Disruptive Technology and the Future of Work

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Monday, July 3, 2023
By Teresa Martinelli, Christine Jagannathan
Illustration by iStock/ipopba
AI, machine learning, and tools such as ChatGPT are revamping jobs in all sectors. How can business schools prepare students for the digital world?
  • Business schools can help faculty become proficient users of disruptive tech by providing training to teachers, supporting communities of practice, and facilitating research.
  • In addition, schools can infuse technical skills into all business courses, while continuing to emphasize the soft skills that will become even more important in the digital age.
  • By partnering with tech companies, business schools can provide students and faculty with opportunities to apply new tech skills to real-world situations.

Like any new clickbait feature highlighted on social media, artificial intelligence has captured the interest of millions. On Twitter, under tags such as #AI, #ChatGPT, and #generativeAI, people are discussing AI in the context of technology, machine learning, natural language processing, and the impact AI could have on various industries.

That impact could be huge. In a recent survey of 3,000 managers, software company beautiful.ai found that 66 percent would gladly replace employees with AI tools if the technology produced work that was comparable. But the same survey found that those who have experience using AI will be better prepared for the future of work. The clear message is that workers must equip themselves with the necessary competencies to adapt and thrive in this evolving landscape.

In fact, the job market has seen a growing demand for professionals who can design and manage AI systems, who are skilled in human-AI interaction, and who understand the ethical implications of AI. A 2018 report from McKinsey outlines how AI and automation have transformed traditional job roles in numerous sectors; similarly, a 2023 article from BuiltIn.com describes how AI already has transformed industries that range from transportation to healthcare.

A program description from the University of San Diego in California notes that skilled AI professionals can find jobs in financial services, healthcare, technology, media, marketing, the government and the military, national security, agriculture, gaming, and retail. And a 2022 report from Robert Half Talent Solutions points out that, as digital platforms become the primary mode of commerce and communication, cybersecurity professionals have become indispensable.

As disruptive technologies shape the future of work, job opportunities will emerge in fields that just a decade ago were unimaginable. This means it is crucial for institutions of higher learning to provide the training that will prepare workers for the jobs of the future. But to do so successfully, they must take three key steps: Train faculty, revamp the curriculum, and partner with other organizations.

Upskilling Faculty to Meet the AI Challenge

The first task for business schools is to rethink the role of the professor in the classroom. Human knowledge currently is estimated to double annually and is projected to increase exponentially in the near future, which means that the era of the “sage on the stage” is long gone.

But if faculty are to teach students the implications and applications of new AI tools, many will first require training themselves. Unfortunately, some faculty will resist acquiring new skills. Some fear that technology will diminish their role, while others lack the necessary skills to effectively incorporate AI into teaching practices.

Schools can overcome this resistance by taking a growth mindset approach to faculty development. To help faculty learn by doing when it comes to AI, administrators can invite experts to deliver workshops that address knowledge gaps or provide stipends to tech-savvy faculty willing to create workshops and curate relevant information for their colleagues. Administrators also can organize collaborative research projects, form communities of practice, and support development of AI-focused courses.

To prepare workers for the jobs of the future, business schools must train faculty, revamp the curriculum, and partner with other organizations.

In addition, schools should encourage faculty members to exchange information about how they are employing AI tools in the classroom and how students are using or misusing new technology. Another way for administrators and faculty to stay informed is to track how other schools are handling AI. As an example, in a recent Harvard webinar, a case researcher described how he used ChatGPT to design a class on entrepreneurship, develop the learning outcomes for each session, practice classroom interaction, and even identify the problems students might encounter.

Business schools also can help faculty become more knowledgeable about AI by facilitating their research on the topic. U.S. News and World Report currently ranks AI research centers or institutes at 100 universities worldwide; 24 are in the U.S. These centers enable faculty to collaborate, exchange ideas, stay updated on advances in technology, and gain access to the resources they need to conduct AI research. As faculty develop a deeper familiarity with AI, business schools will become stewards of technological literacy.

Integrating AI Into the Business Curriculum

Once faculty have mastered the new technology, they can develop specialized courses and programs that train students how to use AI tools such as ChatGPT. For instance, faculty can demonstrate to students how to craft prompts that will return meaningful results, distinguish between valid and invalid responses generated by AI, and use the tool to apply theoretical perspectives to real-world problems.

Tech researcher Simon Willison describes ChatGPT and other language models as calculators for words. That is, they statistically predict the most likely word to come after another word and then repeat this function hundreds of times. Where human skill comes into play is in choosing a prompt that will generate a useful answer. Willison believes this skill, known as “prompt engineering,” will become vital for jobs of the future.

To help students develop technological proficiency, schools cannot simply add stand-alone classes in AI. Rather, they need to infuse all business courses with a combination of technical skills and essential competencies. Students not only need to learn the basics of machine learning, blockchain, data analytics, and automation—students also must understand how these technologies work, how they might be applied in different industries, and what effect they could have on current and future business models.

