Time to embrace the robots through education


Preparing children for life with robots

Robotics has certainly moved up the agenda of late as the potential for such technology to push many people out of unskilled jobs becomes more apparent as developers advance the capabilities of these types of solutions.

But since I became a governor at my children’s school I’ve begun to regard the debate around how exactly schools prepare the broad mass of children for life beyond the gates a bigger issue than the scare story of machines running amok on the shop floor killing unskilled jobs.

The industrial revolution was clearly about the advent of machines with the result that schools, sensibly, trained their charges for life on the production lines – with modest English and mathematics skills the best they could expect. There was no preparation for challenging things, or for probing or questioning. This was the domain of that elite minority who progressed onto University.

There is no doubt that machines will have a material impact on work-life but there is a strong argument that children should be taught skills that make them much more valuable in this new work place dynamic. I believe education is not setting up our children to play a role in the digital age.

While school curriculums largely remain pegged to the old (Victorian could we say) requirements of the work place there is simply too much of a straightjacket being enforced on youngsters. This is massively debilitating because we are in an era when the freedom of digital is allowing creative thinking to really flourish.

They should be given more opportunity to question, challenge, and debate, which should collectively contribute to supporting the fact that children are all different. They might not only need to be taught differently but their contribution in the work environment will also therefore be potentially different – and meaningful as a result.

This individuality could well come more to the fore in those jobs that are deemed to be in the firing line of the robots. These include shop floor roles where there have been predictions that as many as one million jobs could be lost. One point to counter this is that many jobs will undoubtedly shift to back office and warehouse functions in order to service the growing levels of internet sales. The other point is that many jobs on the shop floor will remain but they will undoubtedly change.

Whereas they have traditionally been production-line type roles this will change as technology becomes more apparent in retailer’s stores. The ability to use digital devices that can call on Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality etc…suggests that in-store employees will be playing a much richer role. They will be empowered by technology and they compliment this with their own personality and individuality.

Such attributes were largely redundant in the past but this is changing. Customers’ expectations in-store revolves around greater personalisation, which in its richest form combines the human touch (and the engagement that comes with it) and the power of technology.

This suggests a much more varied shop floor role, with technology and individuality core components, which arguably demand skill sets that are deviating from the ingrained curriculums. What it also demands though is an acknowledgement from management that their shop floor employees will be much more empowered to express themselves in a way dramatically removed from the production-line approach required of them so far.

This clearly puts a direct line of impact from the robots to the senior management of retailers. The rise of robots will demand a different mind-set from these high powered individuals in the C-suite. It is absolutely not just about unskilled jobs being changed as a result of advances in robotics.

So while there is definitely a need to consider how the school curriculum is preparing children for work in the digital age it is clearly just as applicable for business and management schools to recognise serious changes are taking place and that everybody needs to adapt in order that we are all best placed to embrace new technologies including our friends the robots.

Guy (online only)Guy Chiswick, Managing Director, Webloyalty Northern Europe (@Webloyalty_Guy)