Preparing Students to Join the AI Workforce

Explore how educators can prepare their students for a workforce impacted by artificial intelligence (AI).

Grades K-12 13 min Resource by:
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Students are already realizing that some of the jobs that were once available to them may soon be significantly changed or even replaced by artificial intelligence (AI).

In the Ed Week article, “What Skills Should Students Learn in an AI-Powered World?,” Lauraine Langreo points out that “66 percent of teens are concerned they may not be able to find a good job as adults because of artificial intelligence.”

Fortune Magazine calls attention to the findings of The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, which suggests that while AI might not directly replace a worker, a person who uses AI might.

In findings that might alleviate some student concerns, the report also anticipates that, despite some displacement of workers, AI will create a net gain of 13 million new jobs. Notably, the report suggests that these jobs will likely require some degree of skill in working with artificial intelligence.

The Future of Jobs Report also reveals that students are not alone in worrying about future employment opportunities. Fortune Magazine reports that very few employees in the labor market are ready for a transition to AI-powered jobs. It cites the Future of Jobs Report, writing, “The A.I. field has the biggest skills gap in the tech industry, meaning there are few qualified applicants for roles despite a rapidly growing need.” In this light, graduating students and current employees will all likely need to develop new skills to effectively use AI on the job.

To fill this skills gap, schools and educators will need to adapt and modify how they prepare students for a future in this shifting occupational landscape. This will be both a challenge and an opportunity for schools to empower their students with the tools they need to succeed in this shifting work environment.

Teaching Students About AI

It’s becoming increasingly clear that an important step in preparing students for their future workplace will be introducing them to AI. In fact, many leaders in technology and instructional technology are already sending this message and emphasizing the importance of AI education.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) sends this message loud and clear. In their introduction to Hands-On AI Projects for the Classroom: A Guide on Ethics and AI, they state emphatically, “We believe that, in order to be successful in school and in life, all K–12 students need a foundational understanding of what AI is, how it works, and how it impacts society. AI education is important across all subject areas, not just computer science classes.” The authors add, “We are convinced that the language of future problem-solving will be the language of AI.”

Alex Kotran, co-founder and CEO of aiEDU, thinks the need to teach AI is urgent. In a recent interview with The Hill, he said, “I would say if in three years, every single student in America doesn’t learn about artificial intelligence while they’re in school, we will have massively failed.”

The logical implication for schools is that they need to integrate AI education into the existing curriculum and to do so as quickly as possible. This exposure will be an important and potentially critical first step in preparing students for a future with AI.

Understanding AI’s Impact on Future Work

In addition to introducing students to AI, we must help them recognize the ways in which it will impact the skills needed for future employment. To help students see the future more clearly, educators themselves must gain an understanding of AI’s potential impact on the labor market.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, “More than 75% of companies are looking to adopt AI tech in the next five years.”

The report also notes that the two biggest trends anticipated to drive business transformation in the next 5 years will be increased adoption of new and frontier technologies (86%) and broadening digital access (86%). With these changes, “44% of workers’ core skills are expected to change.”

The Future of Jobs Report also predicts that the impact of AI and related technologies will place new priorities on skills that will make employees more productive when using AI. Specifically noted are cognitive problem-solving, analytical thinking, and technology literacy skills.

Even though most students will probably not have jobs developing AI technology, many will likely have careers that are impacted in some way by AI or jobs infused with AI interactions.

Keith Farley, Senior Vice President at Aflac, agrees that AI will significantly impact future work environments. In the Forbes article Rise Of AI Also Raises Demand For Creative Skills, he says, “Tomorrow’s workforce will leverage AI the way today’s workforce leverages technologies like the internet that was once futuristic and potentially intimidating.”

Anil Verma, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, studies the impact of AI on employment. He says, “We will all be affected by AI. So to be successful is not so much to worry about your job being obsolete or replaced by a bot, but to figure out which AI those [sic] tools are relevant to my job, how I can learn to use them and use it to enhance my performance.” He adds, “My advice to people is, look, if your work involves doing something very mundane and repetitious that can be easily replaced by a bot, then you should be learning new skills.”

Even the United States National AI Advisory Committee has put forth a goal to “scale an AI capable federal workforce.” Their report Includes plans to “develop an approach to train the current and future federal workforce for the AI era.” and to “train a new generation of AI-skilled civil servants.”

