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Princeton commencement, 1909. Photo: Paul Thompson/FPG/Getty
In 1869, at Harvard, Charles Eliot invented the college major as we know it — each student would be channeled into a specialized area of study, and move on to a stable, lifelong job.
A century and a half later, American colleges pump out some 4.5 million new bachelor's degrees every year, but the context — the present and future of work — has changed entirely.
Erica writes: The seismic shifts created by frontier technologies are challenging a centuries-old model of higher education — one that is already under siege as the cost of college skyrockets, student debt balloons, and automation eliminates entire careers.
Caught in the higher education firestorm is the old system of majors.
The big picture: As Kaveh has reported, a quiet movement is brewing in U.S. high schools to reboot curriculums with the objective of better preparing students for a different future of work. The same is happening at a handful of universities — in this case roiling the traditional major model.
The movement has its skeptics: Certain majors might need to be spruced up, but the idea of upending the model entirely is dangerous, says Matthew Mayhew, a professor at Ohio State.
But those challenging majors say the old way has simply become too unwieldy.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Among the thorniest questions hanging over experts puzzling out the future of work is what kind of new jobs will be enabled by AI and robotics — and how many there will be, relative to the work that is likely to disappear due to automation.
Kaveh writes: Some predict wild new jobs, like "cyber calamity forecasters." But in the near term, one likely outcome — already beginning to play out — is that people will be asked to do work that was previously done by two or three people with very different skills.
Details: These amalgams are what Deloitte is calling "superjobs" in its latest report on human capital, released today. These future jobs combine "activities and job responsibilities that traditionally would never be brought together," says Erica Volini, Deloitte's US Human Capital Leader.
If this sounds like more work for fewer people, well, it might be. If history is any indication, a company that can consolidate 100 jobs into 50 people might jump at the opportunity to shave off a good chunk of a department.
Meanwhile, these polymathic super-workers will only make up a slice of the entire workforce. "As we see the emergence of 'superjobs,' we're also seeing growth in commodity jobs, service jobs, and micro-tasks," Volini tells Axios.
The bottom line: As Steve reported Wednesday, economists say automation is destroying jobs faster than it's creating new ones. The big remaining question is whether or not the best new jobs will be widely accessible.
Photo: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe/Getty Images
We had a number of responses to yesterday's post about the disconnect between middle wages and the middle class. Here are a couple:
In the late '70s-early '80s, an average wage of $18 an hour would have kept a lot of the jobs in the U.S. But $26 an hour plus the benefits multiplier — goodbye U.S.
Middle wage is probably 10%-20% higher because the increases have been in medical benefits, not salary. If you want to increase hiring and salaries, particularly in small and medium-size businesses, get them out of the benefits business. Let them concentrate on making widgets and drastically reduce the benefits department.— Thomas Cleary, Denver, CO
It’s not just about wages — middle class pensions are in trouble. The federal government is partly to blame for the problems faced by multi-employer pension funds. Twenty five years ago, the feds said my fund was overfunded and had to disperse the funds. Today, we’re underfunded and the remedy is to cut pensions by 40% to 50% under the Kline Miller (Pension Reform) Act. Over a million pensioners are at risk of being forced into poverty after a lifetime of work and deferring compensation.— Joe Wisinski, Woodbridge, N.J.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
In most recycling facilities, workers flanking a fast-moving conveyor belt watch over a river of recycling, grabbing impostors like plastic bags and throwing various objects into the right bins.
Kaveh writes: Just watching the process is stressful, and the speed at which the recycling goes by means a lot of things end up unrecycled.