As colleagues and I have facilitated workshops and other conversations about the future of work and readiness over the past nine months, we’ve heard education and readiness stakeholders underscore our sense that redefining readiness for the emerging era is one of the most urgent issues on the horizon for individual and community vitality.
KnowledgeWorks’ publication, The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out, outlined two major driver of change that could shape the future of work:
- The rise of smart machines – Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and other forms of automation are leading to the rise of smart machines that can perform increasingly sophisticated and varied tasks. As smart machines develop further and get cheaper, they will alter or eliminate many tasks that people carry out today, including tasks associated with knowledge-based work, creative work and care-based professions.
- The decline of the full-time employee – Technology is also changing the structure of work, due in large part to the lower coordination costs afforded by the Internet and the access to an expanded labor pool resulting from globalization. Such shifts are contributing to shortening employment tenure, the spread of contingent and project-based work and the rise of taskification, or the breaking down of formal jobs into discrete tasks, often at lower wages and with informal job structures.
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.
While it is clear that these drivers of change are transforming work, there is significant uncertainty about what impacts they will have and how society will respond. By 2040, the employment landscape could look very different than it does today. We could be:
- Partnering for Mobility, with many people working full-time but for short stints, completing rapidly evolving project-based work with coordinated support for developing the skills needed for a constantly changing labor market.
- Checking for Upgrades, with professional nomads moving from project to project and shouldering responsibility for improving their performance by upgrading their skills, digital tools and social capital in a highly fluid landscape of independent, contingent employment.
- Working the Platforms, with most workers carrying out extremely fragmented tasks managed through dispatching platforms and developing their own strategies for attracting work, keeping their skills relevant and persisting in a highly competitive environment.
- Finding New Meaning, with social support structures having made paid work become one of several options for earning a living and contributing to society and with career planning having shifted toward life planning as people seek to understand and develop their potential for unique contribution.
Responding to these kinds of scenarios means stretching beyond our current notions of education and career and life readiness to ask big questions about what related systems might need to aim for and look like to help all learners be ready for a rapidly changing employment landscape. For example, following a recent futures summit with the American International School Chennai, the school’s leadership team identified three big opportunities to help learners prepare for the future:
- Help students cultivate values and social responsibility to have personal and societal impact
- Orient learning around competencies, both cognitive and non-cognitive (for example, social-emotional skills)
- Help students understand complexity (for example, through transdisciplinary, relevant and experiential learning experiences)
That conversation also highlighted the importance of moving beyond talk to take action to shape the future of readiness. We’re in the midst of an era shift, and old ways will likely be insufficient to meet its demands. We need to begin responding now.