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Survey: Higher Ed Is Not the First Choice for AI Training

Americans put little faith in higher education for teaching students what they need to know to prepare for a future that includes artificial intelligence. In a recent survey, just a third of adults said their institutions of higher ed are "among the best in the world." And seven in 10 said that if their own skills and education were on the line to become outdated, they'd look to their employers for on-the-job training or some other form of training to help them over the gap. Just a quarter (28 percent) said they'd seek online licensing, certification or a degree from a university.

These findings came out of a Gallup and Northeastern University survey on AI and its impact on jobs, the education choices respondents would make in response to workforce changes, and their confidence in higher education, government and business in planning for widespread AI adoption. This is the second time these subjects have been raised. However, this time, the survey went farther afield, gathering responses from more than 10,000 respondents, all over the age of 18 and residing in one of three countries: the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The results specifically represented input from 4,394 people in the United States, who took the survey in April and May 2019.

Where people would get training or education when their skills became outdated

Where people would get training or education when their skills became outdated. Source: "Facing the Future," from Gallup and Northeastern University.

Among Americans, 95 percent of respondents said they see the value of career-long learning (compared with 94 percent in the United Kingdom and 92 percent in Canada). However, colleges and universities aren't seen as best equipped to provide career-long learning. A quarter or less of adults in all three countries considered higher ed the best place to get career training. U.S. respondents said the major barriers they've faced in seeking education or training during their careers are cost, referenced by 65 percent, followed by lack of time, mentioned by 61 percent.

Who should pay for retraining programs for workers who lose their jobs because of new technology

Who should pay for retraining programs for workers who lose their jobs because of new technology. Source: "Facing the Future," from Gallup and Northeastern University.

In all three countries, adults expressed pessimism about the overall impact of AI on jobs, but they were much more optimistic about its impact on their own jobs. In the United States, 71 percent said adoption of AI would result in net job loss. (As the report noted, that's "essentially unchanged" from 2017, when the previous survey was conducted and 73 percent of Americans said AI adoption would result in a net job loss.)

However, when asked if they worried about losing their own jobs to AI, 83 percent of U.S. workers in the latest survey said either they aren't "too worried" or they aren't "worried at all." In fact, 42 percent of U.S. respondents said their skills and education would never become outdated — a considerably more upbeat response than the one from Canada (28 percent) or the United Kingdom (29 percent).

Overall, Americans were evenly split in their estimation of the types of skills that are most important for workers to have to protect themselves from losing their jobs to new technologies such as AI or robots. Half said teamwork, communication, creativity and critical thinking are most important; half said math, science, coding and the ability to work with data are most important. Those individuals with bachelor's or advanced degrees tended to favor the soft skills over the technical ones. However, in none of the countries did a majority of adults say they are confident that they know which skills are required to adapt to AI.

"The current lack of confidence in institutions and the acceptance of the value of lifelong learning provides a clear opportunity for leaders in higher education," the report on the findings concluded. "Partnering with governments and businesses to provide affordable, relevant, bite-sized, lifelong education to workers in all three countries could restore confidence, not just for higher education, but for the other institutions as well."

The report is available with registration through the Gallup 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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