High school grads need ‘middle skills’

A man walks his dog past a mural depicting factory workers in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood. Photo: Andrew Nelles/Reuters
A man walks his dog past a mural depicting factory workers in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. Photo: Andrew Nelles/Reuters

Donald Trump persuaded Carrier to keep 1,000 production jobs in the U.S., but he won’t be able to make manufacturing great again, writes Anthony Carnevale in the Hechinger Report. To earn a middle-class living, high school graduates will need to train for “middle-skills” jobs. For most that will mean earning a vocational license, certificate or associate degree.

Robots, not low-paid Chinese workers, are responsible for most of the decline in manufacturing jobs.

Who’s taking manufacturing jobs?

Manufacturing jobs aren’t being shipped to low-wage countries like Mexico or China, writes Carnevale, who heads Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “In recent years, 88 percent of job loss in manufacturing is due to gains in productivity, such as increased use of robots.”

The economy needs service workers, he writes. While 19 percent of new jobs are low-paid, low-skilled “McJobs,” 36 percent are middle-skill jobs in “health care, information technology, financial services, office-based clerical and administrative work” and skilled work in construction, repair, and machinery operations. These jobs “pay close to the median earnings of all full-time, full-year workers ($42,000), if not more,” writes Carnevale.

In 1967, only 25 percent of workers had “some college,” he writes. “Now 61 percent of workers have some credentials beyond high school.”

We expect that about 20 percent of high school graduates, almost all men, can achieve a middle-class income through jobs that mostly involve skilled manual labor. But that still leaves nearly one-fifth of workers with not enough education or skills to thrive in the modern economy.

Manufacturing, which now employs 9 percent of the workforce, is not going to make a dramatic comeback, he argues. “The  United States should be investing in training and education that meets these workers where they live.”

Unwanted: In automated future, who needs skills?

If most jobs are automated, what skills will people need? wonders Marc Tucker. Who will be educated and how?

Some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are proposing a guaranteed basic income — everyone gets a check, regardless of need — to deal with the consequences of automation. Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, is funding a trial of the idea.

Matt Krisloff, the manager of the project, sees a day when “95 percent— or a vast majority — of people won’t be able to contribute to the workforce.”

Since the Great Recession, most of the job growth has been among knowledge workers, writes Tucker. Workers doing routine tasks may not have a future.

Raising the minimum wage for low-skilled jobs will encourage employers to replace workers with technology. Self-driving cars, trucks and trains could put millions out of work.

Those on this new dole will have time “to think deep thoughts about protecting the environment,” as one advocate suggests. They can write poetry, create art, grow vegetables or . . . play video games.

If there are a few challenging jobs for the highly educated, and the dole for everyone else, educators would have to decide who’s worth educating, Tucker writes.

There’d be plenty of recess, music, art and sports for those destined for the dole.

Would teaching be automated? I think content delivery might be, but there will be a need for humans to interact with humans. I hope.

On Sunday, Swiss voters soundly rejected a guaranteed income proposal, reports Business Insider. “Supporters had said introducing a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,563) per adult and 625 francs per child under 18 would promote human dignity and public service. Opponents, including the government, said it would cost too much and weaken the economy.”

Coding for Christmas


Third-grader Jaysean Erby solves a coding problem at an Apple Store in New York as Apple CEO Tim Cook looks on.

Coding toys for kids are aimed at children as young as six years old, reports AP.

Wonder Workshop sells Dash and Dot, programmable blue-and-orange robots. Children can start by drawing a path for Dash on a tablet screen. “They can then drag and drop actions onto its path that, for instance, might cause Dash to beep or flash its lights in different colors.”
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More advanced players can “use Google’s kid-oriented Blockly language, or Wonder, the company’s own programming language, to create and play games with both robots.”

Some worry about kids spending too much time with their tablets.

Nader Hamda, founder of a handful of tech and toy startups, created Ozobot, a tiny programmable robot that kids can play with together.

Kids can program Ozobot, which is smaller than a golf ball, simply by drawing different colored lines and shapes with markers. Older kids can also program in Blockly and can even see what their finished code would look like in Javascript, a language widely used to program websites. Hamda says roughly 400 schools currently use Ozobot as a hands-on teaching tool.

Sphero’s SPRK, a clear plastic robot ball, is used in some elementary and middle schools to illustrate concepts.
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“It introduces the methodical process, how to go back and fix things,” Sphero CEO Paul Berberian says. “There’s no computer programmer in the world that gets it right the first time.”

The company also makes BB-8, the robot in the new Star Wars movie. “This is the droid you’re looking for,” the slogan reads.

Online students are ‘telepresent’ — as robots

Thomas Felch uses a telepresence robot to connect with students at Nexus Charter in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Nichole Dobo

Thomas Felch is a “telepresent” teacher at Nexus Academy of Columbus. Photo by Nichole Dobo

Nexus Academy of Columbus, an Ohio charter high school, is experimenting with telepresent teachers, writes Nichole Dobo on the Hechinger Report.

