Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog
In just a five-year time period in Southeast Michigan, the number of online job postings for information technology jobs climbed 55 percent. This was just after the recession and leading into an economic future that, while arguably more stable, certainly has not been a boom time in our region.
These new jobs did not come primarily from a core of NASDAQ-listed IT companies. In this region, IT job demand comes from numerous industry clusters: automotive, banking and finance, health care, and logistics, just to name a few. This is because information technology is being infused into nearly every facet of business and has become almost completely integrated into our daily lives.
For example, this year it was announced that Roush would be assembling self-driving Google cars in Allen Park. WIN has participated in several meetings in the last year that explore how the region can capitalize on job growth. There are many new economic opportunities that come with the emerging (and possibly inevitable) connected automotive industry. Some experts forecast that by 2024, a driverless car will be optional for all new vehicle purchasers, and by 2044 they will be mandatory.
That sounds like a long way off, but we are approaching these benchmarks incrementally. Recently, while driving to dinner in a new Ford Escape, my husband began to parallel park on the streets of downtown Rochester. He hit a button and announced: “Kids, mark the date: Oct. 21, 2014. Today is the first day you rode in a car that parked itself. Someday you’ll laugh while you tell your kids how people used to have to drive their own cars.”
Indeed, connectivity is changing the way we think about cars, but also life in general. Connected toothbrushes can tell us how long we should brush and whether we have missed a spot. Connected refrigerators can tell us whether it is time to buy new milk or whether the chicken is about to go bad. And the technology exists that would allow a refrigerator to transmit an inventory of needs to a grocery store, which then could have the necessary items delivered direct-to-home.
Gregg Garrett, head of the local innovation-consulting firm, CGS Advisors, is fond of reminding me that, today, only about 1 percent of items that could be connected actually are. Of course, this will rapidly change.
Technology has been shifting exponentially for years. According to one of my favorite videos, Did You Know?, in the year 1900, human knowledge doubled every 100 years, in 1945 every 25 years, and in 2014 every 13 months.
By 2020, human knowledge will double every 12 hours, and by 2017, a supercomputer will be built that exceeds the computational capabilities of the human brain.
By 2049, a $1,000 computer will have more computational power than the entire human species. Several other theorists, like Ray Kurzwell, who produced a great visual of this phenomenon, agree.
So what does all of this mean for Southeast Michigan? First, while we cannot ignore issues like math and reading literacy, we certainly cannot ignore digital literacy. The very way we work will change as a result of technology, and if we do not embrace the idea that everyone can and should learn to be at least good users and navigators of technology (if not developers and creators), we do a disservice to our whole community.
Efforts like the planning that will shape Mayor Duggan’s Detroit Innovation District can and should explore how to maximize opportunities for companies and workers in a new economy increasingly dependent on technology.
Second, everyone must re-think attitudes and mindsets related to learning. Once again, according to the video Did You Know?:
- 65 percent of today’s grade schoolers will hold jobs that do not yet exist. “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet.”
- 90 percent of the world’s data has been generated in the past two years. The amount of new technical information is doubling every 2 years. “For students starting a 4 year technical degree, this means that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.”
Employers will need to make new investments in their workers. For example many companies spend more on coffee than on important training for their employees. Of course, workers will need to shift and commit to the idea of lifelong learning as being a given. Likewise, education and training institutions will need to shift the strategies and resources that help both of these groups adapt to ever-changing talent needs. We will have to teach our young people how to think creatively and flexibly, dealing with problems that have not even been defined. Schools, like Oakland University, already are teaching engineers and business leaders what the connected world will mean for the future of engineering and work in general: more people should be having this conversation.
These ideas may sound like a tall order, but it is highly unlikely that the pace of technological change will slow. Without acknowledging that shift happens, Michigan’s lost decade could become a lost century for those who cannot or will not adapt.
This conversation is happening now, and we must begin the conversation, set a vision, and pursue a plan that will secure Southeast Michigan’s place in a more connected future.