Lloyd Roche, organizer of the Evergreen School Division s Riding the Wave of Change technology conference chats with keynote speakers Shann McGrail and Steve Dembo. (Roger Newman)
Teachers face the challenge of preparing students for new jobs yet to be created by digital technology still in the process of development.
That was the message from Shann McGrail, education manager for Microsoft Canada Co., who was a keynote speaker at the Evergreen School Division's 17th annual "Riding the Wave of Change" conference last Thursday and Friday at Gimli's Lakeview Resort. More than 170 teachers and Internet specialists from across the province attended the conference organized by Evergreen technology consultant Lloyd Roche.
The Toronto-based McGrail said new jobs and professions will soon emerge in today's knowledge-based economy where there is a drive to invent smarter and smarter digital devices to efficiently access needed information. She also said coming change in the work force is being fuelled by the lower cost of the devices and nearing saturation use of the Internet which now has 83 million websites.
"The first computers cost between $3,500 and $4,000, but now you can buy a laptop for less than $300," said McGrail who entered the technology industry 14 years ago after earning an honours bachelor of commerce degree at the University of Windsor. "More than 70 per cent of Canadians currently have access to the Internet and a global site like Facebook has 90 million users in 21 languages."
She said technology and the world-wide web will change marketable skills and lead to professions like "personal branders" who would create a personal brand for clients on social networking sites and through other media.
"Teachers could hire a brander to create followers for them," she said. "If their contracts were not renewed, they could threaten to take their students with them."
Even worse, she said teachers could be replaced in classrooms by intelligent computer characters known as avatars. "The teachers could assume a support role as managers who ensure that students are properly matched with the avatars," she added.
McGrail also said combined advances in science and technology could spark a demand in the next 20 years for body parts makers, memory upgrade surgeons, robot medicine specialists, science ethicists and developers of alternative vehicles.
As well, she said, there could be a need for wellness managers-consultants to take care of an aging population, quarantine enforcers to curb deadly viruses, 'pharmers' of genetically engineered crops and livestock, and vertical farmers growing crops in skyscrapers in the middle of cities.
"Vertical farmers will require skills in a range of scientific disciplines, engineering and commerce," said McGrail who came equipped with a list of 20 new jobs of the future. "There may be opportunities too for a new breed of scientists to reverse climate change plus weather modification police to control people who shoot silver iodine rockets to provoke rainfall from passing clouds."
She said the Internet itself will be a source of new jobs. "As more and more of our daily life goes online, we will need virtual lawyers - specialists to resolve legal disputes between people in countries and regions with different laws," said McGrail who has relaxed from the web by serving on the boards of Ontario community theatres in Oakville and Kanata. "We could also need Internet social workers for people who may be traumatized or marginalized by social networking."
McGrail indicated that Canadian students could be well prepared for the job revolution. She said 74 per cent of them average 18 hours a week online, using it for learning and churning out e-mails, twitters, blogs, videos and contributions to social networks such as Facebook.
"Social networks are changing the way we interact with each other," she said. "Eighty four per cent of our students use social networking, but only 14 per cent use e-mails. Some say they only use e-mails to communicate with institutions and old people."
Steve Dembo, the other keynote speaker, said the next generation is wired differently from its predecessors. "Young people are digital natives while older people are digital immigrants," said Dembo, the Chicago-based online community manager for Discovery Education. "Teachers will have to change to reach this new generation," he said. "They will have to embrace the web personally as well as professionally, incorporating it into their lifestyles."
Dembo said the high-tech revolution shows no sign of slowing down. "There is new technology every time you turn around," he said.
McGrail, meanwhile, foresees the day when computer users will pay for networking and information like they do for electricity.
"You will pay for what you use - part of that applies to computers," she said. "You will get resources delivered to you when you want them."