Skip to main content
Blog post

Automation and The Education System

September 26, 2017
By Rocco Portaro

Automation and The Education System

Automation, a word which can evoke joy for the technologically inclined or fear and anger for others.  At its core, automation consists of taking repetitive tasks , sometimes accompanied by strenuous labour and developing machinery and electronics so they can be conducted  without any human intervention.  The title of this blog might suggest that it will focus on how we can apply these same principles to automate learning, but that's not the case. In fact, I believe that learning is something that should always be conducted in a classroom and that there is something special about the human interaction between a professor and  students that can't be replaced by a computer screen....but I digress.

I would much rather like to highlight the need to reshape our education system in order to provide our future workforce with the skill sets required to deal with an increasingly automated society. Why you might ask ? Well look around,  remember the days when you would shop for groceries and then be served by a cashier, that's no longer the case, cashiers are now slowly being phased out by fancy, self serve  terminals. Moreover, the supermarket at which you buy those delicious groceries, receives them from a distribution centre, which now uses state of the art technology. A good example of this is IGA who have recently invested large sums of money to completely automate the distribution of their goods. They have taken one of their distribution centres which employed 600 workers and cut that number to 40 running 24 hours a day in a building that has robots running around in darkness. These are just two of many examples around us today but many more are on the horizon. 

Businesses and institutions  are embracing automation in a phenomenon known as Industry 4.0, companies such as Amazon are planning on introducing drones to deliver our packages and driverless cars are just around the corner. A recent study conducted by the BBC illustrates that technology has evolved to the point that well paid jobs in hospitals, law firms, banks, stock markets....ect can be automated. The point being that the jobs at risk are no longer just those of low salary employees, many middle class jobs will come under threat.  The question is what happens to future generations or people that are currently working jobs soon to be obsolete,  jobs that have given a meaningful existence to so many? There will certainly be a plethora of new jobs created in order to construct, operate and maintain new technology, but at the same time one can hope there will be an increased demand for creative and interpersonal skills used in teaching, negotiating and selling, at which humans can always outperform robots. 

So to get back to the issue at hand, we must rethink the way in which the education system trains the future labour pool by stressing the importance of learning how to embrace and keep up to date with technology. The days whereby an individual gets through an entire career with one skill set are behind us. Our educational institutions must be setup in such a way that we can give students the necessary tools not only to deal with a modern automated society but also to continuously adapt to technological challenges they might face.  This can take the form of helping students develop passion for science and encouraging curiosity and self learning, as well as honing those invaluable interpersonal skills. Needless to say, this paradigm shift is well on its way and our education system must quickly adapt or some will be left behind.

About the author

Rocco Portaro received his Master's degree from Concordia University in Mechanical Engineering, whereby he developed an expertise in fluid dynamics and manufacturing. His current research interests lie in the field of biomedical engineering, an area that utilizes engineering principles to solve problems faced by clinicians. He is currently developing technology for needle-free drug delivery.  He also founded an engineering firm specializing in industrial automation, through which he wishes to offer young engineering students an opportunity to hone their skills.


Back to top

© Concordia University