What automation means for young workers

Students will need to find the right combinations of skills to compete in the labour market of the future.
Buzzfeed employees work at the company's headquarters in New York. (REUTERS)

On the website for a company named Iron Ox there is a job posting for a  roboticist. It isn't so surprising — robotics is an in-demand skill — until you realize that Iron Ox is an agricultural company. They have a greenhouse in California staffed by robots that seed, water, and tend the plants.

Creig Lamb (Brookfield Institute)
The work world is changing, and not just speculatively. We're feeling the changes, on the ground, right now.

Creig Lamb is a Policy Advisor at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Creig wrote a report called Future-proof: Preparing young Canadians for the future of work.

While everyone will likely be impacted by automation in one way or another, there is one group that faces the most uncertainty, if only because they have most of their working lives still ahead of them.

"Technological change has impacted young people in the workforce for centuries," Creig says.  "And I think what it does is eliminate the need for some skills and some job tasks while creating opportunities for some job tasks and some job skills."

As Creig says, technology has always affected how people work. But artificial intelligence increasingly allows automation in areas that earlier technologies could never have touched. 

"Oftentimes this can disproportionately impact entry level positions," Creig says. "These are often positions that... are more predictable and that kind of the realm that AI plays. If a job task is predictable people can often automate it.  If these entry level positions are potentially automated how are young people going to acquire the skills necessary to move up the labour market?"

Steve Jobs credited the success of apple to the marriage of STEM and liberal arts disciplines. (AFP/Getty Images)
Traditionally, jobs that fall into the STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) have been protected from automation. But what employers are looking for in the job market now aren't necessarily taught in the STEM disciplines. "They're the things like creativity, the things like people management and stakeholder interactions," Creig says."There are not the skills that are taught within the STEM disciplines, but in the liberal arts disciplines."

"It was Steve Jobs that said that it was the intermarriage between STEM and the liberal arts that made Apple so successful. So I think it's going to be really important to enable folks with liberal arts background to enter these technologically driven disciplines and become entrepreneurs and take advantage of opportunites."