Digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence and Vocational Occupations and Skills

web, network, programming

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

The Taccle AI project on Artificial Intelligence and Vocational Education and Training, has published a preprint  version of a paper which has been submitted of publication to the VET network of the European Research Association.

The paper, entitled  Digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence and Vocational Occupations and Skills: What are the needs for training Teachers and Trainers, seeks to explore the impact AI and automation have on vocational occupations and skills and to examine what that means for teachers and trainers in VET. It looks at how AI can be used to shape learning and teaching processes, through for example, digital assistants which support teachers. It also focuses on the transformative power of AI that promises profound changes in employment and work tasks. The paper is based on research being undertaken through the EU Erasmus+ Taccle AI project. It presents the results of an extensive literature review and of interviews with VET managers, teachers and AI experts in five countries. It asks whether machines will complement or replace humans in the workplace before going to look at developments in using AI for teaching and learning in VET. Finally, it proposes extensions to the EU DigiCompEdu Framework for training teachers and trainers in using technology.

The paper can be downloaded here.

Pathways to Future Jobs

people, special, different

katielwhite91 (CC0), Pixabay

Even before the COVIP 19 crisis and the consequent looming economic recession labour market researchers and employment experts were concerned at the prospects for the future of work due to automation and Artificial Intelligence.

The jury is still out concerning the overall effect of automation and AI on employment numbers. Some commentators have warned of drastic cuts in jobs, more optimistic projections have speculated that although individual occupations may suffer, the end effect may even be an increase in employment as new occupations and tasks emerge.

There is however general agreement on two things. The first is that there will be disruption to may occupations, in some cases leasing to a drastic reduction in the numbers employed and that secondly the tasks involved in different occupations will change.

In such a situation it is necessary to provide pathways for people from jobs at risk due to automation and AI to new and hopefully secure employment. In the UK NESTA are running the CareerTech Challenge programme, aimed at using technology to support the English Government’s National Retraining Scheme. In Canada, the Brookfield Institute has produced a research report ‘Lost and Found, Pathways from Disruption to Employment‘, proposing a framework for identifying and realizing opportunities in areas of growing employment, which, they say “could help guide the design of policies and programs aimed at supporting mid-career transitions.”

The framework is based on using Labour Market Information. But, as the authors point out, “For people experiencing job loss, the exact pathways from shrinking jobs to growing opportunities are not always readily apparent, even with access to labour market information (LMI).”

The methodology is based on the identification of origin occupations and destination occupations. Origin occupations are jobs which are already showing signs of employment. Decline regardless of the source of th disruption. Destination jobs are future orientated jobs into which individuals form an origin occupation can be reasonably expected to transition. They are growing, competitive and relatively resilient to shocks.

Both origin and destination occupations are identified by an analysis of employment data.

They are matched by analysing the underlying skills, abilities, knowledge, and work activities they require. This is based on data from the O*Net program. Basically, the researchers were looking for a high 80 or 90 per cent match. They also were looking for destination occupations which would include an increase in pay – or at least no decrease.

But even then, some qualitative analysis is needed. For instance, even with a strong skills match, a destination occupation might require certification which would require a lengthy or expensive training programme. Thus, it is not enough to rely on the numbers alone. Yet od such pathways can be identified then it could be possible to provide bespoke training programmes to support people in moving between occupations.

The report emphasises that skills are not the only issue and discusses other factors that affect a worker’s journey, thereby, they say “grounding the model in practical realities. We demonstrate that exploring job pathways must go beyond skills requirements to reflect the realities of how people make career transitions.”

These could include personal confidence or willingness or ability to move for a new job. They also include the willingness of employers to look beyond formal certificates as the basis for taking on new staff.

The report emphasises the importance of local labour market information. That automation and AI are impacting very differently in different cities and regions is also shown in research from both Nesta and the Centre for Cities in the UK. Put quite simply in some cities there are many jobs likely to be hard hit by automation and AI, in other cities far less. Of course, such analysis is going to be complicated by COVID 19. Cities, such as Derby in the UK, have a high percentage of jobs in the aerospace industry and these previously seemed relatively secure: this is now not so.

In this respect there is a problem with freely available Labour Market Information. The Brookfield Institute researchers were forced to base their work on the Canadian 2006 and 2016 censuses which as they admit was not ideal. Tn the UK data on occupations and employment from the Office of National Statistics is not available at a city level and it is very difficult to match up qualifications to employment. If similar work is to be undertaken in the UK, there will be a need for more disaggregated local Labour Market Information, some of it which may already be being collected through city governments and Local Economic Partnerships.

CareerChat Bot

chatbot, bot, assistant

mohamed_hassan (CC0), Pixabay

Pontydysgu is very happy to be part of a consortium, led by DMH Associates, selected as a finalist for the CareerTech Challenge Prize!

The project is called CareerChat and the ‘pitch’ video above expalisn the ideas behind the project. CareerChat is a chatbot providing a personalised, guided career journey experience for working adults aged 24 to 65 in low skilled jobs in three major cities: Bristol, Derby and Newcastle. It offers informed, friendly and flexible high-quality, local contextual and national labour market information including specific course/training opportunities, and job vacancies to support adults within ‘at risk’ sectors and occupations

CareerChat incorporates advanced AI technologies, database applications and Natural Language Processing and can be accessed on computers, mobile phones and devices. It allows users to reflect, explore, find out and identify pathways and access to new training and work opportunities.

