined, by a body composed of education experts and businesses.
  • Stop schools becoming ‘exam factories’ that primarily test students’ recall of information, something that computers are far better at than humans.
  • Shift careers guidance away from CV writing, towards genuine, tailored advice on how to succeed in industry and the workplace
  • As technology changes the workplace, we must increase use of technology in education, including ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ (Moocs) to reduce costs and give more people access.
  • Introduce tax incentives to encourage people to return to education, and make it easier for employers to invest in their staff.

Seamus Nevin:

“The basic structure of the UK education system dates from the mid-19th century, and has changed little since. Pupils are still tested on their ability to recall facts and apply standardised methods, two things computers do much better than humans. Technology is already integral to most jobs, but it will increasingly take on tasks that can currently only be done by people. Robots have shown they can complete repetitive, physical labour with great speed and precision, but computers are also increasingly able replicate many of our complex cognitive skills. 

“This does not mean an economy without jobs, but it does mean future employees will have to be adept at working alongside technology. Technical knowledge is important, but the role of education cannot be just to enable children to pass tests, it must instead teach pupils how to apply this knowledge. Work increasingly requires collaboration, but our education system encourages students to compete with each other. With ‘soft skills’ coming at the top of employers wish-lists, education must also find time to focus on teamwork and communication.

“At the same time, around 9 in 10 of the current workforce will still be working in 10 years’ time, so we cannot assume that education finishes with school or university. Lifelong learning allows workers to accelerate their in-work progression, or shift into developing industries, but cost is a major barrier for many people. The IoD urges the Government to look at introducing a top-up on an individual’s personal income tax allowance if they are paying to increase their skills.” 


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