How should I factor AI into my decision about what to study after school?

by Pelican Press
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How should I factor AI into my decision about what to study after school?

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As year 12 students across Australia ponder their next move, the world of work is undergoing a seismic shift. Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are reshaping industries, creating new opportunities, and rendering some traditional roles obsolete.

Many young adults may be fretting about how to factor AI into their decision about what to study after school.

But before you panic, let’s unpack what AI means for the future careers of today’s school leavers.

Tech skills in demand—but that’s not the whole story

AI seeks to transform the world of work.

As colleagues and I have pointed out in a recent book, this tech revolution is indeed creating both opportunities and challenges for the workforce.

AI can help us do things that just a while ago seemed, as robotics researcher Navinda Kottege put it in our book, “too dull, too dirty, too dangerous or too devilishly impossible” to contemplate .

There is obviously demand for more tech experts to help in that endeavor.

But despite all the AI hype, wages for jobs using AI skills in Australia are comparativelylow; lower than in the United States, United Kingdom or Singapore.

It seems Australia isn’t quite ready to pay top dollar for tech talents just yet. So, by all means pursue a career based on AI development, if it interests you and you don’t mind moving abroad to achieve the top incomes.

But don’t assume there’s no future for non-tech skills and degrees.

Comprehension, communication and articulation

It’s not just about technical know-how anymore. As pointed out in our book, while robots might steal some jobs, new roles will emerge that mix tech skills with uniquely human abilities.

For example: even as AI technology becomes more complex and sophisticated, its successful application depends on the AI being user-friendly.

This means we don’t all need to become data scientists and we don’t all need to be able to design or build AI tools; we just need to learn how to use them. In other words, don’t feel you need to rush out and enroll in a degree on how to become an AI engineer (unless, of course, that is where your interest and passion lie!)

The real challenge lies with educators and tool designers who need to bridge the gap between complex AI systems and user-friendly applications.

So yes, AI is set to become omnipresent, with tools that automate various tasks becoming increasingly sophisticated and widespread.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the need to train for those essential skills that help us run and fix the everyday appliances and applications we use at home or at work.

And whatever we run or fix, we will need to document that and explain the process to others.

Tech skills will be in demand, but employers will also need people with good comprehension, communication and articulation skills.

Critical thinking is crucial

We’ll also need to harness our ability to think critically and discern truth from fiction.

This skill involves not just identifying false information, but also recognizing when true information is being used to draw inappropriate conclusions.

This is a skill that will be used again and again in workplaces, in politics and in the sphere of social media.

Universities and vocational institutions will specifically need to teach students how to:

  • evaluate sources critically
  • understand context
  • recognize faulty reasoning and misleading statistics
  • differentiate between correlation and causation
  • identify potential biases in AI-generated content.

Students should be looking for tertiary education and training institutions that understand how to teach these skills and why they’re crucial.

So, what’s a school-leaver to do?

Thanks to the astonishing pace of AI development and adoption, the world is still in considerable flux—and will likely remain so for some time.s

Perhaps the best plan is to not allow AI to totally shape your decisions about what to study after school. Follow your passion and keep an eye on the job market but remember the future isn’t set in stone.

Trying to predict now exactly what the job market will look like in ten years is folly. The job you do and love in future may not even exist yet.

Instead, stay curious, stay flexible, never stop learning and don’t be afraid to chart your own course.

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