Nesta is delivering the CareerTech Challenge in partnership with the Department for Education as part of their National Retraining Scheme

  • Nesta research suggests that more than six million people in the UK are currently employed in occupations that are likely to radically change or entirely disappear by 2030 due to automation, population aging, urbanisation and the rise of the green economy.
  • In the nearer-term, the coronavirus crisis has intensified the importance of this problem. Recent warnings suggest that a prolonged lockdown could result in 6.5 million people losing their jobs. [1] Of these workers, nearly 80% do not have a university degree. [2]
  • The solutions being funded through the CareerTech Challenge are designed to support people who will be hit the hardest by an insecure job market over the coming years. This includes those without a degree, and working in sectors such as retail, manufacturing, construction and transport.

You can find out more information about the programme here: https://www.nesta.org.uk/project/careertech-challenge/ and email Graham Attwell directly if you would like to know more about the CareerChat project

Arts, Humanities and Social Science graduates are in demand

woman, library, books

Comfreak (CC0), Pixabay

As reported in FE News, a new report based on analysis by London Economic, ‘Qualified for the Future: Quantifying demand for arts, humanities and social science skills’ provides quantitative evidence for the employment benefits of studying the arts, humanities and social sciences at university.

The report finds that:  

  • Graduates of arts, humanities and social sciences are just as resilient to economic upheaval as other graduates and are just as likely to remain employed as STEM graduates during downturns
  • Looking at the total UK workforce, arts, humanities and social science graduates are just as likely to be employed as their STEM counterparts; the 2017 Labour Force Survey shows that 88% of HSS graduates and 89% of STEM graduates were employed in that year
  • Of the ten fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, eight employ more graduates from the arts, humanities and social science than other disciplines. They include the well-paid information and communication industry and finance sector
  • HSS graduates are the backbone of the economy, with the majority working in the UK services sector. The service sector accounts for 81% of the UK’s total economic output and is second only to the US in export value globally
  • HSS graduates will be essential to fill in the workforce gaps of the future, particularly those studying fine arts, history and archaeology, philosophy and theology, geography, sociology and anthropology
  • While the health sector is the dominant destination for recent STEM graduates, HSS graduates choose to work in a wide range of sectors across the economy, including financial services, education, social work, the media and creative industries.

I have long been dubious of what I see as an overemphasis on STEM subjects from an employment perspective and this report would seem to support such scepticism. And I can well understand the advantages HSS graduates may have in their flexibility and employment resilience.  However, one worry lies in that focus on jobs in the services sector. Obviously as a sector accounting for 81% of the UK’s total economic output, the sector is very broad and will include a spread of occupations. Many, I fear will be in lower paid and precarious employment.

Urban economies and the Covid 19 crisis

bicycle, vintage, street

3888952 (CC0), Pixabay

Been a while since I last posted here. It i s not that I have been inactive – far from it. It is just that either everyone else seemed to be saying what I wanted to say – and usually better and the strangely unsettling effect of the lockdown in Spain.

Any way I am back here writing again and with a lot of things to talk about.

One area of my work is the provision of Labour Market Information to support careers guidance, primarily in the UK. And just as in other areas of education careers guidance is fast moving online. However providing access to data about the jobs of the future is not an easy business. on the LMI for All database which I work with, only two months ago we published an update of our ‘Working Futures’ data, with projected employment up to 2030 in different jobs. Interestingly, it is the most popular of the ten or so different data sets we provide. But I seriously wonder how accurate that data is any longer.

I have been to a number of webinars about the future of employment and there is increasingly data and analysis coming out. I think one of the unknown factors (leaving aside the question of when a vaccine for Covid 19 might be available) is government policies and reactions to the deep recession sparked off by the pandemic. Policy not only includes direct support to industries, enterprises and individuals but also how the broader economy is regulated in the future (more on this in a future post).

Some of the best analysis of the labour market I have seen (at least for the UK) is from the Centre for Cities. In an article entitled “What does the C0vid 19 crisis mean for the economies of British cities and large towns?” they report that the impact of the pandemic varies in different locations.

  • Sales at non-grocery suppliers fell by around 45 per cent, compared to the same week of last year. Spending at grocery suppliers rose by 16 per cent, as people eat more at home.
  • Pretty university towns and cities have been hit twice – they have lost their students and their tourists. Oxford and Brighton saw massive spending falls – plummeting around 60 per cent compared to the same week last year;
  • The biggest falls have come in smaller tourist towns. Excluding grocery spending, Penrith in Cumbria has seen spending fall 82 per cent fall. Penzance, in Cornwall, has seen an 85 per cent drop;
  • The big cities have all suffered, but with significant variation. Leeds, Cardiff and Liverpool are down more than 30 per cent, but have done better so far than Sheffield and Nottingham – both down by around half;
  • London sales are down by 29 percent overall, but its figures are flattered by being a financial centre. Outside of the centre, spending is down by 40 per cent.
  • Areas with strong retail and wholesale industries, such as Peterborough, have also seen serious declines. Areas with lots of employment in coffee shops, restaurants and sports have also seen particular falls in sales – as have the areas around airports.
  • Local customers are critical. The strongest predictor of how well a neighbourhood’s businesses will do is what share of its old customer base lived nearby. Shops that rely on customers who travel more than a mile to get to them are doing worse.

The article draws particular attention to what they call the ‘localisation effect’. Quite simply how well or badly shops and businesses are doing depends on the percentage of their customers who live locally. Looking on from Spain, I wonder how much the move to out of twon shopping has effected the UK, where high streets were already in trouble before the lockdown. In Spanish cities the housing density is usually higher, with local shops and markets in easy reach for most purchases and probably more likely to survive. On the other hand the large numbers of small bars and terraces are being devastated by the crisis.

Anyway much more to come on this theme in next couple of weeks.