Critical Analysis and the Future of Work

Critical analysis is the result of carefully evaluating the premise upon which a conclusion is based. A thorough critical analysis is an important part of any decision making and includes not only the consideration of the conclusion of other works, but a thorough analysis of the basis upon which these conclusions are formed. Too often, decision making is based on the non-critical assessment of evidence that is the face value of what is presented by someone else.
A good example of a shallow critical analysis of the Future of Jobs Report issued by the World Economic Forum in September of last year. The talking points are too often taken out of context and ignore the basis upon which the talking points are based.
The report is compiled from a survey of the business leaders of literally thousands of large corporations. The survey asks the leaders of the corporate giants about the plans that they have, as far as jobs go, for the next few years. This is a perfectly legitimate survey and the conclusions drawn from the survey are an accurate reflection of the plans laid out by the business leaders.
However, other considerations have to be considered before rushing off with the headlines. One of the primary doom and gloom lines is that 75 million jobs will be lost to automation. The positive headline reads that 133 million jobs will be created to fully embrace the fourth industrial age of cyber-assisted work. However, the premise for these plans needs to be carefully considered.
An example of the problems with these headlines is demonstrated by the McKinsey report out last Fall about the automation of shipping ports. The technology is there and the ports are ready to be automated. Very few have been automated so far. The problem? A serious skill shortage when it comes to the workers who will be operating the automated ports. There is no doubt that the ports will be automated. However, as much as the leaders of business would like that to happen, it can’t happen until there is a workforce with the skill set needed to operate the automation. Although the workers and engineers at these non-automated ports are feeling secure today, there are others who are seeing an opportunity and are retraining as quickly as they can I order to operate and automated port.
A thorough critical analysis has been lacking for many of the future of jobs and future of learning scenarios that are being written about.
This is disappointing given that the skill of critical analysis is a concrete skill. The evaluation of a premise and the evidence supporting it is not an abstract skill. Although good critical analysis skills are needed to support most of the abstract cognitive enablers, critical analysis is not based on abstract thinking, but is based on well developed rational thinking coupled with logic.
The cognitive enablers required to carry out a solid critical analysis are concrete but require hard work to be effective. Although we know that abstract cognitive enablers are not developed by many university graduates, you would think that concrete cognitive enablers would be well developed. This is not the case. Arum and Roska Reported that 40% of those two years into a degree program were no better at their basic cognitive enablers than when they began their program.
Even the most basic concrete cognitive enablers that are close to being automated are not being effectively taught in higher education. The unique human skills requiring abstract cognitive enablers that will ensure prosperity in the 4th industrial age rely on a certain degree of competence with the concrete cognitive enablers. The future of learning has to address this problem. There is no way that anyone coming out of today’s high school system is prepared to learn abstract cognitive enablers without some heavily supported learning of concrete enablers.
Critical analysis is a foundational skill for critical thinking. If the evidence presented to support the solution to a problem is wrong, the proposed solution will not solve the problem. Too many of the solutions proposed for current problems in science, business, and society at large are based on shallow critical analyses. How can an individual or a company adequately prepare for a future without the ability to critically analyze the premises for making both individual and corporate decisions.
One of the most important skills needed for the future will be the development of judgment that can take in various strands of evidence – which must include the human element. If there is no thorough analysis of these various strands of evidence, how can we expect that the judgments required for good and fair leadership will take place.
If we can build a society where solid concrete cognitive enablers and the majority of people have well developed abstract cognitive enablers, we will have a society capable of almost anything. Until we launched Socelor, I can honestly say that I am not aware of anywhere that this vision was even being pursued. As a society, we have assumed that this was already taking place in our higher educational institutions. However, as a thorough critical analysis of the evidence has shown, we have assumed wrong. Higher education has pursued other goals almost completely divorced from the development of cognitive enablers of almost any kind in their students.
The results are hundreds of millions of graduates, over the years, barely prepared for the world of work that was needed 50 years ago that are in the workforce today with very few prepared for the future of work that began a decade ago. As a result, we can’t automate ports (or much else) even though we are ready to. We haven’t seriously begun the development of the skills necessary for the 133 million new positions that will be available in the future. And the answer being pursued is, not the learning of the abstract cognitive enablers, but the teaching of the specific skills that are required to run the automation of today with no thought for the automation of tomorrow.
Go out there and learn which buttons you need to push to make an automated port run. You will be valuable until the buttons are re-sequenced with some new AI device cutting out a number of the steps in the operation. That’s what everybody else is doing.

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