Are We Prepared for the Workplace of the Future?

Are We Prepared for the Workplace of the Future?

UCLA Anderson faculty agree, it’ll be a mixed bag when robots take our jobs

This fall, the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture presents “10 Questions,” a hybrid academic course and public event series that brings together leading minds from across the university. On November 20, UCLA Anderson Interim Dean Al Osborne joined designer Willem Henri Lucas, artist Catherine Opie, labor and immigration expert Abel Valenzuela and host Brett Steele, dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, to explore the question “What is work?”

To supplement that conversation, we asked a number of UCLA Anderson faculty members to answer the following question:


Jerry Nickelsburg

The single greatest change over the next decade will be the requirement that workers interact with AI devices to produce products and services. At present, the workforce is not trained to do this.

Suzanne Shu

With the growth of artificial intelligence and just-in-time knowledge via the internet, straightforward skill-driven work will become less valued at all levels of the workforce. Valued employees will be those who know how to creatively integrate different types of knowledge from a variety of sources, and who can work within collaborative teams to solve problems and drive change.

Uday Karmarkar

The following important factors will drive both demand and supply: technology, service industrialization (automation, off-shoring, new services), demographics (aging and retirements), national policy (on immigration, infrastructure, education, health, trade, and global competition. The consequences will be a very mixed bag:

  • A flat or shrinking workforce
  • More jobs open than people looking for jobs (already true today in the U.S.), but still with continuing unemployment due to a lack of the right skills (this is already being reported in France)
  • Ongoing growth in health care (high-paying jobs) and personal care (low-paying jobs)
  • A growth in the gig economy and small business ownership
  • A loss of white-collar jobs in sales, counter service and transaction handling
  • Growth of management jobs, even as lower-level white collar jobs go away
  • Continued declines in manufacturing, logistics, wholesale and retail distribution
  • Huge disruptions in content-based sectors ranging from music to publishing to education; music distribution and newspapers have already been halved in total revenue and employment
  • Massive disruption in the automotive sector, which will also hit car rental, public transportation, financing and insurance. The aggregate results: higher returns for professional and technical education, lower returns for general liberal education; loss of info-intensive jobs that are “industrialized” by automation, off-shoring and redesign; enough jobs in terms of numbers but with poor wage distribution leading to higher inequality.

Corinne Bendersky

The single greatest change will be the potential displacement of workers by technology, especially AI and automation. Although the U.S. workforce has absorbed many other major technological innovations before, each came with a significant redistribution of opportunities and wealth that exacerbated disparities between rich and poor. We need to anticipate and proactively upskill our workforce to adapt our work forms and employment relationships in ways that mitigate this potential displacement.

Edward Leamer

Global competition and artificial intelligence will continue to divide the few winners from the many losers. We need educational investments that move people from losers to winners. That requires creativity, problem solving, analytical thinking, people skills ... Or it could be some new pitchers for the L.A. Dodgers.

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