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OECD Releases Report on Automation and the Workforce

The report recommends that colleges and universities consider funneling more resources into computer science departments to address professors' increasing workloads.

As technologies across the globe disrupt the workforce, researchers are frantically trying to estimate the impact machines, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) will have on future jobs.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a working paper on this topic. The OECD works to provide a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems. They work with governments to understand what drives economic, social and environmental change, and measure productivity and global flows of trade and investment. There are 34 countries that are members of the OECD.

The working paper delves into the topic of automation in the future workforce. The findings are interesting, as the 2013 study by Frey and Osborne suggested that 47 percent of jobs would become automated in the future. The OECD continued to build on the study and in 2018 has revised those numbers. In OECD’s most recent study, they suggest 14 percent of jobs in OECD countries are likely to be “highly automatable” which means that the probability of automation is 70 percent or higher.

The OECD also chose to focus on how automation might change industries. Some key findings from the report include the following:

  • Across the OECD countries, one in two jobs are likely to be significantly affected by automation; and 14 percent of jobs are highly automatable. Although this number is significantly lower than the original Frey and Osborne estimate, the impact will still affect 66 million workers across the participating OECD countries.
  • The variance in automatability across countries is large. For instance, 33 percent of jobs in Slovakia are highly automatable, while in Norway only 6 percent are highly automatable.
  • The risk of automation is not distributed equally among workers. Automation is found to mostly impact jobs in the manufacturing and agriculture fields, and careers with basic to low levels of education.
  • The risk of automation most greatly impacts jobs for teenagers.
To view further findings from the OECD study, visit here.

What Do These Numbers Mean for Education?

Although these numbers may bring some relief, there are still many reasons to prepare students for an ever-changing workforce. The study is quick to point out that although not all jobs will be automated, they will certainly be impacted by new processes and technology. While not as many jobs will be completely automated as once thought, computer science and coding will be considered only basic skills.

School districts across the country are starting coding camps and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) camps at the elementary level as well as STEM programs in all grade spans, as leaders understand that this skill will be required in virtually every field of the workforce.

Universities and community colleges have seen an increase in computer science bachelor degrees and certificates; however, there are still not enough students graduating with the credentials to fill the available jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2024 nearly 4.6 million jobs will be in computer science and related fields. In a 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, many variables should be considered when university leaders think about computer science education, including how and who to offer the courses.

The report recommends that colleges and universities should consider funneling more resources into their computer science departments to address professors' increasing workloads. Administrators should be working with their departments to develop new goals on faculty and staff retention and seriously mull increasing those numbers and the academic rank of those professors. Another interesting recommendation is that states carefully consider caps on computer courses or major enrollment. Indeed, we know there will be a shortage in the computer science field, especially as the numbers keep increasing for automated tasks and jobs as a whole.

We hope that as visionary district leaders take on the challenge of preparing the next-gen workforce, dual enrollment and other innovative K-12 models increasingly will allow secondary students to earn certificates in computer science before even entering post-secondary studies.

This OECD report means that leaders K-20 must work together to create career pathways so that students are ready for whatever the workforce looks like when they enter, either by starting students earlier in their studies of computer science, or K-12 working hand in hand with higher education to create systems that don’t limit the number of professionals in the computer science field.