by Anya S. '21
Computerized machines have already begun to take over our lives. Drones make package deliveries, self-driving cars are close to becoming a reality, and AI-written songs are indistinguishable from real ones. And soon, they’ll be coming for our jobs. According to a report by Ball State University, “approximately half of… jobs are at risk for automation.” The Boston Consulting Group has put their money on 33% of jobs being automated by 2025; the University of Oxford believes that the number will actually be 47% by 2033. This raises the question: in ten to twenty years, will there be any jobs left for us? In my experience, the answer is often “no.” Unless, that is, I want to be a computer scientist, programmer, or a software engineer. And yes, all of those titles mean the same thing: I’d be staring at my screen all day, typing away green lines of code, even if I’m not a CS fan.
Of the Lakesiders who responded to the Tatler poll, 25% listed coding as a skill that will be necessary in the future (only the ability to do taxes had a higher amount of responses). But what if computer science just isn’t our thing? Will we have to give up the humanities and sciences in order to stay afloat?
To help answer these questions, Ms. Christensen (Director of Professional Development and Middle School Director) put together a Professional Development day aimed to help teachers discover what skills will be needed to help Lakeside graduates thrive in the workplace and in life. To that end, a team of administrators created a list of 26 Lakeside-connected companies representing “entrepreneurs, start-ups, big companies, [and] manufacturing.” Lakeside alumni who worked at these companies answered questions about how a Lakeside education translated to the real world, exposing “the Lakeside teachers to what it was like” in a specific industry.
Ms. Kyle (US History Teacher) traveled to Pure WaterCraft, an organization dedicated to creating environmentally-friendly outboard motors. There, she discovered that, even though the company does require engineers and scientists, it “also needs people who can articulate the [customer’s] point of view… and figure out what kinds of potential customers [the company] can focus on.” In other words, Pure WaterCraft isn’t just looking for individuals with STEM degrees. In fact, the alumni who helped to lead the company were humanities majors. Pure WaterCraft looks for team players who can give and receive feedback, be both analytical and creative. This is good news for the students who aren’t STEM focused—according to Pure WaterCraft’s hiring policies, having a degree in mathematics or computer science isn’t necessarily as important in the real world as the ability to talk to people and collaborate with them.
Although Ms. Badus (US Math Teacher) went to a completely different type of company, the Albertsons Safeway headquarters and ice cream plant, she noticed a similar phenomenon. Namely, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on “soft skills”, which include collaboration, critical and strategic thinking, and conflict resolution. Sound familiar? These ideas—working with others, analyzing data with a critical eye—are just what Ms. Kyle described, and, luckily for me, have nothing to do with computers.
As well, just like at Pure WaterCraft, being a jack of all trades is important, as “it seemed pretty common to stay for a long time [at Safeway], and try out different roles… throughout the company.” This ability to work interdisciplinarily, to have the skills necessary to work in a variety of positions, was actually one of the company’s core values. Rather than place emphasis on degrees and knowledge, both companies seem to focus on a potential hires’ capabilities to adapt, work with others, and learn on the job. These skills can be applied in any setting and are not solely found in CS workers. But the important issue is: will what companies look for in potential employees change in the future?
According to Ms. Christensen, they won’t. In ten to twenty years, “skills only a human can do” will be essential. These “have to do with creativity, with identity, with… the ability to interact respectfully.” Ms. Kyle agreed: “When AI takes over, you still need human judgement guiding the input into these machines.” And even Ms. Badus, a math teacher and CS proponent, thought that, although the world would become more data driven, the personal piece of “communication is probably not going to go away.” And, thankfully, Lakeside is busy preparing us for this new reality (see Nhivan T. ’21 and Mia V.’s ’21 article); 57% of Lakesiders polled believe that Lakeside adequately teaches us the soft skills necessary for the real world.
But in order to succeed, Ms. Kyle believes that “having a team of interdisciplinarians will be most useful.” Even if you aren’t a STEM person, you will need get along with people who are interested in that field, and vice versa, so that your company and product can be as strong as possible. Even if you don’t like to code, you must work “with people who know how to code,” states Ms. Badus. Although there’s a high chance that you’ll end up working on a coding-related problem and will have to give it “to someone… who can code some of its features… you need to at least have some sort of exposure [to coding] so you can describe what you want to somebody who can make it happen,” she says, a point which really drives home the importance of cross-subject understanding.
This all makes sense: the traits that make us most human—the communication, social interaction, the ability to learn from criticism and failure—will, in the long run, set us apart from our robotic job-stealing counterparts, as will surrounding ourselves with a variety of skill sets. We must be well-rounded (and have a basic understanding of computer science) in order to succeed in the future.