A new world of work for students

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This article examines the new world of work and shares insights into what we can expect to change in the workplace over the coming decades.

Welcome to Industry 4.0 – one in which large scale manufacturing combines with personalisation, constant changes to product lines, fewer human workers, vastly improved efficiency and extremely short delivery times. Startup manufacturers have already begun, and large ones are taking notice.

Fortunately, the cost to jobs is not expected to be as dramatic as feared. New factories operating in this space will provide opportunities for new types of work, and existing factories will likely remain fundamentally unchanged until their equipment needs replacing. However, jobs will still be lost.

So what does this mean for learning? Unfortunately, this article doesn’t offer much direction, beyond that people should “… retrain to work more efficiently alongside supporting robots… (or) …transition into something else.” However, reading between the lines we can find some clues:

1. People will need to develop a capacity for life-long learning.

2. Human jobs will become more non-routine and require greater technical capability, with skills and competencies that cannot be replicated by machines.

3. Those who understand what is already happening, and are prepared for it, are better positioned to flourish in the new economy.

It might almost be time for our education and learning systems to demonstrate the same sort of openness to change and innovation that almost all businesses and private enterprises have to. Their survival is at stake if they don’t, and the gap between the way students learn and the real world grows ever wider. Let’s have a discussion about how we can affect meaningful change, and leave your thoughts in the comments.

New fields such as nanotechnology, quantum computing, Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are driving a revolution in the landscape of Industry 4.0 work. To prepare for this future of new work in an era of automation, people need to learn new competencies. These competencies must be uniquely human, in that they can’t be replicated and performed by machines.

Sourced via The World Economic Forum, this infographic (based on WEF research) makes for a nice visual representation of what’s causing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to happen, and detailed the top 10 skills most likely needed to thrive in the new economy. These skills are:

1. Complex problem solving
2. Critical thinking
3. Creativity
4. People management
5. Coordinating with others 
6. Emotional intelligence
7. Judgement and decision making
8. Service orientation
9. Negotiation
10. Cognitive flexibility

The infographic also provides helpful references to the top-5 industry sectors (lifelong learning among them) and top industry jobs (teachers and trainers is one) in 2020.

If the skills above are indeed essential in the future of work, how many of our students have the opportunity to actively learn and apply them in an engaging and authentic way? Are they immersed in this process? These can all be learned and practised, but how prepared are our schools and education systems to deliver?

This article from the New York Times looks at part of the Industry 4.0 ecosystem, and how technology will transform humanity. It follows a discussion between a geneticist, an oncologist, a roboticist, a novelist and an A.I. researcher, sharing what they think will become of medicine, healthcare and what it means to be a human being. Examples include:

1. The potential to engineer ourselves and our children. The good? Elimination of hereditary diseases such as Alzheimers? The bad? Engineering children to become ‘perfect’ accessories or project children?

2. Will AI transform medicine? Should we allow it to? We know that AI can help, and sharing information across systems can be powerful, but what about the privacy of medical data? AI needs massive amounts of data to work – the more the better. Do we need to rewrite our privacy laws?

3. Cheap genome sequencing – should we all do it? The more genetic data that’s collected the more AI and researchers can learn and better predict and treat illness and support life extension. This technology, integrated with real-time monitoring of health through implants and wearable devices, will be able to give us a real-time ‘health score’. Again, what about privacy? For this to really work, information needs to be shared. Should it all be open access?

4. Will we live longer, and should we? Will we be happier? Isn’t the key to living a full life the knowledge that we are mortal? Does the fact that we will confront less death make us more or less happier as a society? Would we be free to master the arts and humanities? Would all of this be a good thing?

More data will be generated and analysed within the next two years than the whole of previous human history. Many tasks involving visual inspection are already performed better by machines than humans – in a couple of years it will be ‘most’ tasks. The per-unit cost of a multi-axis industrial robot is now about USD$12,000, down from hundreds of thousands of dollars ten years ago. Brain-machine interfaces were shipped for commercial use in 2018. With advanced 3D printing, almost any design can be prototyped and tested in the market within hours – Industry 4.0 in action.

Industry 4.0 isn’t just happening in factories and on production lines. This thought-provoking article is an interesting read from Constantine Passaris, Professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick writing for the World Economic Forum. He argues that the term ‘globalisation’ is essentially redundant, and should be replaced with ‘Internetization’, arguing that if this term is used, then “… we will acknowledge the information technology revolution that’s profoundly altered the structural parameters and the modus operandi of most national economies.” The emphasis here on digital economy and human capital is important, particularly with reference to life-long learning, digital delivery of this learning and the transformation of formal education.

If the foundation of our national economies have become profoundly altered, how have (or have not) schools and learning changed as a result?

A sobering read from John Mauldin is next, with a discussion about the massive transformation in work to come over the next two decades that he has uncovered, and the extent of the disruption that this will have on jobs. The short answer to this is that productivity will increase massively, but jobs will decrease. We already see it in mining, oil and gas and manufacturing, and it will accelerate. Automation of driving and electric vehicles? Massive job losses along with income from fuel taxes. Cancer cured? That would be fantastic, but also result in huge job losses for those in healthcare specialising in caring for cancer patients, at least until those healthcare jobs are redistributed elsewhere due to the ageing population.

Mauldin references disruption in several forms of work and their knock-on effects, along with the current climate of negative political discourse, but there is some light. Millions of new jobs will be created, many higher-paying and safer than those now. But will they be enough?

Will they be reserved for those who are educated or willing enough to learn, unlearn and relearn? How about those with a more fixed mindset or who for various reasons are entrenched in industries in decline? What does this mean for inequality? What should our students learn? How should they learn?

To finish this week, we have a long, wide-ranging and fascinating piece from bain.com via The Exponential View. It examines the coming collision between demographics (an ageing population), automation increasing productivity and reducing jobs, and inequality creating an erosion of the middle class, heading towards the year 2030. The article describes a ‘major transformation’ as a result of this collision, with a likely adjustment of the government’s role in business and society. A lot’s going to happen.

Today’s 12 year olds will be 20 years old in the year 2030. They will be entering a work, social and political landscape that may bear little resemblance to what currently exists. Are our education systems preparing them for it? What knowledge, skills and attitudes will our students need?

It’s likely that they will need to learn and relearn frequently, and understand that learning will truly be a life-long process. The learned, thoughtful and informed inquirers will have job security and business opportunities, along with opportunities to live comfortably and live longer. While this has always been true to a degree, it’s rapidly becoming an imperative, with the price for not having the necessary skills about to come sharply into focus. Unless we do something about it.

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at info@indigoschools.net or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

Interested in transforming your school? Let’s start a conversation.

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