What does the future look like?

Ubiquitous, mobile supercomputing. Intelligent robots. Self-driving cars. Neuro-technological brain enhancements. Genetic editing. The evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed. We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another, The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Previous industrial revolutions liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

The resulting shifts and disruptions mean that we live in a time of great promise and great peril. The world has the potential to connect billions more people to digital networks, dramatically improve the efficiency of organizations and even manage assets in ways that can help regenerate the natural environment, potentially undoing the damage of previous industrial revolutions.

However change is about more than technology. Globalization is a phenomenon driven by technology and the movement of ideas, people, and goods. Globalism is an ideology that prioritizes the neoliberal global order over national interests. Nobody can deny that we are living in a globalized world. But whether all of our policies should be “globalist” is highly debatable.

We are shifting from a world order based on common values to a “multiconceptual” world shaped by competing narratives seeking to create a new global architecture. We live in a world with new planetary boundaries for its development. We are entering into a Fourth Industrial Revolution shaped by advanced technologies

from the physical, digital and biological worlds that combine to create innovations at a speed and scale unparalleled
in human history. Collectively, these transformations are changing how individuals, governments and companies relate to each other and the world at large. In short, we are fast approaching a new phase of global cooperation: Globalization 4.0.

So what is the future of work?

Global connectivity, smart machines, and new media are just some of the drivers reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work, and the skills we will need to be productive contributors in the future.

In 2011 the IFTF, the Institute for the Future, published their seminal research on the Future of Work.

The report Future Work Skills 2020 analyzes key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies key work skills needed in the next 10 years. It does not consider what will be the jobs of the future. Many studies have tried to predict specific job categories and labor requirements. Consistently over the years, however, it has been shown that such predictions are difficult and many of the past predictions have been proven wrong. Rather than focusing on future jobs, this report looks at future work skills—proficiencies and abilities required across different jobs and work settings.

And here are some of the predictions of the new jobs which will be in demand by 2030. They’re interesting, but so are the reasons behind the suggestions, and what skills will be needed:

1. Trash Engineer

This may be the oddest future job but it’s by far one of the most impactful. Humans produce 2.6 billion pounds of trash annually, and what do we do with it all? Throw it in a landfill. There is no way this practice is sustainable, so we’re going to have to think about something else to do with all of our rubbish. We need a trash engineer who’s solving the earth’s waste problems one wrapper at a time. You could turn our rubbish into clean gas, or use it to construct a new building … Skills Needed: Strong STEM skills, critical thinking and mental elasticity.

2. Energy Consultant

People cannot survive on fossil fuel forever, so alternative energy sources will become key –  solar, wind and hydroelectric energy. The question is, which one is right for your home, your community and your city? This is where an Alternative Energy Consultant comes in. You’ll be an expert in all things energy and go from city to city around the world assessing the best sustainable energy source for each place. Skills Needed: Strong STEM background, mental elasticity and people skills

3. Medical Mentor

As machines and robots take over the medical field by diagnosing patients and even performing surgery, a new role in the medical field will emerge: medical mentors. You’ll be in charge of patients after their appointments, surgeries and other medical procedures. You’ll check in on them, make sure they are following their doctor’s (or robot’s) recommendations and help them break through the negative factors that are impeding them from getting (and staying) healthy. Think of yourself as a nutritionist, therapist, exercise counsellor and friend all rolled into one. Skills Needed: Strong STEM background, critical thinking, people and interdisciplinary skills.

Here’s a much longer list

How do we prepare ourselves, and our children for this future?

Jack Ma recently stepped down as CEO of Alibaba, from the company he created, and now a $900bn giant of the technological age. He said that he wants to return to his first love, teaching. But teaching, differently. “If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now we’ll be in trouble. The things we teach our children are things from the past 200 years – it’s knowledge-based. And we cannot teach our kids to compete with machines, they are smarter.”

Ma goes on to say that instead, we should be teaching kids values and skills that no machine can possess. Qualities like “independent thinking, teamwork, and care for others” will not just set students apart, they will ensure students can be valuable contributors to society in ways that make them irreplaceable. And how does Jack Ma think we can impart that kind of knowledge? “I think we should teach our kids sports, music, painting – the arts – to make sure that they are different. Everything we teach should make them different from machines.”

He describes how we are shifting from competition for knowledge to competition for creativity. If we continue to learn and behave like machines then we will be replaced by them.

He concludes by saying we need IQ and EQ but more too. We need what he called LQ.

  • High IQ – the knowledge to be in the game
  • High EQ – the emotional  intelligence to drive success
  • High LQ – the love to be accepted and respected by other people

The World Economic Forum reports that we need the ten skills listed below to thrive in 2020:

  • Complex problem solving.
  • Critical thinking.
  • Creativity.
  • People management.
  • Coordinating with others.
  • Emotional intelligence.
  • Judgement and decision making.
  • Service orientation.
  • Negotiation.
  • Cognitive flexibility.

