When artificial intelligence is writing news stories and making art, machine learning is supplementing doctors’ diagnosis of some illnesses and Google is using artificial intelligence to write ten times more code than its human employees do, we need to ask what humans will be doing in future work environments. Combining the rise of smart machines with a rapid increase in project-based and contingent work and shortening employment tenure, it is safe to anticipate that a new readiness landscape is on the horizon.
At Jobs for the Future’s Horizon conference back in June, I led a session exploring explore key drivers of change shaping future readiness and learning, along with provocations about how education might respond. As we transition to what the World Economic Forum calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we face critical uncertainties about the degree to which job creation and reconfiguration will outpace job loss and how intentionally and systemically society will support people in navigating the changing employment landscape.
The next two decades are likely to bring a shortening shelf-life of skills, along with increasing turbulence, complexity and granularity in the employment landscape. Looking to 2040, when today’s young children will be starting or early in their careers, education and other readiness stakeholders face the complex task of preparing people and organizations to navigate new realities while also operating within today’s constraints. As KnowledgeWorks has explored the future of readiness, we have been advocating for increasing focus on helping people develop the uniquely human attributes – among them deep self-knowledge, individual awareness and social awareness – that will endure across a rapidly changing landscape.
The conversation at the Horizons conference highlighted two key areas for change in K-12 education:
- Participants underscored the importance of social-emotional skills, arguing that we need to flip the focus of learning to make social-emotional learning central, not just something that gets added on top of current educational approaches.
- As in many conversations about changing K-12 education, teacher preparation came up as a significant barrier. Until teacher preparation reflects broader approaches to learning, schools and districts must work one person at a time to create new practices and cultures.
At the postsecondary level, the liberal arts seem increasingly important.
- They can help develop well-rounded people who can adapt to changing circumstances and create new opportunities for themselves and others. Yet the liberal arts have been seeing declining enrollments in favor of more STEM-oriented fields.
- The way forward is probably not an either/or choice but some melding of disciplinary perspectives that can support individuals as they develop specific skills or specialties. (To dig deeper, see the Center for Curriculum Redesign’s Knowledge for the Age of Artificial Intelligence: What Should Students Learn?)
Participants also highlighted how employers’ human resources practices often hinder efforts to broaden learning and increase diversity.
- There is an opportunity for educators to work with human resources professionals to broaden employers’ views of what skills are really required for various roles. Some postsecondary institutions are not yet weaving social-emotional skill development into their programs because employers are not emphasizing those skills when hiring graduates and it is hard to change established educational approaches without external evidence that doing so will improve employment outcomes for students.
- Furthermore, using traditional degrees as minimum requirements for accessing jobs can discount applicants’ experience, reinforcing inequity and screening out people whose skill sets could be a good fit for positions. As my colleague Jason Swanson found when taking a deep dive into the future of credentials, traditional diplomas and degrees can be expected to serve as key tickets to employment until employers broaden their views of qualifications.
Lastly, the conversation at the Horizons conference emphasized that collaboration across sectors, and across boundaries within sectors, will be increasingly important as stakeholders work to redefine readiness for the emerging era. Many readiness factors extend far beyond what happens in any given school or on any college campus. There is a societal dimension to redefining readiness in response to the changing nature of work. As KnowledgeWorks recent readiness strategy guides identified, we need to build broad engagement in our collective future, fostering public understanding and public will for change and considering how we might adjust education, employment and social practices and supports to reflect emerging realities.