Adapting to the Future Job Market

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Reframing the eco-system to prepare for Israel’s job market of the future.

Illustration | Flash 90

Over the next two decades, close to half of today’s occupations will vanish, or are at high risk of becoming obsolete, as a result of computerization and automation. Secretaries, cashiers, drivers, production and construction workers will no longer be needed. Even occupations requiring a college degree, such as medical diagnosticians and investment managers will disappear, as computers and artificial intelligence will assume these tasks. How will these massive changes affect the Israeli job market of the future, and how can society cope with these changes?

These issues were the subject of a wide-ranging discussion between Daphna Aviram-Nitzan, Director of the Center for Governance and the Economy at the Israel Democracy Institute and former chief economist of the Manufacturers Association of Israel (MAI), and Aharon Aharon, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority, held in conjunction with the Jerusalem Report at the authority’s offices in Airport City.

“Sixty-five percent of the children entering first grade today will eventually work in an occupation that does not currently exist,” says Aharon who, prior to becoming head of the Innovation Authority, served as vice president of Hardware Technologies and General Manager of Apple Israel.

This has numerous implications, not only for students, but for educators as well. He explains that the primary task of the next generation of teachers will be to “inspire, educate, coach, share, influence and encourage.” While “hard” skills – specific, measurable abilities such as reading, writing and math – will be studied independently on the computer, “soft skills” – which Aviram-Nitzan says, “refer to emotional intelligence, the ability to work in a team and the ability to solve complex problems” – will be the responsibility of the teacher. Given predictions that the an occupation of the future will be far more decentralized, with more employees working at different physical locations, these soft skills – such as the ability to collaborate and work with others – will become particularly important.

Even if teachers assume more of a mentor-like role, how can schools train students for jobs that do not yet exist? Aviram-Nitzan explains that we have to train for life-long learning – “We will have to continue to learn new things every day throughout our career, because jobs will be changing all the time.”

Additionally, the mounting information and news to which people are exposed on a range of platforms, means that people will also need to have the necessary skills to distinguish between real and fake news. Aharon explains that to retain the ability to learn new topics, we need to “study to study – to have the ability to be mentally agile and flexible, understand new things and assimilate a lot of data in a short time.”

Aviram-Nitzan and Aharon both agree that the educational system needs to do a better job at fostering creativity. Aharon says: “There are a lot of questions that might have different answers, and we should reward people for creative thinking, for coming up with an answer that is not in the mainstream. That’s a way to encourage people to think in a creative way.”

Aviram-Nitzan mentions that the “educational system must enable the students to be wrong sometimes, because if you let children make mistakes, they will dare more to think outside the box and be more innovative. Today, students get punished if they give the wrong answer. But it’s ok to be wrong sometimes in order to learn how to deal with complex problems.”

‘We will have to learn new things every day’

The center’s director, who previously directed the economic research division at MAI, points out that: “If half of the jobs will no longer exist due to computerization, many of those who will no longer have jobs will not be able to join the high-tech sector. The cashier at the supermarket and the construction worker will have to retrain.”

She adds that the government and business sectors must take action together to invest money in vocational and educational training for workers. “This is how European countries deal with the problem,” she says – and by doing so, “they attract better skilled and more professional workers.” Aviram-Nitzan says that the State of Israel does not do enough in this area. Budgets for labor-market assistance programs in Israel are one-third of those of other developed nations.

The lack of preparedness poses many dangers to the economy and to society. If a growing percentage of jobs are lost, while high-tech workers earn high wages, this will deepen economic and social gaps, and may provoke civil demonstrations against the existing government. We must act today in order to maintain stability of the government and of the democracy, and to ensure equality of opportunity for all. On the other hand, she suggests that proper preparation for the future labor market, will increase the potential for growth, enhance competitiveness, improve labor productivity, and boost the welfare of all Israeli workers.

Aviram-Nitzan notes that the government and business sectors should not neglect older groups in the population that still have the capacity to be productive. “People live longer, are healthier and are a valuable part of the workforce. We have to be smart about how we use it – so we don’t lose it.”

Many occupations will fall by the wayside, due to digitization, and tasks that cannot be digitized or automated will have a very high value. “People who can handle these things will indeed be very valuable,” says Aharon.

While it is difficult to predict two decades ahead, Daphna Aviram-Nitzan and Aharon Aharon agree that a combination of an educational system that teaches both soft and hard skills and fosters creativity – along with a government and business climate that provide sufficient professional training to workers – will ensure a thriving and successful Israeli job market.

The article appeared in the Jerusalem Post