The Feeling Economy will change education. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking on more and more of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and (STEM) workload for companies. This shift is transforming the conventional purpose of education from teaching people to think—for STEM-focused careers—to developing students’ soft skills and emotional intelligence to prepare them as professionals in what is becoming a “feeling economy,” in which people will be most valued for the traits that make them human: the way they think, feel and act toward other humans. The jobs of the feeling economy will be interpersonal, empathetic, and emotional.
Educators and future and current professionals must adapt. Here’s how it can begin:
1. Students working in groups.
Even quiet students need to learn how to function more forcefully and effectively in an interpersonal environment, and overbearing students need to learn when to back off. Differences of opinion or differences of background force students to understand and appreciate perspectives that are different from their own. Students are forced to develop more empathy and emotional intelligence in such an environment.
2. Students developing coaching and leadership skills.
People who have natural leadership skills need to learn when those skills are needed, and how best to exercise them. As an MBA student at the University of North Carolina, I was the youngest person in the program, with most of my peers being much older and more experienced. Although I had natural leadership skills, it took some time to realize that sometimes the group needed those skills and that I needed to assert them for the group to be effective. Without group work, I would not have learned how to do that.
3. Students giving group presentations.
Effective oral presentations are essential to interact effectively in an organizational environment. Also, the group nature of the presentations further facilitates give and take with the others in the group. Group decision dynamics are actively practiced in such a setting.
4. Students having frequent group written assignments.
s in the group presentations, this develops the skills necessary to function effectively in a group. This also helps develop the student’s written communication skills, which are often poorly developed in the current educational environment.
5. Retraining for Thinking Economy workers.
The stereotype of the Silicon Valley geek—the narrowly technical, socially awkward person—is already mostly obsolete, even in Silicon Valley. To be successful, even in a tech company such as Google, a worker needs to be adept interpersonally. This calls for continuing education to play an important role. Universities can play a major role in this retraining, which suggests the importance of new or expanded programs, targeted at STEM workers, and mostly focused on “soft” people skills.
Retraining to adapt to broad economic shifts has never been a strong suit, at least not in the United States. When the United States transitioned from a Physical Economy built on manufacturing, farming, and mining to a Thinking Economy that emphasized STEM skills, many Americans felt displaced and hurt. The jobs they were proficient in became automated, off-shored, or irrelevant, and they were left behind.
As workers in the Physical Economy failed to adapt to the emerging Thinking Economy, our society placed too little emphasis and too few resources on worker retraining programs. Without such support and training, workers in the Physical Economy lacked the ability to pivot to the new work demands and were left behind, often in their prime working years.
Agricultural and manufacturing workers still bear those scars, as do their local economies, which suffered from their diminished incomes. The economic resentments of those workers helped to drive the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, fueled by a vain hope that his policies might somehow turn back the hands of time, reversing the broad economic shifts that spanned not just the country, but the globe. Not even a U.S. president can stop the broad shifts of a global economy.
What we have now in the United States is an opportunity to learn from the past. We have an opportunity to help the Thinking Economy workforce transition to the Feeling Economy and an opportunity to shape today’s students to meet the work demands of the future.
The Feeling Economy will inevitably necessitate changes to our current educational system. Universities have a responsibility to lead these efforts and implement the development of soft skills or people skills within a curriculum. STEM will not go away, but it will be increasingly performed by AI. Humans will focus on the people part. Education must place an increased emphasis on feeling and interpersonal skills. That way, when AI begins reaching its full potential, we’ll be ready.
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