If you think of education, what springs to mind? It might be visions of wooden desks, chalk boards and weighty textbooks. Or, if you’ve been into a classroom recently, you might think of young people working with digital whiteboards, using tablets or even experiencing virtual reality.
But there’s usually one common theme: education is something that happens to the young. That, however, is something that must change. Shaping the future of education and work is one of the focuses of this year’s World Economic Forum, and I believe this is an absolutely critical issue. As I’ve said previously the defining feature of our time is exponential change.
Our Timeline 2030 research outlines that the world of work will be transformed considerably by technologies including artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. How well we respond to that change – and ultimately whether this transformation will be positive – fundamentally depends on how we shape the future of education.
Digital skills: More than millennials
Technology has already changed the world of work immensely, just within the last two decades. Almost all jobs have changed; think of the computer systems now available to finance teams, the impact of smartphones on the way advertisers work through to the advanced machine learning tools now used in factory quality control. As a result, digital skills are in huge demand, and talent shortages are rife throughout the world.
Currently, many businesses are looking to ‘digital natives’, those who have grown up with digital technologies, to meet these needs, creating wars for talent in some markets. But simply looking to younger workers for the new skills that we need is unsustainable – especially as technology is continuing to evolve, at a faster and faster pace. We must adopt a new approach to skills and education to protect our long term employability, focusing not only on the young, but our current workforce too.
Skills for the new digital age
To prepare our workforce for further technological change, we must focus on three skillsets: STEM, soft skills and creativity. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills make the headlines all the time, and with good reason: technology is the platform on which all public and private services sit. We need people with the skills to continue this journey: to build new services and products, to analyse data and to leverage advanced robotics and artificial intelligence. Therefore, we must ensure that digital skills are entrenched in our education systems, with public and private partnerships to design intelligent curriculums on an international scale.
However, STEM skills alone aren’t enough – investments must also be made in so-called soft skills. Skills relating to emotional and psychological intelligence and building relationships will be equally important. These competencies will not only drive value in specific jobs, but enable us to better collaborate, communicate and co-create across the board.
Creativity will also be hugely valuable, in facilitating new ideas and approaches to the challenges of the future. It will be vital that these skills are supported and developed, not only throughout our education systems but in the working world beyond.
Learning to learn
As well as changing what we learn, we should address our mentality around when we learn it. Education can no longer be seen as the realm of the young. With digital disruption constantly creating the need for new skills and services, perpetual learning will be fundamental to the ongoing employability of the workforce. Workers may expect to change jobs and even careers multiple times throughout their lives, and the ability to adapt will be critical.
Both as employers and employees, we must adopt a mentality that prizes and integrates ongoing education throughout our careers. A new, more agile workforce strategy is required to let both businesses and societies thrive.
Education for all
We’re at a point in our history where fundamental changes are required to avoid unemployment in the face of technological change – and education is a critical area. We must change the mindset that sees education as something for the young and embrace perpetual learning. It is an exciting prospect and one that will help us as individuals and collectives to thrive in times of change.
But to make this a reality, we need coordinated action across the public and private sectors – and that is something I look forward to discussing at the World Economic Forum.