The school employs some “in-the-flesh” teachers, but others teach online courses from a distance, interacting with students  “through a computer screen or phone call,” writes Dobo. Now, the school has two robots.

Thomas Fech, who teaches social studies from his home in Arizona, enjoys using the robot to talk to students and staff in Ohio.

Lights flash on the robot body when a teacher signs in to control the robot. A screen the size of a small tablet computer shows a live video of the teacher’s face. A webcam flips open above the screen, revealing the Cyclops eye that helps the long-distance teacher “drive” around the school. They zip around the school just like any other teacher – except when the robot crashes into walls and doorways. The depth perception and peripheral vision aren’t great, Fech said. But the technological hiccups don’t bother him.

“It’s fun,” Fech said. “I like driving it around and feeling like I am in the school. It’s neat to feel like I am part of the classroom.”

Michigan State has been experimenting with “telepresent” robots that let online graduate students participate in face-to-face classes.

PhD candidates can take educational psychology and educational technology in person or online.  Until now, online students appeared on a wall-mounted screen. They felt like “second-class citizens” in class said John Bell, an associate education professor.B9c1WIwIUAQ0_ap

In the pilot, two online students used KUBI telepresence robots: The online student’s face appears on an iPad screen, and the student can move the pedestal to control his or her point of view. Two others used Double robots, which can move around the room.

“The students were ecstatic,” said Bell. “It changed how they engaged with the class. One student said, ‘This was the first time it mattered to me if I knew the names of the face-to-face students because I could turn and look at them.’ That was a dramatic response.”

Could a robot do your job?

Could a robot do your job? asks USA Today. If it’s routine and repetitive, then, yes.

Driverless cars, trucks and trains could replace 7 percent of the workforce. Robots are likely to replace tractor-trailer drivers, train engineers, garbage collectors, taxi drivers and bus drivers, predicts an Oxford study.

Some personal care jobs could be automated.

Carnegie-Mellon is teaching HERB, the “Home-Exploring Robot Butler,” to retrieve and deliver objects, prepare simple meals and empty a grocery bag.

At a Silicon Valley hotel, “Botlr”  delivers items such as extra towels and toothbrushes to guests upon request. “Not much larger than a child and with a black bow-tie, Botlr navigates the hotel on its own but will send an alert if it encounters an obstacle.”

Hospitals are also using robots to deliver lab specimens, linens, food trays, hazardous waste and other materials, jobs that are currently done by orderlies, nurse assistants, nurses and lab technicians.

A virus-killing robot, the Xenex, is being used in hospitals to disinfect rooms. The robot — which has gotten a lot of attention due to the Ebola crisis — uses sensors to determine room size, a factor in how long to deliver the lethal ultraviolet rays needed to disinfect the room.

Fast-food restaurants haven’t invested in robots because worker pay is so low. However, as technology costs fall and the minimum wage rises, food-service companies are adopting “tablets for ordering and computerized systems for kitchens and inventory,” according to Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry consultant.

The jobs that are at low risk of automation tend to require creative intelligence, negotiation, persuasion, perception, creativity or care.

That’s why engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, Web developers, artists, lawyers, business executives, nurses and doctors are among the safest jobs.

Still, USA Today predicts 8 percent of high-skill jobs, 46 percent of middle-skill jobs and 70 percent of low-skill jobs will be automated in the next 20 years.

Yale designs robot ‘trainers’ for kids

Some day, robot “personal trainers” will teach kids to speak, read, exercise and eat their vegetables, say Yale researchers. A $10 million federal grant is funding the five-year project.

“Socially assistive” robots will help children “learn to read, appreciate physical fitness, overcome cognitive disabilities, and perform physical exercises,” the Yalies predict.

“Just like a good personal trainer, we want the robots to be able to guide the child toward a behavior that we desire,” said Brian Scassellati, a computer science professor at Yale and principal investigator for the study.

“We want them to help children learn language, we want to help them learn better eating habits, we want them to learn new social or cognitive skills through their interactions with these robots,” he said.

The robots will support the efforts of parents and therapists, Scassellati said. Robots will be designed for children with special needs — and for average kids.

Support or replace? I suspect someone thinks robot trainers will act as competent parents for kids whose human parents are inferior models.

 

What jobs will the robots take?

The robots are coming to take our jobs, but which jobs will the robots take? Derek Thompson looks at the future of automation in The Atlantic.

. . . in the past 30 years, software and robots have thrived at replacing a particular kind of occupation: the average-wage, middle-skill, routine-heavy worker, especially in manufacturing and office admin.

Nearly half of American jobs today could be automated in “a decade or two,” according to a new paper discussed in The Economist. That includes retail, transportation, cashiers and counter clerks. (They’ll go even faster if the minimum wage is raised significantly.”

