Future skills. The phrase is perhaps a little redundant now, because the time for these skills is, in fact, already here. Much discussion still focuses on how to prepare learners coming through schools, higher and further education for the automated world of 2030 and beyond.
But what about those of us already making our way through our careers? What happens to the customer service reps being edged out by chatbots and the curriculum designers who can not build digitally and adaptively?
The challenge is broader and deeper than this. Mckinsey's research claims that 30-40% of workers in developing countries will have to change jobs entirely by 2030. It's 2021. The jobs of the future are jobs we can't quite imagine or describe yet, and so have little chance of directly preparing for. The "future" is not in some new dimension some hundreds of years away, but rather right around the next corner.
The change is already well underway. Any tasks that can be predicted and iterated systematically are already gone. The pandemic has accelerated this change as companies adapt to survive, and increasingly turn towards automated solutions for resilience. As Daniel Susskind said in an interview with Time Magazine: "Machines don’t fall ill, they don’t need to isolate to protect peers, they don’t need to take time off work."
First of all, we really do need a better name for them! If you have any suggestions, please do contact us. The thing is that these are already skills in high demand, and they have been part of the human experience for a long time already, just not as part of the traditional mass education systems that prepared us for mass workforce roles and not to become individuals.
Future skills are generally higher order skills that machines are unlikely to be able to do as well as humans, and that also allow us to adapt to an uncertain world which changes so quickly that we cannot predict what will happen.
There is no standard list, but there is no shortage of discussion around them at the very top levels of policy making. From intercultural competence to digital literacy, critical thinking to the capacity for self reflection. These are all higher order skills which allow us to be more cognitively flexible, adapt, learn and collaborate.
Next skills has a good definition:
"Future Skills are competences that allow individuals to solve complex problems in highly emergent contexts of action in a self-organized way and enable them to act (successfully). They are based on cognitive, motivational, volitional and social resources, are value-based and can be acquired in a learning process."
Yes, they can be acquired through learning, and that is important. Not only for the people who are working hard to make sure education systems actually help develop these in learners, but for those of us who are already working, and thinking about how to get ready for the next step in our our social and cultural evolution.
Most organizations and institutions are reactive. How long have we known about the power of technology to enhance and augment learning, redefine ways of working and skyrocket collaborative practice and knowledge sharing? And yet, it took a global pandemic for most organizations to even partially embrace this truth.
The organizations which will survive are already moving. Keeping up to date with developments in technology, conducting skills audits to invest in training, and redesigned roles and structures to allow these future skills to take root and flourish.
Why silo people away on specific projects, without the opportunity to collaborate with others on theirs? Transversal learning, adaptability, and cognitive flexibility come from such horizontal practices. When the next challenge hits, you might just have more chance of reacting quickly and creatively.
Why develop job descriptions top-down when job crafting can open up insights that were hidden, and bring a person's unique skills and abilities to bear on the role they play, as well as co-creating opportunities to develop critical higher-order skills.
Why wait for a decline in business before investing in new technology or streamlining systems? Get ahead of the curve, because implementation is not going to happen overnight. Help your team to see the big picture, involve them in discussions of strategy and share the angles.
With a team who are comfortable with a rolling process of evolutionary change to processes and systems, rather than a team that feels a seismic shock when a new CRM comes in, or part of the sales funnel is taken care of by AI, change might even be welcomed one day, rather than feared. At NEO Academy our model is one of a holistic training approach to optimize an institution's digital marketing and recruitment, but one which empowers the team to develop further and does not leave them dependent on us as gatekeepers to future progress. A bright future together means doing things differently.
The global freelancers, liquid workers, movers and shakers of the world likely have a head start on future skills. Inbuilt in the global freelance approach is persuasiveness, intercultural competence, emotional intelligence, highly evolved adaptability and a near constant uncertainty countered by the growth mindset that thrives in a challenge.
But there are always new challenges, and we must always grow. A study by Upwork found that while 45% of employees in the US were actively upskilling in 2017, the figure for freelancers was 65%. While freelancers are, of course, most likely to pay for such upskilling themselves, the ubiquitous low-cost online courses are rendering that comparison less relevant than 15 years ago.
Opportunities are everywhere, and more and more people are teaching themselves. In areas like coding, for example, why pay for a degree as proof of learning when you can simply present a product of your learning, such as an app, which says this is what I can do. This is an area that will be hugely challenging for higher and further education providers who stay static in the one-to-many knowledge-rich, standardized models of top down instruction. They will not survive easily. Saying yes to a role and then figuring out how to do major parts of it might seem a little reckless, but when you consider that so much is learnable when you have the right skills, it makes more sense. A person who knows how to learn, how to reflect and retrench, how to recover from error and iterate towards success- these are future skills that will take a person wherever they want to go.
There is no way we can leave this topic here. The questions around just how we develop skills such as critical thinking or emotional self-regulation are just too abstract to leave at generalisations.
We will return to explore some of these competencies in detail, and look at how we as individuals might develop them, by formal training or just by going it alone.
Check back to our blog and click on the future skills tag to see more.