In all of this research and commentary, one theme is clear. Learning how to leverage AI and work with it productively will be essential.

Joseph South, ISTE Chief Learning Officer, echoes this sentiment in the ISTE Guide on Ethics and AI. He also raises concerns and writes that schools and educators need to do much more than they are doing right now to prepare for this shift. He says,

“We know that the jobs of the future will increasingly demand knowledge of how to leverage and collaborate with AI as a tool for problem solving. Unfortunately, most students today are not on a trajectory to fill those jobs. To prepare students, all educators need to understand the implications, applications, and creation methods behind AI. After all, teachers are the most important link in developing the new generation of AI-savvy learners, workers, and leaders. . . . We believe that, in order to be successful in school and in life, all K–12 students need a foundational understanding of what AI is, how it works, and how it impacts society. AI education is important across all subject areas, not just computer science classes.”

The Ability to Change and Adapt

As companies race to get out in front of the AI revolution, it seems that a new breakthrough or application is announced nearly every day. With this rate of development, the work landscape is likely to shift rapidly, and our students will find themselves in the middle of it all.

To thrive in this type of ever-changing world, students will need to learn more than content area standards. They will need to learn how to be flexible and able to adapt to change.

UNESCO, in its publication AI and education: guidance for policy-makers, acknowledges this, saying, “The very nature of employment is likely to change.” They note that because AI is much more efficient at certain tasks than humans, artificial intelligence will likely replace current jobs that focus on standardized, repetitive work. To remain relevant in an evolving workspace, people will likely need to retrain and upskill multiple times in their careers. In this type of work environment, we will all need to be lifelong learners, and it will be important that we prepare our students for this reality.

The consequences of not learning new technology and adapting to new demands can be significant. In fact, UNESCO’s report warns that workers unable to work with new technologies will be increasingly excluded from the job market.

Peter Stone, professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin, also talks about the importance of adaptability. In the Education Week article Will Artificial Intelligence Help Teachers—or Replace Them?, he argues, “We shouldn’t be educating our students to do a particular job. We now need to be educating our students to be able to be flexible, to be able to retrain themselves, to be able to learn how to learn. . . . because the nature of that job may change over the next few years. Or you may find that you need to be able to jump to a new career partway through.”

Saadia Zahidi,  World Economic Forum Managing Director, says, “Nearly half of the skills that people like you and I are using every single day in the workplace are going to have to change in the next 4 to 5 years alone.”

In AI and education: guidance for policy-makers, UNESCO predicts the same trend. They write, “AI and other frontier technologies are increasing the range of high-skill jobs that require unique creative and analytical abilities and human interactions. In short, many workers’ jobs might disappear, and they will need to develop new skill sets—upskilling or reskilling—to enable them to enter the new occupations made possible by AI.”

If this scenario is even partially accurate, companies will be looking for adaptable employees who can change as new skills are required. Unsurprisingly, the World Economic Forum found that four of the top job skills likely to be sought in the next 5 years are self-efficacy skills workers will need to adapt to change: resilience, motivation, curiosity, and life-long learning. These are the skills that our students will need to develop to adapt to new technology and the shifts those changes bring.

Not surprisingly, companies are planning for this trend as well. Eighty-two percent of organizations are planning to invest in learning and training on the job, while 80% look to accelerate the automation of processes through the use of new technology.

Even if our students do not end up working in an AI field, they will almost certainly need to be prepared for jobs infused with AI technology and job skills that will continue to evolve regularly. In those conditions, the ability to work “with” AI will be increasingly important, as will the ability to adapt to change. Our students will need transferable, life-long skills that they can use to adapt and change along with continually evolving technology. And that almost certainly will include AI.

Arpan Chokshi, National Board Certified Teacher and instructional coach, sums this up nicely in his ASCD blog post Planning Professional Development on ChatGPT. He believes that everyone in education will need to review our practices through an AI lens. He points out,

“A child born today will graduate from high school in the year 2040. No one knows exactly what schools and society will look like then, but one thing is certain: our students will live, learn, and work in ways that will forever be changed by AI. While the pace of advancements in AI presents real challenges for educators, it’s also an opportunity to create schools where each student leaves with the knowledge, skills, and disposition to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world.”

With the right planning and mindset, we can prepare our students for success.