College & Workforce Readiness

Are You Helping Prepare Students for Jobs That Will Be Lost to Automation?

By Catherine Gewertz — August 02, 2017 2 min read
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Teachers, do you ever wonder if you’re helping students get prepared for jobs that will have disappeared by the time they graduate?

As the education world focuses increasingly on the importance of career preparation, it’s a challenging question. How can teachers—and policymakers who influence their work—figure out which career pathways will be productive for students, and which will lead to dead ends?

Based on an analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg has created an interactive graphic that rates each field’s likelihood of being replaced by automation. To give it a whirl, I put my own job field in the search box, and was relieved to find that reporters and correspondents aren’t very likely to be replaced by robots anytime soon. (Cue the smiley-face emoticon here.)

But take a look at some of the professions you might be getting your students ready to enter. What are their futures?

A big takeaway from Bloomberg’s chart is that earning a college degree tends to offer more insulation from automation risk than jobs requiring associate degrees or less. The chart is color-coded according to the education level needed for each job field, and it’s easy to see that the blues and greens—connoting jobs requiring associate degrees or higher—are clustered heavily in the zone of least risk for replacement by computers. Teaching is one of those fields: The chart shows that they’re unlikely to be replaced by robots anytime soon. (Cue that smiley emoticon again.)

College degrees don’t offer universal insulation from elimination by automation, though. Accountants and auditors—and aspiring accountants and auditors—might feel a little chill in their blood when they check out this graphic. Loan officers and paralegals might feel a bit uneasy, too. Are you helping students prepare for jobs in those fields? They’re among the better-paid jobs that require college degrees but are also at higher risk for replacement by automation.

Jobs that require a high school diploma—think bus drivers, medical secretaries—are at elevated risk of being replaced. Being an insurance sales agent isn’t looking like a field with great job security, either.

And jobs that require less than a high school diploma are at the highest risk of all: postal clerks, waiters and waitresses, receptionists. Home health aides are one of the few jobs that require no formal education credential and are not at high risk of replacement by computerization.

Some states and districts are farther ahead than others in monitoring the labor market to see which jobs are in demand and which aren’t, and tailoring their offerings to match. Tennessee, for instance, is a leader in this thinking. As I reported earlier this year, Tennessee allows high schools to offer only the programs of study that are backed up by labor-market demand and include options for college degrees or certificates.

In the coming year here at EdWeek, we’ll be reporting more on how the changing workforce is reshaping K-12 education. Stay in touch as we explore this question. And we’d love to hear from you! Tweet @educationweek with the hashtag #SkillsforFutureJobs to let us know how you think schools should be preparing students for the workplace.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.