Read time: 3 minutes

Public lecture discusses whether automation is the future of work and learning

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) recently hosted a delegation from the University of Denver in the USA, led by provost and executive vice-chancellor Dr Jeremy Haefner, who delivered a public lecture titled: "The Future of Work and Learning". The venue for the lecture was the EG Malherbe Library, situation on the university's Howard College campus.

Prior to joining the University of Denver, Haefner served as provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs at New York's Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) for 10 years. He was in charge of the education and research missions of the university, overseeing nine colleges, two institutes, one school and three global campuses, as well as several university-level programmes.

In his lecture, Haefner highlighted the job insecurity created by automation, noting that in the United States five million jobs had been lost since the year 2000, not only because of companies moving offshore, but also because of the use of new technologies. However, he highlighted that productivity had increased during the same period.

Most of the jobs lost were in manufacturing; transportation and warehousing; and accommodation and food services. The white-collar industry also saw job losses.

Haefner said the education sector was not immune to this problem and noted that universities could respond to this threat by introducing learning that not only engaged students in the classroom, but outside of it as well. This includes active learning, project-based learning, and experiential and collaborative learning.

He posed the question of whether one degree would be sufficient, or whether students would need to acquire complementary degrees to better equip them for the world of work; a further challenge that could require universities to change the curriculum.

Finally, Haefner noted that given the changes taking place, lecturers' skills would require upgrading in order to better serve students. He encouraged the audience of staff and students to think optimistically about the future and embrace it.

Words: Sithembile Shabangu