There’s also a great book called The Rules of Genius which describes four types of work. These are:

  • Creative: Unique, imaginative, non-routine, and autonomous.
  • Skilled: Standardized, talent-driven, professional, and directed.
  • Rote: Interchangeable, routinized, outsourceable, and managed.
  • Robotic: Algorithmic, computerized, efficient, and purchased.

Of these, you want to focus on creative work, because that is where you are likely to remain employable. Every professional can be creative in the work she does. When you work your craft, you are creating art. Author Marty Neumeier says “It is important to keep learning. Others cannot duplicate or reproduce your original work. If you want to be original, you have to become an inventor and build the foundation to the structure of your invention from scratch.”

A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute has highlighted how it thinks a range of jobs based on human skills are likely to be affected by AI and automation. The study also emphasizes the top three skill sets McKinsey says workers will need to develop between now and 2030 if they do not want to be “left behind”.

The report places work skills into five distinct categories: physical and manual; basic cognitive; higher cognitive; social and emotional; and technological. Workers use a range of these capabilities across a wide field of jobs. So physical and manual skills encompass tasks that could be performed by relatively unskilled labour, such as drivers and assembly line workers, as well as skilled workers, including nurses, electricians and craftspeople.

Cognitive abilities like basic literacy and numeracy are needed by workers such as cashiers, customer service staff and those involved in low-level data input and processing, such as typists and clerks. But the report says that it is predominantly workers with these two skills sets who are likely to suffer most, although not in every profession. “Skill shifts will play out differently across sectors,” the report notes. “Healthcare, for example, will see a rising need for physical skills, even as demand for them declines in manufacturing and other sectors.”

Demand for higher cognitive skills in the US in 2030 will rise 9% above the 62 billion hours recorded in 2016, and the 78 billion worked in Western Europe would notch-up a further 7% in the same period. Meanwhile, the call for social and emotional skills in the US will rise by 26% above the 52 billion hours seen in 2016, and Western Europe’s would increase by 26% above the 67 billion of two years ago. But it is workers with technological skills who, by 2030, will experience the biggest proportional increase in the demand for their time: a rise of 60% above the 31 billion hours worked in 2016 in the US and a 52% increase on Western Europe’s 42 billion hours.

Alvin Toffler also said “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

In some instances, relearning could be adapting what you know to a new reality. Take cell phones as an example. When they first came out, they were used solely as communications devices. Convergence happened, and now our smartphones are minicomputers. People had to relearn how to use a phone.

So beyond the 10 skills above, we will also need to learn more, most significantly. And this means being able to having an agile mind, to cope with huge amounts and diverse sources of information, being able to make new connections, being able to communicate our ideas clearly and influence others, being able to persist, and have courage to create our own paths, and our own futures.

What will schools look like in the future?

Education is reaching a tipping point as the gap widens between the skills delivered by the current system and those required by the digital economy, according to Goldman Sachs Research. This makes education ripe for disruption. “We think we’re right at the cusp of seeing the integration of technology significantly disrupt the way that education is delivered and the cost at which education can be provided,” Katherine Tait of Goldman Sachs explores, in the video below, the changing nature of today’s workforce and the evolution to lifelong learning. “We think that as the rise in automation and technology in the workplace increases, it will also drive an increase in the need to re-skill and up-skill throughout one’s career, shifting that education spend from being so concentrated in the early years of someone’s life across the length of an individual’s career.”

Ex-Googler Max Ventilla has a radical idea for how to make it work more like a social network. Ventilla’s AltSchool is building a highly-personalized education experience that gets better and cheaper as more students use it. In a decade, AltSchool may not have just built some new schools but rather a new school system that all will be able to join. Whilst it has struggled to gain traction in some cities, it is an intriguing new model to learn from.

So, what’s the future of education? Yes it could be online, on your phone, peer to peer, and lifelong.  But what if the answer is already in ourselves? The potential to learn in new ways, to develop new skills, and create a better future, is already in all of us. It’s our humanity. The challenge is not about infrastructure and tools, schools and process, the answer is in getting the best out of ourselves. Individually and together.

In summary:

What does the future look like?

  • Fast, changing,
  • Technological, automated
  • Human, innovative, exciting

What skills will do I need?

  • Human, artistic, creative skills
  • Analytical, scientific, sensemaking skills
  • Develop yourself to do things machines can’t

How do I prepare myself?

  • Study STEM, but artistic subjects matter even more
  • Be curious, interested and participative in the changing world
  • Learn to learn better, to relearn and keep learning throughout life

What will education look like?

  • Lifelong, not just kids
  • Questions, ideas, mind-opening
  • On demand, collaborative, accessible, inspiring

Time to start building our own futures. Time to thrive.