Six degrees to outsmart jobs lost to automation

June 24, 2018 · 7 min read · By ASU Online

For a few years now, society has feared rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. There's a common assumption that robots will replace several jobs. The fear of automation and unemployment is real for many, but robots have yet to cause the uproar of the coronavirus pandemic. Job losses due to the coronavirus more than double the numbers seen in the Great Recession.


So, what’s your motivation for earning a degree online? Whether it’s the fear of emerging technologies, the distress of unemployment in the coronavirus era or your own personal motivations, pursuing a degree is a growing trend for professionals. You may need a competitive edge with the onset of technological advancements or a new skill set that’s immune to automation. Whatever the case, Arizona State University has academic programs that’ll outsmart job automation. These learning opportunities aim to provide more job security in the future.

What is automation?

Automation describes the broad application of machines and technologies to simple, rudimentary tasks once performed by human beings. Automation can streamline and centralize routine tasks with minimal human input. Automation may also use technology to perform a variety of tasks humans can’t perform. These include delicate operations, dangerous tasks like reconnaissance or mundane repetitive tasks.

How many jobs will be lost to automation?

A report by Oxford Economics estimates that robots could replace about 8.5% of the global manufacturing workforce. That's about 20 million manufacturing jobs lost to automation by 2030. Along with manufacturing, jobs in construction, maintenance, administration, storage and transportation are at a high risk of automation. Although, it’s important to note the increase in automation will also boost jobs and economic growth. So, while jobs will be lost, jobs will be created as well.

According to technology consultant Daniel Araya in an article published by Futurithmic, scholars of the future need to acquire skills to complete jobs where artificial intelligence falls flat. This responsibility is twofold. First, universities need innovative programs tailored toward improving artificial intelligence and machine learning. These include programs such as engineering and software development. Second, universities need programs that elevate human ingenuity and advanced competencies in problem-solving, people management and social intelligence. Both of these areas will be instrumental in an era of accelerating innovation.

ASU Online recommends the following programs for job outcomes that won’t be lost to automation.

Bachelor of Arts in education – educational studies

As new technologies inundate the educational environment, there’s been some debate on whether educators are at risk. Some schools have started welcoming robots into the classroom. Robots can assist teachers in teaching language or English communication skills. Additionally, robotics may be well suited to handle menial work and mundane tasks. These types of technologies, though, have a long way to go with regard to social interaction and speech recognition. Teaching is a human-centered role. Educators are responsible for inspiring learners, which is an ability no algorithm has been able to create so far.

“Although technology is on the rise in our world and various learning contexts, human relationships are foundational to the learning process,” says Amy Markos, a clinical assistant professor in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “Learning experiences are designed by humans, with humans and for humans.”

The educational studies bachelor’s degree outsmarts job automation. Students learn to design and put in place learning experiences in a variety of contexts for several purposes. The program teaches and uses the human-centered design process. This process solves problems by incorporating the human perspective at every stage.

In the educational studies program, students learn to work with children, youth and adults. They learn the importance of teaching in formal and informal learning environments. These include nonprofit settings, community institutions, civic organizations and businesses. Students also take part in three internship courses. These courses enable students to teach and learn in real contexts. While this undergraduate degree does not lead to teaching certification, it does provide an excellent foundation for moving on to a master's program for certification.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

According to the findings of a report by the Brookings Institution, one-quarter of American jobs are at a high risk of automation. Yet, personal care and positions that need interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are most likely to prevail. Take social workers for example. They need to be adaptable and empathetic while actively and responsively listening to a client’s needs. The human element in client and provider relationships keeps this profession at low risk for automation.

“The field of social work is deeply rooted in developing positive and effective relationships with people and communities,” says Brett Petersen, coordinator of the online Master of Social Work program and lecturer in ASU’s School of Social Work. “Humanistic skills, such as active listening, empathy, genuineness and positive regard, make the profession social work uniquely human.”

Social workers, like other professionals, are adapting to automation and technological advancements. The use of new and existing technologies help alleviate the workload of social workers and address some of the staffing issues in the field. For instance, during the pandemic, the use of telehealth and other technology-based platforms has increased substantially. The field of social work is embracing technology but remains vigilant in ethical-based practices that ensure the privacy and dignity of clients.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Technological advancements have been revolutionizing the health care industry. For instance, health care robotics are relieving hospital personnel of routine tasks. Robots can track vitals, insert information into an electronic health record and carry supplies. Robots can do these tasks through innovative techniques like gesture control and machine vision. While technology can provide sophisticated levels of efficiency, it’s difficult to replace the critical thinking and problem-solving skills of a nurse at a patient’s bedside and the human component of patient care.

“Nurses spend the most time with patients and remain a key element in a patient’s recovery,” says Margaret Morris, a clinical professor in ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “A master’s degree in nursing online will give you the skills necessary to be a leader at the bedside and to help design process improvement initiatives that use technology to improve care.”

Technology is an important partner in health care, but it’s up to the nurse to take action. For example, most patients have intravenous fluids delivered through pumps. These pumps will alarm if too little or too much fluid is being pumped out. The nurse needs to determine the cause, which could include the patient or other factors. Also, machines can’t assess the side effects of medications, blood transfusions or the worsening of symptoms.

The role of a nurse outsmarts job automation. The skills of communication, critical thinking, physical assessment and patient care are vital. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, preparation at the baccalaureate and graduate degree levels are linked to lower mortality rates, fewer medication errors and positive outcomes for patients. So, advancing your education in nursing will serve students in a multitude of ways.

Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Bachelor of Science in psychology

According to an article published in the Guardian, occupations that involve genuine creativity or building complex relationships with people are at a lower risk of automation. For instance, psychologists, occupational therapists and counselors may be at a lower risk of job automation than telemarketers, cashiers and fast-food cooks.

In the Bachelor of Arts in psychology or the Bachelor of Science in psychology programs, students develop skills in writing, critical thinking and qualitative research methods. With the guidance of experienced faculty, psychology students can specialize in diverse fields. These include education, policy, public administration, social work and more. Due to the human element and creative aspects of these fields, students are less likely to encounter job automation.

At ASU Online, these degree programs are fast-track eligible, which means graduates can either continue onto a post-bac program or start their career right away. Career prospects include roles such as clinical data managers, forensic science technicians and occupational therapists.

Public Interest Technology (MS)

ASU’s Master of Science in public interest technology takes a new approach to a future filled with automation by training scholars to work in tandem with advancements in technology. This revolutionary degree program teaches students how to imagine, design, create and apply technology for the advancement of social good. Public interest technologists focus on benefiting humanity. They solve problems, such as privacy encroachment, unsustainable practices, humanitarian crises and more.

Key skills in the public interest technology degree that’ll be relevant in an age of automation include the ability to think analytically, design new systems and processes, apply value-driven technology and create a future in which everyone thrives.


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