Why humanities students will be crucial to the tech sector

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Technology is constantly innovating and reinventing the limits of what it can do. Young professionals are increasingly drawn to the allure of a dynamic and potentially lucrative career in the tech sector and are drawn to study degrees that will teach them the necessary technical skills. However, as emerging technologies such as AI and quantum computing skyrocket in development, we will need to develop a workforce with the right skills to keep up.

About the author

Liz Parnell is COO for EMEA at Rackspace Technology.

As young professionals aspire toward tech sector jobs, they are prioritizing STEM degrees, with acceptances to computer science courses rising by almost 50% in the last decade. At the same time, fewer students are beginning a degree in arts and humanities subjects than ever before. There’s been a fall of 40,000 enrolments over the last decade and some universities are going as far as suspending degrees in these topic areas.

Members of the UK government have amplified the prioritisation of STEM degrees, phasing out degrees lacking ‘earning potential’, stating that they don’t equip young workers with the right skills for our current job market. The emerging workforce is following this thread - acceptances to AI courses have seen a massive 400% increase.

Quantum computing will soon change all we know about tech. Its unprecedented speeds and processing power promises to transform our computing abilities and further the development of next-generation IT roles. It will soon have a huge hold over technology, and hence the job market.

However, be warned - as technology advances, having technical skills will not be enough. The advent of AI and quantum computing will bring new frontiers that pure technical skills will fail to solve. Humanities degrees, though in decline now, will be crucial to the rapidly advancing world of tech.

The rise of ethical issues

AI has speedily transitioned from being part of far-fetched ideas in movies and science fiction to being a part of the fabric of our everyday lives, and quantum computing will soon follow suit. It's been predicted that by next year, 25% of the Fortune Global 500 will be using some form of quantum computing to gain competitive advantage. However, it's unlikely that the integration of these new advanced technologies into our lives will be smooth sailing. There are imminent ethical issues that we must prepare for, especially regarding appropriate usage.

We must make sure that quantum computing and other advancing technologies aren’t being abused or misused. Issues such as AI’s intrinsic bias within datasets will be intensified by quantum computing, and it will become impossible to manually analyze and redress.

Other questions arise: How are we going to make sure that quantum computing is used in a socially responsible manner? How will we enable fair access to quantum computing for all, including developing countries? How will we stop companies from monopolizing quantum for their own benefit?

More issues will arise - many that we cannot yet predict. We do know that we need clear and comprehensive regulations and standards in the tech industry, and we need people to adjudicate and enforce them. Humanities degrees intrinsically teach students skills like ethics and decision making, which will be essential to tackle these and other challenges.

The ever-changing job market

The inherent fast-paced nature of the tech industry means the needs of the job market are constantly evolving. For example, the need for software developers right now is at an all-time high and increasing. A decade ago, there were 224,000 software professionals and programmers in the UK, this number has more than doubled to 465,700. In the future, these roles will likely be redundant as new code is no longer required.

Technology will overtake the rate of human development. We will no longer be able to rely entirely on a workforce with specifically technical skills but rather will need workers who are good at reasoning, logic, history, politics, etc. We will need those with communications skills such as public speaking, teamwork, professional writing, and leadership, which will be indispensable to working with many companies and customers.

Demands of the future

The half-life of specific technical skills is reducing, and currently suggested to only be 2.5 years. We should plan for the long term and equip our teams to have a varied set of specialties, additional flexibility, and a thirst for life-long learning.

In the short to medium term, we should ensure that teams are inclusive of people with technical and non-technical roles, to achieve better balance, accurate requirements, and improved user experience.

The world of tech is full of unprecedented problems and rapid developments. We need those with critical thinking and problem-solving skills to grapple with these challenges.

By nurturing sustainable skills in our future tech workforce, we can keep up with demands of the future of the tech industry. Soft skills that humanities degrees bring will equip our future workforce with the tenacity to survive and thrive.

The tech sector should prioritize cultivating and incorporating these skills to ensure technological progress is not hindered.

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Liz Parnell is COO for EMEA at Rackspace Technology.