Leadership Lab | The Future Of Work – An Interview with Catherine Cameron

In this edition of Leadership Lab, we chat with Catherine Cameron, co-founder of Agulhas Open Knowledge, about the future of work, how the work landscape is changing, what skills will be vital in the future, and what that means for the youth of today.

In a rapidly changing, tech-driven world, what does the future of work look like?

We sat down with Catherine Cameron, co-founder of Agulhas Open Knowledge, to discuss the future of work in the second edition of our Leadership Lab series.

KELLY NOTCUTT (KN): There’s much talk of 21st Century skills and the types of skills today’s youth will need in the workforce in the future. How will ways of working and living be different in the future?

CATHERINE CAMERON (CC): This is a very pertinent question and in a word, or rather two letters, it’s AI (artificial intelligence) and the idea that somehow AI and Big Data together are a threat to humans and a threat to the workforce that we have now and the future workforce.

But I have good news, because I think that although the computer will always be faster and smarter than us, a computer can never be wise like a human.

We read a lot about AI and how robots are going to kill a lot of jobs and replace 800 million jobs by 2030. That’s a good headline and good clickbait, but AI will never be wise like humans. So what can we do for our future generations to get them to be wise?

KN: What kind of skills will today’s youth need to be resilient and able to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world?

CC: That’s the question on every parent’s lips, including my own. Education is a huge challenge right now and we’ve just finished the WEF summit in Davos, which was centered on Education and exactly these questions this year and last year. There were strong suggestions that if children are to compete with machines, the education system has to change.

The way we teach and the things we teach kids, in many cases, are from education systems that were set up 100 to 150 years ago. Teachers need to stop teaching knowledge and start teaching something unique – they need to start teaching soft skills because a computer can never have soft skills.

KN: What will be different in terms of skills required, and what will remain the same?

CC: There are two groups of skills and competencies that we will need to teach the next generation moving forward. The first group is the foundational literacies, some of which have been around for decades. They include Literacy, Numeracy, Scientific Literacy, ICT Literacy, Financial Literacy, and Cultural and Civic Literacy. ICT Literacy is absolutely critical for the generation going forward. Financial Literacy is crucial; we have children leaving school not knowing what an interest rate is or not understanding how mortgages work. And critically, the last one, cultural and civic literacy – this is the understanding of what environment they are living in, what’s the governance, what’s the institutional setup where they live and work. It’s crucial that school are teaching these six foundational literacies.

And then on from that, the second group are competencies; what do our future leaders need to be competent in?

The first one is critical thinking and problem solving – so always approach something critically and analytically, and then always try work towards solving that problem.

The next one is creativity. Over and over again we see arts, music and sports as the subjects that get cut. But creativity is fundamental to progress and innovation.

And lastly, communication, and collaboration.

These are competencies that can be taught; these are competencies that can be encouraged and enabled. It’s not something that you’re either born with or born without. So, we need a fundamental rethink of the syllabus to include these competencies and foundational literacies.

KN: Do you have any recommendations of ways young people can begin to prepare for work in the future? Are there any specific school subjects that you’d recommend?

CC: I think both schools and parents can help. In fact, we all need to work together so that your child is cradled from birth until when they leave home in a surround-sound of parents, teachers, family and school – a whole environment that supports and enables them.

If they have those foundational literacies and competencies then I think some of the best things we can be teaching children are independent thinking, how important it is to be able to work well in teams, and caring for others. And that last one doesn’t get enough attention. Kindness is something that is not valued, not measured, not recognised. There’s a wonderful new book called Kindness in Leadership by a colleague of mine Gail, who is formerly from Saïd Business School, that looks at how we can be good team players, good leaders, independent thinkers, but also care for each other and show kindness. Those sorts of values and qualities are absolutely fundamental.

KN: Any last thoughts you’d like to share on the future of work?

CC: There are a few character qualities that I think are essential. We need to be curious, we also need to take the initiative – seizing the day, getting out there, really catching every opportunity that goes by. We also need that kind of slight donkey element; persistence and grit to keep going so that you can fail and fail fast, and learn well. We need to be adaptable and recognise “Hey, this isn’t working out. We just need to move slightly this way or slightly that way to make this work”. We also need leadership, and social and cultural awareness, which is absolutely critical whether you are in the UK, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, Russia. This awareness is crucial to understand the social nuances of where you live so that you can adapt and be flexible, and respectful in the environment that you’re in. These critical character qualities will really help equip future generations to be successful leaders for the 21st Century.

To listen to this interview, click here.