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Tech education ideal, but not possible for all

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In the past seven months, the U.S. employment rate of those between 20 and 24 rose from 60.6 percent to 65.5 percent. But in the entirety of the economic recovery, those numbers aren’t encouraging. They’re indicative of the economic stagnation of the Millennial generation. We’ve touched this number before. In July 2012, the same employment rate was 65 percent. Student loans made up two-thirds of the $62 million increase in non-real estate household debt in the third quarter of 2012. The Millennials are crippled, and their prospects are dim.

NYU graduates, however, are doing well for themselves. In a yearly survey released by the Wasserman Center for Career Development titled Life Beyond the Square, 92.5 percent of respondents of the graduating class of 2012 were either employed or enrolled in graduate or professional schools, with the most popular industries being Entertainment/Media (14.9 percent), Financial Services (11.1 percent), Education/Teaching (10.1 percent), and Nursing (8.4 percent).

How the rest of the Millennial generation is faring should give us pause — NYU graduates aren’t out of the woods yet. We ought to consider whether or not workers will be displaced by technological advancements.

The release of the personal computer saw companies using them to automate menial labor. But computers are getting better at pattern recognition, a field where humans were expected to dominate. Google’s driverless cars are a prime example of this. One decade ago, economists Frank Levy and Richard Murnane wrongly asserted that “computer cannot easily substitute for humans in [jobs like truck driving].” Today, the napsterization — to use Jaron Lanier’s phrase — of truckers is becoming more likely.

The possibility for other fields of work to be automated is a growing one. Law school students face the possibility that artificial intelligence programs provided by Blackstone Discovery will not only be more efficient but cheaper as well. The same is true for prospective doctors. Columbia University and the University of Maryland have recently adopted the IBM Watson supercomputer to carry out medical diagnoses.

NYU graduates are not entering safe industries. When one considers the national landscape, the way in which technological advancements will interact with today’s labor is a concern. Trying to teach an entire nation how to program is not a viable solution, although it is a noble one. Learning computer programming will be a lot harder for a displaced grocer than it was for a displaced artisan learning how to operate a machine.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 10 print edition. Mark Secada is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]

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