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Survey: In an AI World, Retraining Will Come from Employers, Not Higher Ed

When Americans think about the artificial intelligence "revolution," they expect it to have a positive impact on life and work, but a negative impact on the workforce and the economy. While only nine percent believe AI will "decrease inequality," seven times as many (63 percent) think it will increase inequality. And while 14 percent anticipate AI creating more jobs than it eliminates, five times as many (73 percent) predict just the opposite. However, while nearly a quarter (23 percent) are afraid they'll lose their job to AI, three-quarters (77 percent) have no fears about that. Also, 76 percent "agree" or "strongly agree" that AI "will fundamentally change" the way we live and work over the next decade.

Those findings come out of a new report, "Optimism and Anxiety: Views on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Higher Education's Response," based on results of a Northeastern University and Gallup survey. A random sample of 3,297 American adults aged 18 and older was polled by mail between Sept. 15 and Oct. 10, 2017. (The survey was issued in both English and Spanish.)

Among those respondents who expect AI to result in a net job loss, these are the jobs they believe will disappear first. (Respondents were allowed to choose more than one response.) Source: "Optimism and Anxiety: Views on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Higher Education's Response" from Northeastern University/Gallup.

The question is how to help people get ready for this expected "sea change in the future of work," according to the report. "Colleges and universities have their work cut out for them," wrote Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern, in a foreword to the report. Only a fifth of respondents (22 percent) with bachelor's degrees or higher feel their own education has "prepared them 'well' or 'very well' to work with AI in the workplace."

Overall a slight majority (51 percent) among employed respondents agree that they'll need more training to get a new job at an equivalent salary. (This varied by region; while 60 percent of people in the west agreed, just 42 percent said the same in the midwest.) Given a list of retraining options, the largest number (49 percent) would look to employers for on-the-job training. Just one in five (21 percent) would pursue upskilling from a college or university through face-to-face instruction. Another 16 percent would go after online education from a college or university.

Who would cover the cost of training? Six in 10 (61 percent) would expect employers to pay. Half would turn to the federal government for help. Just 27 percent said the workers themselves would pay.

"Taken together, these results are a wake-up call for higher education," asserted Aoun. "The need for colleges and universities to adapt is clear. We must design and implement a curriculum that empowers humans to be 'robot-proof' — to do the jobs only humans can do."

The report is openly available on the Northeastern U website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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