Editorial

The jobs that will be obsolete in 10 years, making STEM a must

Sunday, October 27, 2019

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Rapid and profound technology changes and globalisation are combining to change the nature of work and the types of employment which will be available.

The world has passed through four industrial revolutions, each defined by the key technologies which sustained them: The first used water and steam power; the second relied on electric power; and the third used electronics and information technology.

The fourth and current industrial revolution is powered by artificial intelligence and the fusion of physical, digital, and biological technologies. New technologies such as nanotechnology, digitisation, artificial intelligence, robotisation, smart machines, drones and the like, are profoundly changing economic and social life.

Artificial intelligence, cloud computing, automation and other technologies will make repetitive, routine, mechanical and time-consuming tasks redundant. Automation will thereby augment productivity.

Increasingly, humans will collaborate with computers and machines in decision-making. Jobs at risk of displacement by automation amount to 38% in America; 35% in Germany; 31% in the United Kingdom, and 21% in Japan. The jobs most affected by redundancy in the next decade will be: (1) secretaries and administrative assistants, (2) accountants, (3) cashiers and (4) data-entry personnel.

The news is not all bad because the new technologies will also create jobs. The 10 highest paying jobs for new graduates are all in the tech sector, thus: data scientist; software engineer; product manager; investment banking analyst; product designer; systems engineer; and software developer. These jobs will require an education with a high content of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The question is will the education system in Jamaica — from primary to university level — produce enough people with competence in STEM?

The results in mathematics at the primary and secondary levels are cause for serious concern. The number of graduates in STEM is low as a percentage of total university graduates. Universities cannot “spin straw into gold”, if those entering higher education institutions are deficient in STEM. There is no engineer who has not passed mathematics in high school, and there is no doctor who has not passed biology and chemistry.

Jamaica's human resources are underdeveloped because they are undereducated for employment in a modern global economy. An estimated 17.7 per cent of employed Jamaican youth are undereducated for their positions.

The result is that the business processing industry (BPO) cannot find enough qualified persons for the higher paid jobs. The weakness of the work-force is not only at the level of university education, but there is STEM illiteracy at the technical and vocational level. Only 13 per cent of the 19-24 cohort ie post-school are enrolled in an educational or training institution.

One of the reasons for this is that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in Jamaica, has traditionally been stigmatised as remedial training for dropouts from the formal education system.

The global economy is generating plenty of well-paid employment but with the STEM failures of our education system, will the majority of Jamaicans remain as hewers of wood and drawers of water?


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