The 10 jobs on the chart have a 99-percent likelihood of being replaced by machines and software, writes Thompson. “They are mostly routine-based jobs (telemarketing, sewing) and work that can be solved by smart algorithms (tax preparation, data entry keyers, and insurance underwriters).”

The least vulnerable to automation are managers and health care and public safety workers.

Thompson concludes: “Machines are better at rules and routines; people are better at directing and diagnosing. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.”

For a cheerier view of the future, check out Are Robots Taking Our Jobs or Making Our Jobs?

Volokh’s Kenneth Anderson sees a future in skilled manual labor as in the “maker” movement.

Computer science majors get the most job offers, reports Forbes. Economics, accounting and engineering majors also are likely to have a job offer before they graduate.

Test certifies job-ready graduates

ACT’s WorkKeys certifies students are ready for work, reports PBS. Employers support it, but few high school students know it exists.

JOHN TULENKO: From the outside, Hoffer Plastics in Elgin, Illinois, looks about the same as it did when it was founded back in 1953. Inside, it’s a different story.

Bill Hoffer is the CEO.

BILL HOFFER, Hoffer Plastics Corporation: We have got job after job that 20 years ago would be a full-time operator. Now it’s a robot.

JOHN TULENKO: There are fewer workers, but they’re required to do more.

BILL HOFFER: They need to be able to read blueprints. They need to follow procedures, document what they’re doing. And that’s all very important.

Pat Hayes, CEO of Fabric Images, doesn’t know what an A in math means. “Where did you go to school? What level of course? Was it accelerated? Was it a college prep course? I don’t know.”

Both Fabric Images and Hoffer Plastics use WorkKeys to assess job candidates’ math, reading and information locating skills. Using workplace scenarios, the exam measures “how well individuals can decipher charts, graphs and other visual information, convert ratios, measurements, and make calculations across a variety of situations, and effectively comprehend memos, instructions and other authentic workplace documents,” says Tulenko. “There are also tests of visual observation and listening comprehension.”

Recent high school graduate Sarah Rohrsen was accepted at a four-year college, but couldn’t afford it. She took a job at Wendy’s. Nine month later, she applied for a job at Hoffer Plastics, did well on WorkKeys and landed a well-paying full-time job with benefits as an inspector.

Test takers can earn a work force readiness certificate called an NCRC that’s respected by employers. Superintendent Jose Torres wants 75 percent of his students to earn a gold certificate in five years.  

JOHN TULENKO: So we went to Elgin High School, a predominantly low-income school where administrators say half the students go directly into the work force, to see how they were doing.

Raise your hand if you have heard of something called an NCRC certificate? No hands. OK.

It was like this in virtually every classroom we visited, and this was four years after the district adopted the 75 percent goal.

Only 22 percent of the district’s students earn a job readiness certificate.

Career readiness isn’t a priority, say teachers.

LAURIE NEHF, Elgin High School: I’m not told to have them job-ready. I’m told to have them college-ready.

. . . JOHN TULENKO: Last year in math, 60 percent of students missed the mark. A number of teachers here told us it’s not uncommon they find students in their classes who have yet to learn the math taught in middle school. Regardless, these students are placed in algebra and geometry.

LAURIE NEHF: They just shut down. They get very frustrated. We won’t accept meeting kids where they’re at and helping them where they’re at.

I would love to spend all my time working on percentages, fractions, all that stuff with number sense. That number sense skills is what matters in the real world.

Providing alternatives to the traditional high school math is risky for high schools, says Tulenko. The algebra-geometry sequence is what’s tested.

‘Deep learning’

Teachers are looking for ways to engage students in “deep learning,” reports John Tulenko on PBS.

At King Middle School in Portland, Maine, science teacher Peter Hill’s eighth graders started a four-month study of energy  by building robots. They’ll finish by designing an energy device that could help people somewhere in the world.

Teach your robot well

Know-it-all robots don’t make good tutors, according to a Japanese study. Children learn more when they teach the robot, reports New Scientist.

Shizuko Matsuzoe and Fumihide Tanaka at the University of Tsukuba, Japan . . . observed how 19 children aged between 4 and 8 interacted with a humanoid Nao robot in a learning game in which each child had to draw the shape that corresponded to an English word such as ‘circle’, ‘square’, ‘crescent’, or ‘heart’.

The researchers operated the robot from a room next to the classroom so that it appeared weak and feeble, and the children were encouraged to take on the role of carers. The robot could then either act as an instructor, drawing the correct shape for the child, or make mistakes and act as if it didn’t know the answer.

When the robot got a shape wrong, the child could teach the robot how to draw it correctly by guiding its hand. The robot then either “learned” the English word for that shape or continued to make mistakes.

Children did best and were more likely to want to continue when the robot appeared to learn from them.