Major global institutions – including academia, industry and governments – are not doing enough to help citizens learn about and adjust to Artificial Intelligence, and neither are they providing sufficient opportunity for lifelong learning. Further, the education provided by traditional universities “is failing to deliver the mix of in-demand skills employers need to prepare for widespread AI adoption”.

The findings are contained in a new study – Facing the future: US, UK and Canadian citizens call for a unified skills strategy for the AI age – produced by Northeastern University, Boston, and the US analytics and advisory company, Gallup.

“Solid majorities in all three countries favour turning to employers over colleges and universities to pay for and provide access to lifelong learning opportunities,” says the report, compiled following an online survey of 4,394 Americans 3,049 Canadians and 3,208 UK adults.

Several industry leaders in Canada, the UK and US also “confirmed the general public’s belief that the education provided by traditional, four-year universities is failing to deliver the mix of in-demand skills employers need to prepare for widespread AI adoption”.

A technology-driven sea change

The industry leaders also “signalled a technology-driven sea change in the way global enterprises recruit, evaluate and develop human talent, emphasising so-called soft skills and experience while deemphasising undergraduate degrees”.

The report says there is “little doubt that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will transcend borders and fundamentally alter the global social and economic landscape”.

It adds: “Colleges and universities with the audacity to change represent humanity’s best chance to rise to the challenge of AI and win the jobs of the future.”

Perhaps most surprisingly, a majority of those surveyed in all three countries said they would not look to higher education for the additional skills and training they would require to deal with AI adoption.

When asked about the impact of AI on the overall economy of the US, UK and Canada respondents voiced “a general pessimism”. Clear majorities in all three countries said AI adoption would cost more jobs than it creates.

Types of skills that will be required to adapt to AI

When it comes to general ideas of what types of skills will be required to adapt to AI – softer skills such as teamwork, communication, creativity and critical thinking, or harder skills like math, science, coding and the ability to work with data – adults in all three countries are split.

In both Canada and the UK, majorities say softer skills are more important for workers to insulate themselves against disruptions to employment caused by AI adoption. In the US, the public is evenly split on the importance of both types of skills.

Respondents in all three countries were asked to select from six reasons why traditional universities are not the best-equipped institutions for providing career-long education and retraining – in each country cost was identified as the main barrier.

“Beyond cost, academic programs failing to keep up with changing workplace needs, learning that isn’t hands-on enough and inflexible course schedules were cited as the top barriers to university-provided lifelong learning,” the report says.

“When asked about potential alternative financing models to address the cost of lifelong learning programs, majorities in each country favoured the development of employer-matched and government-matched Lifelong Learning Accounts.”

The report notes: “Partnering with governments and businesses to provide affordable, relevant, bite-sized, lifelong education to workers in all three countries could restore confidence, not just for higher education, but for the other institutions as well.”