Computers and the Future of Skill Demand

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Computer scientists are working on reproducing all human skills using artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. Unsurprisingly then, many people worry that these advances will dramatically change work skills in the years ahead and perhaps leave many workers unemployable.

This report develops a new approach to understanding these computer capabilities by using a test based on the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) to compare computers with human workers. The test assesses three skills that are widely used at work and are an important focus of education: literacy, numeracy and problem solving with computers.

Most workers in OECD countries use the three skills every day. However, computers are close to reproducing these skills at the proficiency level of most adults in the workforce. Only 13% of workers now use these skills on a daily basis with a proficiency that is clearly higher than computers.

The findings raise troubling questions about whether most workers will be able to acquire the skills they need as these new computer capabilities are increasingly used over the next few decades. To answer those questions, the report’s approach could be extended across the full range of work skills. We need to know how computers and people compare across all skills to develop successful policies for work and education for the future.




Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

Digitalisation is connecting people, cities, countries and continents, bringing together a majority of the world’s population in ways that vastly increase our individual and collective potential. But the same forces have also made the world more volatile, more complex and more uncertain. The rolling processes of automation and hollowing out of jobs, particularly for routine tasks, have radically altered the nature of work and life. For those with the right knowledge, skills and character qualities this can be liberating and exciting. But for those who are insufficiently prepared, it can mean the scourge of vulnerable and insecure work, and life without prospects. We are living in this digital bazaar where anything that is not built for the network age is going to crack under its pressure. Future jobs are likely to pair computer intelligence with the creative, social and emotional skills of human beings. It will then be our capacity for innovation, our awareness and our sense of responsibility that will equip us to harness machines to shape the world. All this is driving amazing changes in the demand for skills and the dilemma for educators is that the kind of things that are easiest to teach and easiest to test are precisely the kind of things that are easiest to digitize, automate and outsource.


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