Parents, students, employers, educators, workers – those still working and those hoping to find and keep jobs – face remarkable challenges in coming years: What havoc and opportunities will the continuing rapid evolution of technology create?

Dr. Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State, talked about tech’s impact on education and jobs in a presentation to the N.C. Chamber’s education conference last week. In his “what’s next” segment, he posed a daunting question.

“What’s next? The question isn’t what technology will do next, but what won’t technology be able to do next?”

“If some economists are correct, 50 percent of jobs today will likely be replaced by technology. Other studies say around 10 percent. But some level of unemployment caused by technology is going to come,” Walden pointed out. “Job losses will affect every NC county, even the big metro counties.”

That presents serious questions.

“Will be have to deal with 20 to 25 percent unemployment? Will we have a permanent underclass that requires permanent support or make work jobs?”

More coverage of Chamber conference:

  • Walden on threat of tech to jobs
  • Wake tech president: Avoid ‘analysis paralysis’
  • UNC president: Higher ed must change
  • Execs talk about making effective changes
  • Business, education leaders call for change

All of this, he adds, “is coming around to saying education is going to be called on to deal with these emerging issues. We need to think about how we need to mold, adjust, and adapt education to meet them.”

Among other things, he suggested: “We need to facilitate re-skilling. College campuses of the future will have a much higher number of 30 and 40 year olds who need to reskill. We need a willingness to accommodate more adult students.”

He also said, “We need enhanced bonds between business and the higher education sector, and it needs to listen to the business sector.”

College managers need to be able to quickly move resources, not necessarily an easy task, considering that college faculties can be very protective of their areas.

Finally, Walden said we need what he calls “EWOC,” early warning of occupational change.”

“We have to formalize this in state government and track year to year how many people are working in each occupation in a methodical and meticulous way, which are going down, which going up. Then provide that information to higher education.”