With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and job automation, it’s possible that certain industries and occupations may become obsolete. However, studies show that what AI is not replacing are jobs that require soft skills—or innately human skills.

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As AI capabilities rapidly advance and more companies take opportunities to use automation, how can you ensure that your child will be a highly qualified candidate who will not only get hired but also stay employed after graduation? The answer lies in career technical education (CTE)—but not all CTE programs are equal. What students need is a CTE program that emphasizes the development of soft skills in addition to technical training.

Since its onset in  1917, CTE has prepared students for work in a wide range of industries and occupations such as agriculture, information technology, health science, finance, STEM, and transportation, to name a few. Traditionally, CTE students have learned hard technical skills through academic courses, hands-on training, mentoring, and internships. While CTE helps students develop important skills for industry-specific roles, what some programs lack is the development of soft skills, including professionalism and work ethic; adaptability and active learning; communication; teamwork and collaboration; enthusiasm; critical thinking and problem-solving; and the ability to network or manage others.

This is made clear through a recent study in which 94% of human resources professionals reported that they are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill roles. Still, while some roles require technical skills that are scarce in the candidate pool, what candidates are lacking, according to respondents, are soft skills, particularly work ethic, communication, and teamwork.

So how do you ensure that you’re choosing a CTE program that will help your child develop soft skills and make them a highly desirable candidate with a lower risk of losing their job to automation? One solution is to choose a CTE program that uses project-based learning (PBL) as a foundation.

PBL is a teaching method that exposes students to real-world problems and complex challenges that they could likely face after graduation. These projects take time, effort, and many of the soft skills listed above—collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving—to reach an adequate solution. Not only do students get hands-on training and application, but they also learn to adapt and overcome issues that aren’t always addressed in textbooks. Plus, the emphasis on adaptability can help prepare them for industry changes as AI advances.

With PBL, students learn to use their technical and soft skills to grow into career-ready individuals. Studies show that PBL is effective—according to the Speak Up Research Project, 76% of principals say that PBL develops collaboration and teamwork skills, while 75% of parents say that PBL prepares their children with authentic, real-world problem-solving experiences.

Online schools, such as  Arizona Virtual Academy, use PBL for many courses and it’s integral to their career prep program. Teachers act as coaches and facilitators as students work together through complex real-world issues—mirroring the collaborative efforts they’ll use after graduation.

Let’s face it—the modern workplace is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. Each student needs to be prepared with a set of skills that cannot be replaced by AI, and as parents, we need to ensure that our children receive a well-rounded technical education that fosters soft skills. While we cannot predict how AI will change jobs and industries in the future, what we can predict is that AI will continue to change the workplace. It’s time to prepare our children by building the skills that will make them irreplaceable in a highly technical world. 

Author: Dr. Erica Young-Jackson is a business career readiness teacher at Insights Academy of Arizona. For more information, visit www.insightaz.k12.com.