Infrastructure | SDG4 | Youth
November 10, 2017

The future workforce: do you have the skills to survive?

By Lucy Spencer

At the Web Summit in Lisbon, the popular debate rages about the future of jobs and many are wondering: what skills are needed to survive in the coming technological revolution?

“Our most popular programme right now is self-driving car engineering, so talk about jobs that didn’t exist five years ago!” said Kathleen Mullaney, Vice President of Careers & People Ops at Udacity, an online learning platform that partners with technology giants to teach skills that industry employers need today, in an interview with ITU News.

The technology evolution is changing the job market; experts predict that many jobs today will disappear in 20 – 30 years, and it is estimated that 65% of children in primary school will have jobs that don’t yet exist.

Computer programming skills are both valued and in demand in the marketplace today – Apple CEO, Tim Cook, even said recently that learning to code is more important than learning English as a second language – but this is set to rapidly change, according to panellists at Web Summit 2017.

“I would bet that 20 years from now, we will have pretty good AI engines that can write code,” Pedro Santa Clara, Fundação Alfredo Sousa President, Nova SBE Professor, said at The Future is Education Fireside Chats.

So, what skills do we teach our children when we cannot predict what jobs will be required in the future? And how do you future proof your job skill set?

Soft skills – the most valuable skills for the future workforce

We have been in this position before. Each technological revolution – from the first and second Industrial revolutions to the Scientific-technical revolution – has come with a warning of wide-scale unemployment, Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of Sydney, reminded a panel at Web Summit 2017.

“Anyone that was trained with a very particular set of skills, had those skills [go] very quickly out of date.” noted Spence.

“But every technology revolution has created more work for human beings, just new kinds of jobs…. that require the same intellectual and interpersonal skills that we think universities and schools really need to focus on.” –Michael Spence.

Communication skills, teamwork and critical thinking are the skills that survive, regardless of the workforce profile, he said.

Rather than focusing on coding skills, children need to develop problem solving and social skills. These ‘soft skills’ can then be used as a building block for the technological skills that will be needed in the future, Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport agreed.

Re-skilling: vital to future employment

One key takeaway for the job market of the future is the need for lifelong learning.

As technology advances, there is already a growing need to retrain people in the workforce, and people need to get ready to be constantly learning, Kathleen Mullaney told ITU News.

“I think the biggest thing we can do is actually help children and also adults adopt a growth mindset and be curious, and want to see how the world works around them, and want to try new things,” she said.

“With jobs changing as rapidly as they are even today, in 20 – 30 years from now, we’re not going to know the state of jobs that people prepare for. It’s going to be much more amorphous and people will need to adapt. So the biggest skill set  that we can give our kids, is the ability to learn and how to enjoy learning.”

By Lucy Spencer, @inquisitivelucy

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