Given how smart machines are spreading and employment structures are changing, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of work. Some experts forecast that many of today’s jobs or tasks could be automated over the next couple of decades. Others insist that technological change has always led to new kinds of work that was impossible to fathom from the vantage point of the old paradigm. (Think working in factories from the vantage point of before the First Industrial Revolution.)
We can all point to examples of relevant changes: tagging our own bags at the airport, ordering on screens in some restaurants, checking ourselves out at many grocery stores, seeing more and more co-working spaces open in urban communities or relying on gig workers for rides around cities we are visiting. But the bottom line is that we don’t yet know the extent to which the current wave of automation will displace human workers by the year 2040. We also don’t know how society will respond to the changing employment landscape.
We can anticipate, though, that the employment landscape will change very rapidly, making it necessary for people to reskill and upskill over and over again throughout our lifetimes. We can also anticipate that helping people develop our uniquely human attributes such as connecting with others, solving complex problems and coming up with creative ideas and outputs will help us contribute to future workplaces in ways that distinguish us from increasingly smart machines. To put it another way, the future of human work may depend on what makes us uniquely human.
The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out explores how career readiness may be redefined to better prepare students for an uncertain future, based on a series of in-depth interviews with employees at cutting-edge organizations, as well as site visits to workspaces and strategic foresight research into current trends.
In exploring the future of readiness, KnowledgeWorks’ proposed a new foundation for readiness that promises to help people prepare to thrive regardless of exactly how the rise of smart machines and decline of the full-time employee end up affecting work in 2040.
The new foundation for readiness contains three elements:
- Future work characteristics, which describe likely features of any future work landscape
- Core social-emotional skills, which outline the foundational skills that will enable people to thrive in future workplaces
- Foundational cognitive and metacognitive practices, which represent knowledge, skills and dispositions that will help people navigate, adapt and grow in the emerging work environment
As we’ve been working with education stakeholders around the country to explore what the changing nature of work and this new foundation for readiness could mean, we’ve been inviting them to create future graduate profiles and to imagine what kinds of learning experiences might support the development of future-ready knowledge, skills and dispositions.
Workshop participants’ ideas for future graduate profiles have included:
- Social skills
- Problem solving
- Time management
- The ability to work with different technologies
- Identification and analysis of trends
Ideas for desirable attributes of future-ready learning experiences have included those shown in the image below.
The “Creating a New Profile of a Graduate” activity in KnowledgeWorks’ Shaping the Future of Readiness: A Discussion and Facilitation Guide helps groups explore what graduates should know and be able to do to prepare for the future – and what that could mean for learning experiences. The guide invites groups to consider:
- What they think of the new foundation for readiness
- What knowledge, skills and dispositions will be critical for workers to thrive in a changing and uncertain landscape
- What attributes future learning experiences should and should not have
- What those possibilities might mean for their organizations and local area
See what you think – we need many perspectives on future graduate profiles to help shift expectations about what it might mean to be future-ready and to invite consideration of how education systems and other readiness stakeholders can help people develop that readiness. If we don’t change our understanding of the purpose and outcomes of learning experiences – and if we don’t broaden our measures of success to reflect our full understanding of future readiness characteristics – it will be nearly impossible to change learning and other readiness experiences at scale.