To this end, the first and most vital skill is digital fluency. To help students develop digital skills, schools must offer courses and programs on data analysis, digital marketing, social media management, and e-commerce. Emerging trends dictate that students also should be trained to use digital tools and platforms that enhance productivity and decision-making. These might include project management software such as Trello and Wrike, collaboration software such as Confluence and SharePoint, and task management tools and apps such as Todoist and Asana.

In addition to requiring technical skills, employers will look for employees who are ethical, display a sense of social responsibility, and have the kind of entrepreneurial mindset that enables them to think innovatively. Even more important, employers will want workers with soft skills such as adaptability, critical thinking, creativity, interpersonal communication, and emotional intelligence, as social media influencer Bernard Marr points out in a video. Forbes concurs that these skills—along with the ability to collaborate, communicate, and demonstrate resilience—will be highly sought after.

Employers will want workers with soft skills such as adaptability, critical thinking, interpersonal communication, emotional intelligence, and the ability to collaborate and communicate.

Since their inception, universities have attempted to teach such competencies, but there is no definitive evidence that they have succeeded. Yet, these critical thinking and problem-solving skills will be in even higher demand as automation eliminates the need to employ workers to handle routine tasks.

To provide students with the combination of skills they will need in the future, business schools must embrace strategies such as fostering classroom participation, customizing learning, emphasizing project learning, promoting collaboration, and cultivating creativity. By equipping students with durable foundations in technical and soft skills, business schools will ensure that graduates are well-prepared to leverage the opportunities presented by disruptive technologies.

Partnering With the Tech Industry

Another way for business schools to meet the AI challenge is to collaborate with other organizations to explore advances in technology.

First, business schools can partner with tech companies as a way to marry theory to practice and to provide both faculty and students with opportunities to apply AI technology to real-world situations. For instance, business schools can work with tech companies on joint research projects, possibly sharing research facilities and resources.

Universities also can partner with tech companies on internship and work placement programs that expose students to disruptive technologies and give businesses access to students’ fresh skills and perspectives. For instance, the University of Chicago’s Data Science Institute partners with organizations such as Invenergy, Verizon, and Argonne National Laboratory.

Second, universities can expand their knowledge by working with other universities or academic departments. As an example, the Wilson Library at the University of La Verne in California holds the Annual Makerspace Conference, where organizations such as Michigan State University, the University of California–Riverside, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Long Beach Public Library collaborate to advance robotic development. Educators and students experiment with emerging tech such as virtual reality tools, 3D printers, laser cutters, robotics, and programmable electronics.

Finally, schools can enter into academic partnerships that bring together entrepreneurship and innovation programs. In joint initiatives such as startup incubators, accelerators, and innovation hubs, students and researchers share resources to develop ideas that utilize disruptive technology. Tech companies can participate in such collaborations, providing expertise, mentoring, and funding for promising startups that emerge from the university ecosystem.

Considering AI in the Classroom

Even as business schools determine the best ways to teach students essential new tech skills, vexing questions remain: How should institutions of higher learning incorporate AI into their own operations? Do tools such as ChatGPT have a place in the teaching and learning process?

In terms of school administration, some observers display cautious optimism about AI’s ability to solve complex problems or make routine tasks less cumbersome. But regarding its use in teaching and learning, opinions are divided. Some observers embrace AI in the classroom. Others dread it or call for it to be banned to prevent students from misusing AI tools.

How should institutions of higher learning incorporate AI into their own operations? Do tools such as ChatGPT have a place in the teaching and learning process?

In reality, we are at a crossroads where nobody knows how to proceed. If faculty partner with AI applications for classroom practice, research, and peer interactions, they can help students take control of their own learning when it comes to disruptive technology. In fact, many of our students already are comfortable using ChatGPT for everything from proofreading their written work to coming up with gift ideas for romantic partners.

UNESCO offers this guidance for education policymakers: AI’s primary purpose in education should be to enhance aspects of both teaching and learning. Another suggestion comes from instructional designer Lance Eaton, who recommends that educators lay out classroom policies in anticipation of the rising tide of AI-generated class assignments.

Leading Innovation

One thing is clear: Education policymakers should strive to ensure that students learn how AI works, how it is created, and what implications it has for society. If business schools take a three-pronged approach of upskilling faculty, redesigning business curricula, and partnering with outside organizations, they can tap into industry knowledge, access innovative technologies, and enhance the employability of their graduates.

By 2025, disruptive technologies have the potential to generate a substantial global economic impact ranging from 14 trillion USD to 33 trillion USD annually. Business schools that can harness the power of these technologies will be at the forefront of significant innovation and transformative change.

We would love to see additional suggestions for how business schools can move forward to embrace these technologies and prepare students for their inevitability in the workplace. Help us continue the discussion by posting your ideas on the AACSB Exchange and tagging us in your comments.

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Teresa Martinelli
Professor of Practice, Management, College of Business, University of La Verne
Christine Jagannathan
Professor of Practice, Business Communications, College of Business, University of La Verne
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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