Mindset and learning when work is changing

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The importance of workforce retraining is a major common theme across the many articles we read when looking at the future of learning and work. The automation of once-routine tasks is already leading to human work being augmented or replaced by AI and machines, and this process is likely to accelerate. This article examines why mindset and learning is essential when work is changing and why unlearning and relearning also need to be secure.

A serious potential negative outcome is the loss of jobs – lots of them. Jobs may be lost far more quickly than they can be replaced, especially if people are not learning and trained to take on new forms of work. Hence, retraining for workers will become a priority, and Siemens is thinking about what possible solutions might look like. The CEO, Joe Kaeser, sees the need for governments and businesses to solve the retraining challenge together, with government the framework and business the content.

Siemens currently spends about 500 million Euros each year on training and qualifications for its 370,000 workers globally, and is seeking to increase this investment. It’s a smart start, and reassuring to see that global business leaders of significance are taking this issue seriously.

Schools and pre-tertiary education are not often given prominence when it comes to being a solution that provides workers with the skills they need to thrive in an era of automation. We find the occasional reference and report it here, but more usually we see generic references to governments, tertiary education, businesses and workers sharing the responsibility in some way. Why is this?

Is pre-tertiary learning in the ‘too hard’ basket, not seen as relevant to the conversation or simply not considered? Or a part of the ‘government’ mix? Or something else?

In the past we have looked at several examples of how workers might be displaced by automation and the serious negative impacts that this might have for families and communities. Mass layoffs due to automation of the garment industry in Bangladesh is one example, but here’s another.

There are fears of a rise in slavery as an increasing pool of laid-off workers compete for an ever-diminishing pool of jobs, resulting in conditions ripe for worker exploitation in a ‘race to the bottom’. The effects of automation will be felt most keenly in developing countries: Cambodia, The Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and others, in which much of the workforce consists of unskilled labour performing routine manual tasks.

Comprehensive social safety nets do not exist in these countries, and there are genuine fears about not only the potential for slavery but the social disruption and upheaval that might be caused. The majority of workers in the garment, textile and footwear industries in Asia, all highly vulnerable to automation, are women.

There are calls for regional governments to adopt ‘concrete measures’ to educate future generations to function alongside machines, but detail is light about what this actually might look like in practice. If governments do get serious about transforming their education systems to meet this threat, it would be a huge undertaking.

We’ve had a look at Vietnam’s (a high-risk country) General Education Renovation Project, and although not Earth-shattering (no inter-disciplinary elements etc.), given the context it is a good start with a completely rewritten competence-based curriculum that is hoped will facilitate a ‘paradigm shift’ from knowledge acquisition to how students can use knowledge to solve problems.

The test, of course, will come in the implementation: learning, teacher training and up-skilling, community and parent education, improved resourcing, assessment that aligns with this new philosophy etc – a similar effort in 2001 failed due to a lack of trained teachers.

Watch this space as we track this issue – the timeframe for automation of these industries will be short and upon us quickly. Might there be other solutions or ideas for how we might tackle this? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

As we conduct our research into trends related to the future of work and learning, it’s clear that the importance of continuous learning, retraining and adjusting of mindset is essential either following or in anticipation of industry decline. This article highlights some of the challenges that need to be overcome if this is going to happen, with coal mining in America being the example here. Despite the promises of politicians, coal mining is an industry in decline. Therefore, federally-funded retraining programmes are available to former miners so that they can transition to different industries that are experiencing shortages.

The problem is that the uptake of these programmes is extremely low, partly because the miners have been promised their jobs back, and also because mining appears to be such a strong part of the local and regional identity that resistance to doing something different is deeply ingrained – mindset in action. This has knock-on effects, with examples noted being the reluctance of major companies to establish plants and distribution centres in areas in which retraining levels are low, thereby compounding the problem.

In such a politically-charged environment, how can we encourage communities to understand what’s happening and take action to address the problem? How can children be taught so that they do not fall into the same trap? Critical thinking and problem solving scenarios and strategies? Is this how students are currently taught?

It’s not only innovation and technology that is prompting the need for learning and retraining – it’s also demographics. An ageing population and slowing birth rate in Europe means that more people will be supported by those who work. However as life expectancy rises so do the number of people who can continue working as they age, lessening these demographic effects. The ability to keep working will be important.

This generation of workers will need to be highly adaptable and skilled, as they will be pursuing their careers through one of the biggest transformations in how humans work in history. Most forms of routine work will likely be automated, and this automation brings huge uncertainty to those who are not prepared.

The ability to gain technical knowledge and a capacity for lifelong learning is built on a foundation of understanding of text and numbers, and this article argues that those who do not have this foundation face a highly uncertain future. As we’ve read recently, in the past it’s been possible to have a well-paid job with no qualifications, but as these jobs are lost they are not always replaced with equivalent positions, and that’s a problem for those who are unable to anticipate, learn and adapt quickly.

In addition to this foundation is that “Long and productive working lives start with building sound foundational cognitive and social-emotional skills from early childhood through secondary education.” Children and young people need to learn how to think and get on with each other, regardless of social, cultural or economic contexts. They have to learn to inquire and be curious, and function effectively and sensitively as human beings. It is clear that education around mindset and learning must begin from an early age.

To conclude, Harvard Business Review shares research which examines how skill requirements for work might change by 2030. The research acknowledges that the nature of work and the skills required will change according to each different national economy (something we’ve looked at before), and also notes that shifting skills in the workplace is not new. What is new is the likely magnitude of the coming change, with the research identifying 1 in 3 workers as needing to adapt their skills mix in the coming 12 years. The report also states that:

“The need for social and emotional skills including initiative taking and leadership will also rise sharply, by 24%, and among higher cognitive skills, creativity and complex information and problem solving will also become significantly more important. These are often seen as “soft” skills that schools and education systems in general are not set up to impart.”

These findings are consistent with all the research we see about how work is likely to change, and how learning systems are not geared towards providing the skills and competencies workers will need. With such dramatic changes coming to the workforce, how students learn at school will need to change, and quickly. In addition, all learners and workers will need to shift to a mindset focused around the need for life-long learning and constant up-skilling.

How can we have conversations with students, teachers, parents, principals, communities and policymakers about how work is likely to change and the type of learning and mindset that needs to take place? We need to transform how we learn and develop human potential, and prepare for a world of huge opportunity and abundance.

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.

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