How Career Pathways Can Prepare for Era of Automation

With the full impact of automation and artificial intelligence yet to be realized, now is the time to seize opportunities to reinforce one of the most effective routes to good-paying work: the career pathway. That is the case made by the authors of a recent report for the Urban Institute, who use a typical career ladder, health informatics, as an example.



Traditionally, that career pathway might look like this: medical transcriptionist > medical coder > medical biller > health information technician > health administration and management. However, advances to artificial intelligence threaten to replace some of the middle rungs on that ladder – even if jobs at the top and bottom are less likely to be threatened.


Sidestepping the gaps

Talent 2025 has long emphasized the need for well-designed career pathways. When these are developed in collaboration between educators and employers, students and job seekers get training that aligns with needs of employers.

The Urban Institute authors argue for pathways designed to offset the effects of a “hollowed out” career ladder. This is important even amid uncertainty about automation-driven changes. For example, “career pathways programs could identify other jobs for integration into the pathways or help workers bridge the gap between entry-level jobs and those at the more skilled end of the spectrum.”

This might involve allowing participants to shift to another occupation that requires skills more resistant to automation. Involvement of employers will be essential. “A consistent back and forth with employers in a given field allows career pathways programs to remain responsive to the changing importance of various skills. And the flexibility to allow workers to shift laterally — in addition to vertically — reduces some of the damage that automation could have on these programs,” the authors write.


Preparing for the unpredictable

The case for preparing now for an uncertain future comes amid growing anxiety about the future of work. Pew Research Center reports that almost half of all Americans expect U.S. workers will have less job security by 2050. Nearly as many (48%) see little value in automation’s role in the economy, saying advances have mostly hurt American workers. Meanwhile, Axios devoted a special report last week to the challenges facing the millennial generation. Those born between 1981 and 1996 came of age during the Great Recession and will be the first generation to face the full impact of the age of automation. Axios writes: “The future of work for millennials looks no rosier than it has been the last decade — and may be worse.”

All the more reason for innovative and carefully designed career ladders and pathways – not just for millennials, but for following generations, including those in middle school today.

This has been a focus of Talent 2025, which has promoted ways to help these students connect their studies to real-world applications. This helps them understand the value of in-demand jobs and career pathways. Talent 2025 also prioritizes collaboration between employers and educators to align pathways to in-demand jobs – essential for the real-time adjustments cited by the Urban Institute. “Workforce development programs should respond nimbly,” the Urban Institute authors write, “keeping career pathways innovations in mind to help workers successfully navigate the future of work.”

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