Tomorrow’s job market: Are we ready?

We cannot let the educational system squander our children’s potential and dim their futures.

By ALIZA LAVIE
August 25, 2016 21:54
4 minute read.
‘CURRENTLY, THE ECONOMY is doing pretty well. However, the OECD report’s findings exacerbate my fear

‘CURRENTLY, THE ECONOMY is doing pretty well. However, the OECD report’s findings exacerbate my fears that we are not doing enough to prepare Israel’s economy, particularly its job market, for the future.’. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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How many of you have asked someone on the street how to get somewhere? How recently have you opened a paper map, or read a hardcopy of a newspaper, or mailed a letter? Now think about how recently you have electronically mapped to a friend’s Google Pin, read news push notifications on your smartphone, booked flights online or ordered groceries straight to your door.

As we all notice, the world is changing at a pace and intensity as never before. These changes, whether we like it or not, hold dramatic consequences for the job market. It might be hard to imagine, but some newborns today will be working at jobs that don’t yet exist.

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This thrilling idea becomes a little disturbing when considering its corollary: About a third of Israeli workers, nearly one million people, will find their professions obsolete within a disconcertingly few number of years.

This is not unique to Israel, of course. All across the world in the coming decades there will be more and more machines, applications, robots, algorithms and smart devices for homes, cars and workplaces, all of which replace human labor. It is clear there is no reason to believe that this technological progress will stop or slow.

This process puts into question many of the professions and specialties that we still acquire in schools, many of which are clearly becoming unnecessary. Many professions involving repetitive action with low brain stimulation are gradually disappearing. Bookkeepers, accountants, drivers, cashiers, customer service personnel, tellers and travel agents are simply becoming obsolete in the modern job market. The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel found that about 40 percent of jobs in Israel are at risk of vanishing in the next two decades.

Simultaneously, skills needed in the workplace are evolving, and professions that require creativity and personalization sidestep this threat.

For example, tomorrow’s job market will require employees who are capable of working in a fastpaced technological environment, with entrepreneurial skills such as creative thinking, processing, analyzing, adapting, critical thinking, and mostly the ability to learn and to acquire new skills.



As we are now getting close to the new academic year, we may want to ask ourselves: Are twiddling our thumbs while these processes are taking place? Recently, the OECD released the PIAAC (Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) report, comparing data from 34 countries from April 2014 to March 2015. To discuss the report’s findings, I hosted a conference at the Knesset.

One unfortunate truth was made clear: In the three categories tested – literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills – Israel lags behind other nations in nearly every aspect.

Currently, the economy is doing pretty well, as we know. However, the PIAAC findings exacerbate my fears that we are not doing enough to prepare Israel’s economy, particularly its job market, for the future.

In the survey, the OECD conducted widespread international statistical comparison of adult skills, collaborating with PIAAC to assess specific cognitive and workplace skills. They did this by looking at the literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills of people ages 16 to 65. OECD Senior Strategist and Deputy Director of Education Surveys William Thorn explained that the survey works to measure human capital, and thus addresses issues of inclusion, inequality, education, skills, effectiveness of labor markets in allocating and rewarding skills, migration and integration, performance of educational and training systems, impact of age on skill, how skills are used, and much more.

On average, Israelis aged 16 to 65 demonstrated poor reading, math and problem-solving skills.

In fact, Israel scored below the international average in all three categories. This is disconcerting because it demonstrates that the educational system is failing to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century.

It is true, though, that excluding the Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations from the data, Israeli data points would be significantly closer to the OECD averages. However, there is nothing comforting in this. First, because the other 33 nations in the survey also have diverse populations that include immigrants, minorities and disadvantaged people who also skew their national scores.

Second, and most significantly, is the fact that the Arab and haredi populations are integral to and inseparable from Israeli society. In fact, the birthrate among those groups is higher than the Israeli average, and more than double it among ultra-Orthodox Jews, who now account for 10 percent of the population.

We cannot afford to ignore this dilemma by turning a blind eye to two significant and growing sectors of society. More than that, however, is the fact that this affects some of us more than others does nothing to negate that this issue impacts the entire nation.

The inevitable conclusion is that something should be changed in our education system, not only in the content it teaches, but most important, in its attitude. For in a consistently changing world, more than memorizing material, our children need to learn how to learn, to explore, to ask, to understand, and how to acquire new skills.

We cannot let the educational system squander our children’s potential and dim their futures by using the same materials and methods that were used decades ago.

Education is directly impacting the Israeli economy and quality of life, where a deficit in literacy and other skills handicaps Israelis professionally and in terms of salary. Now more than ever, we need to reevaluate our priorities and invest more in education, early childhood development, and skill expansion. Israel definitely can and should be a competitive country, one that is not only on par with other nations, but excels them. We have a duty to our children to invest in their future. Our future.

The author is a member of Knesset for Yesh Atid.

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