- White-collar, college-educated workers in business, tech, and finance are at greatest risk of having artificial intelligence impact their jobs, according to a new study from Brookings.
- The report raises questions on how profitable or employable STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) college graduates will be in the future.
- STEM grads currently have higher median household incomes and lower unemployment rates compared to the general graduate population.
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Majoring in engineering might not guarantee you a lofty job much longer.
A new study from Brookings found that workers with bachelor’s and graduate degrees are five and four times more likely, respectively, to get impacted by AI than people with just a high school degree. Brookings can’t predict whether the impact would mean job loss, but the technology will likely replace some job functions.
In addition to manufacturers, white-collar workers in business, finance, and tech industries face greater career consequences of AI impact when the technology becomes more advanced. These findings differ from other reports that say low-income workers will be the ones getting replaced by AI.
Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings and lead author on the study, told Business Insider that the report suggests a college degree won’t give graduates a “pass” on avoiding AI’s potentially negative impact on jobs. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) graduates, who currently have lower unemployment than general grads, might not have as much job security when AI becomes more advanced.
“I think this raises questions about whether STEM analysis, STEM education, or college degrees per se, offer a way to completely avoid these kinds of technology transitions at work,” Muro said in an interview. “I think this throws attention on what we educate for and what we train for.”
Unlike other surveys, Brookings analyzed the “exposure,” or how much of the job will get replaced or supplemented by AI, by comparing job descriptions to patents that have been filed for the technology. Other reports tend to be more subjective by using expert commentary, Muro said.
The study comes at a time when college degrees are pricier than ever. As Business Insider’s Hillary Hoffower reported, the cost of undergraduate degrees rose by 213% for public schools and 129% for private schools, adjusting for inflation.
Plus, the total amount of student loans in the US has topped $1 trillion. Hoffower has also reported that nearly half of college grads with debt don’t think their college degree helped them earn more money.
The report may shock some STEM graduates who for years have been practically guaranteed high-paying work after graduation. All but two of the 20 highest-paying college majors are in some kind of engineering occupation, and the STEM college majors have higher median incomes and lower unemployment rates compared to the general graduate population.
Muro said exposure to AI does not necessarily mean job loss, and AI might just supplement work. But he said that AI exposure will likely lower wages and lead to job replacement if human workers can no longer bring “extra value” that AI can’t.
Jobs that AI won’t have as much impact on include relatively low-paying work in food preparation and education. The reason might be because these jobs require interpersonal skills that are difficult for machines to replicate. For instance, there are already machines that can flip burgers, yet fast food workers are cheaper and better at it so companies haven’t invested much in the tech, wrote Ellen Ruppel Shell in her book, “The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change.”
“It may be that college education, or educational training in general, should be [focused] on things like interpersonal relations and judgement ethical decision making,” Muro said. “A college degree won’t give someone a pass on dealing with these transitions but it also may be useful if it allows for people to be better equipped to do things that machines can’t.”