Future proofing education for jobs that don't even exist yet

by Guest Blogger, 19 April 2017
Guest blogger, Carla Adams, looks ahead to a world where today's school children will be in jobs we can't yet imagine. 

Most people align jobs with colleges or universities and treat them as a sort of coming of age event where the student is allowed to choose where to work. This cultural notion was justified in decades gone by as jobs and employment did have an air of predictability about them back then, but now, things are poised for a huge transformation as we head into the age of intelligent automation. This would be a world where cars won’t have drivers and buildings could be built without workers. This new world will not only revolutionise how humans will benefit from this unprecedented transformation but will also open up the new challenges in how people gain employment. Preparation for that has to start with schools and at the most basic of levels in order to ingrain the sort of competencies required to address that unique working environment we haven’t yet experienced. 

Two decades ago, no one would have been working as a social media manager or as an app developer, but today, these jobs not only exist, but form the core of business and how social aspects of our lives are managed. Apps have accumulated more than 268 billion downloads by 2017, a number which is expected to grow exponentially in years to come. Companies like Google have invested in technology such as DeepMind, where machines are being trained how to think for themselves through forming neural networks and regulating them through neural episodic controls

Jobs, an essential component of the way our personal lives are constructed, will stand to be radically transformed. No longer will we have to rely on the structured mode of thought that led to the progress of conventional professions like doctors and engineers. The jobs of tomorrow will be nothing like the ones we have today. Intelligent automation can already do a variety of things previously considered impossible for anything other than a human to successfully execute. The new wave of automation is already causing anxiety and the generation that will be most deeply affected are the children of today, who will form the workforce of tomorrow and try to make sense of these incredibly competent marvels of human technological prowess. We most definitely need a radical change at the initial level of education if we want this generation to successfully manoeuvre those uncharted waters. 

The two most important educational mechanisms that need to be articulated in the curriculum are: 

The Importance of Skill: 

In the intelligently automated world, skill would reign supreme. People who specialise in a certain task that is specifically required would make it big. For example, all of the data being accumulated nowadays would definitely need a human to not just make sense of it all, but to put it to further beneficial use. These big data scientists would probably be leaders in the future, and it's more than just mathematical prowess that will be required. They would need to have that extra quality or level of skill that would allow them to recognise patterns and make recommendations as to how the data could be used. Bearing in mind the complexity of it all, we would need to start developing data science skills early in school by providing young people with the tools to understand how this field actually works. Implementing these types of skills alongside a contemporary and general education would be immensely beneficial for young people, as they would have developed a specialised skill-set long before they enter that specialised professional field. Skills are definitely important, but recognising which skills are going to be important in the future is for the educational legislators, policy makers, and curriculum boards to decide. 

Third Space Thinking: 

When we talk about the jobs of tomorrow, we should definitely acknowledge the fact that they won’t adhere to the thinking patterns prevalent today. Third Space Thinking is an alternative suggested to overcome the gap and make the jobs of tomorrow more accessible to people. It combines adaptability, cultural competence, empathy, intellectual curiosity and a 360-degree perspective. Harnessing these competencies would make a wide range of occupations accessible in the future, and as they follow a more inclusive, adaptive, and broader thinking structure, it is completely necessary to ingrain this in our young people if we want to ensure their future success. Schools do ingrain variations or adaptions of some or a mixture of these competencies, but defining and drawing them together towards a more constructive mechanism would not only close the trillion dollar competency gap that affects the US economy today but will also make young people cognitively advanced enough to adopt the types of professions we can’t yet even imagine. 

There has been a lot of debate on how intelligent automation will shape our future and affect our lives in every possible way. Most people believe that employment will take the biggest hit when intelligent automation finally arrives, increasing problems related to unemployment, such as falling personal credit scores, reduced personal spending budgets, and defaulted student loans. But, with renewed urgency, we can definitely start to tackle this potential outcome, and the starting point of this all should be schools. Students of today should be helped to prepare for the upcoming changes so they don’t just survive but thrive in this uncharted environment. 

Carla Adams
Blogger and education enthusiast

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