The future will be different. That’s a statement that will surprise no one. What we can do to make it a “future positive” is an issue that we all have to grapple with and look to master.
Humans have always imagined how the future will differ from the present and perhaps we – the people of the 21st century – believe that we, uniquely, are facing a future of unprecedented uncertainty. There are challenges from multiple directions: even before the global pandemic and its consequences for a global recession, climate change and the dramatic rise in technology that means a significant change in both the number and nature of jobs needed in the future, has an impact on each and every one of us – whether we are in the employed labour force or not.
In such a time of uncertainty and rapid change, cultivating ‘future skills’ as well as ‘timeless skills’, committing to and being curious about a lifelong process of continuous learning, will all be essential qualities that will help us in this task. Lifelong jobs are likely to be a thing of the increasingly distant past, and jobs are likely to be less secure. In such a world, we will need to be creative and willing to develop and master new strategies for work that promotes a more sustainable and resilient future, that balances personal development with a greater responsibility for the planet and its future generations. We need to prepare by consciously and intentionally honing the skills that will allow us to bring that vision to life.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the last few decades have been a period of relative calm, but we are now transitioning from the calm waters into the rapids. With that transition, we urgently need to learn new skills in order to thrive in an unknown landscape.
In no area is that truer than jobs. The global recession triggered by the pandemic, added to the already escalating adoption of advanced AI technology, is having a transformative effect on the world of work. They are, in the words of a report on the future of jobs from the World Economic Forum (WEF) released last week, creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workers. The pace of the expansion in the role of technology continues to accelerate and is transforming the labour market beyond recognition.
The impact on many contemporary jobs will be devastating: 43% of businesses surveyed in the WEF report indicated that they are set to reduce their workforce because of technological integration. Sadly, as is so often the case these days, inequality is likely to increase unless concerted efforts are made to counteract it. Jobs currently held by lower-wage workers, women and young people have been more deeply impacted by the first phase of the 2020 recession, and their jobs are generally more threatened by technological advances.
The outlook is not all gloomy, however. Of businesses surveyed, 34% said they plan to expand their workforce because of technology, and 41% plan to increase their use of contractors for task-specialised work. WEF estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, BUT 97 million new roles could potentially emerge.
What is most important is that these new roles will need new skills to navigate the landscape as it evolved. Businesses estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling in the near future. That is a sizable skills gap and one that it is worth addressing sooner rather than later.
In January this year (before the pandemic and its implications were clear) another WEF report mapped the skills it believed would stand front and centre as we progress into the unfamiliar terrain of the future. The report identified seven key ‘professional clusters’ that are emerging and will form the basis of many new jobs in the future: the Care Economy; Sales, Marketing and Content; Data and AI; Engineering and Cloud Computing; People and Culture; Product Development; and the Green Economy. Each of these clusters illustrates the key factors that will be driving growth in the jobs market of tomorrow – digital and human.
While technology is an inevitable fact of the future, and while it may make many millions of jobs redundant, it will nevertheless also create millions of new and different jobs; jobs that computers and algorithms just can’t do. And caring is one of those things. Indeed, the WEF’s January report predicts that the Care Economy will be the largest driver of new jobs. The key elements of a successful Care Economy are valuing the care of the environment, valuing and making visible the care work of people, investing in the development of ‘high quality human capital’ and pursuing the radical transparency and authentic measurement of care.
In addition to the care economy, technology will drive a greater demand for green economy jobs. These will be crucial as humanity hopefully finally addresses climate change, the greatest challenge it has ever faced, whilst also engaging humans in productive employment.
It is clear from these reports from the World Economic Foundation that, in order to be ‘future-proof’, we, the workers of the present and the future, need to upskill and to be prepared to learn continuously throughout our careers and lives.
It is so important to be cognisant that it is not just the ‘hard’ skills – skills like digital literacy, data analysis and wind energy project management – that we as a society need to focus on. Whilst these are crucial to our future work, we must remember that in order to thrive, not just survive, there is a wide range of ‘soft’ skills that are becoming increasingly important, indeed that are flagged by many as critical for the leaders of tomorrow. These include systems thinking and systematic problem-solving, empathy, agility and above all resilience – not simply the ability to endure, but the ability to actively adapt and respond in order to bounce forward into a brighter future. Indeed, the WEF’s Future of Jobs report highlights that ‘the top skills and skill groups which employers see as rising in prominence in the lead up to 2025 include groups such as critical thinking and analysis as well as problem-solving, and skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility’. These are the skills that equip a person to succeed no matter what path they choose, and the skills that will get them through the myriad challenges that the future poses.
A report from the Institute for the Future on Global Future Skills interviewed young learners from six cities around the world. It found that, while the ‘work+learn’ paths of these young people differ from city to city, there are commonalities in their approaches. These include the desire to continuously reinvent informal learning, sourcing learning and teaching socially and learning for the future – not just themselves. That last point is particularly pertinent: the report found that ‘lead learners are learning for the sake of the next generation. They are learning in order to embody a new vision of their country, whether it’s the official version of the country or one that they are working to birth themselves. They are learning for the species, for the planet.’
The report also identified the ‘spectrums of skills’ that learners can cultivate to create their own unique work+learn paths, ‘to take advantage of their personal strengths and interests, as well as their resources and cultural environments’. The skills a learner chooses to cultivate depend on where along the spectrum they focus. These spectrums include mastering reputation and identity in a connected world, mastering the world of digital machines, mastering collaborative structures and mastering resilience in extreme environments, among others.
It is on these critical skillsets that we focus here at Routes to Resilience. Our programmes are carefully designed so that participants graduate not only ready for an uncertain future, but empowered to drive and lead sustainable change in whatever walk of life they choose. Above all, they develop an intentional resilience, giving them the strategies and opportunities they need to live better with themselves, with others and with the planet.
We owe it to today’s young people – tomorrow’s leaders – to be prepared for whatever the future might hold. Potential and talent lies in all areas of society, but all too often it is only the privileged who are able to afford the time and money to upskill themselves.
We passionately believe that we must do everything we can to make our programmes available to as many people as we can, no matter what their background.
If you do too, please support us by pledging a donation to our #GiveaFuture campaign; it’s part of the Big Give’s #ChristmasChallenge2020, so every penny is matched.