Preparing students for the future of work

Following the publication of the book A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond, Education Week discussed the future of work and how educators can help prepare students, with author and fellow in economics at Oxford University, Daniel Susskind. Here are some key points that we found especially compelling:

Revising the way we think about job roles

“[Technology] displaces people from particular tasks and activities, but it can also make some tasks and activities more valuable and more important for human beings to do.”

Looking at how technology has the capacity to take on more automated tasks, Susskind spoke about how this leaves humans to focus on roles requiring interpersonal skills. 
That might lead us to reevaluate certain functions and place higher values on different jobs in the future. For example, he highlighted retail and shop assistant roles and the intuition they require.

Skills, place and identity mismatches

Susskind spoke about three different types of mismatch that can impact the labour market:

  1. A skills mismatch: where people don’t have the skills and the capabilities to do [available] jobs
  2. Place mismatch: where people just don’t live in the same geographical place that work is being created.
  3. Identity mismatch: where peoples’ perception of themselves is linked to their employment and they don’t want to change that by entering into a different type of work

As the world of work changes, and perhaps softer skills become more in demand, this presents an interesting challenge both to education and the community as a whole. How can teachers and educators predict and prepare students for a rapidly changing working environment, not just in terms of technical skills, but in terms of how we all think about work?

To compete or not to compete

When advising students on how to prepare for the world of work in the next 20 years, what constitutes a ‘safe’ career path? Susskind said: 

“Very broadly, there’s two strategies. Either you want to become the sort of person who can compete with these systems and machines, who can do the sort of things they cannot do yet… [or] you become the sort of person who can build these systems and machines, who is capable of designing and operating and understanding how these systems and machines work.”

Teaching with, not in spite of, technology

Addressing the question that there are now apps in existence that can do homework tasks such as complex maths equations, Susskind suggested that teaching needs to incorporate such technologies more. 
Perhaps this could allow students to take their mathematical understanding a step further and learn new skills as well as the traditional basics, in a similar way to the introduction of calculators?

Teaching is personal

One area that was especially interesting in Susskind’s discussion, was the idea of personalisation in education. Allowing students to have education, tasks and the level of difficulty made to suit them, could be a significant advantage of using technology in the classroom.

“We know that one-to-one instruction with a human being is incredibly effective. But of course one-to-one instruction, with a human being, is not affordable or scalable. So what do we do? Well, this is the promise of these technologies, they offer us a glimpse of how we might replicate that one-to-one interaction in a way that is scalable.”

Could that bring a greater level of equality to education as well?

The parting point in the conversation with Education Week was the recognition that technologies are really still only in their infancy and will rapidly become more sophisticated. That presents an opportunity for us all, but also a need to proactively think about what and how we teach, talk and prepare students for the future of work.
CamVision is a proactive investor in education technology through the Britbots robotics venture capital fund.