Skills for the Future

June 4, 2021

In our competitive world, what skills will allow our children to flourish and stand out from the crowd? This was the concept which was explored during our second LPSS Community Talks on Wednesday 19th May.

We have only had a universal education system for the last 200 years and for the majority of this time, this system was designed to educate workers for factories during the Industrial Age. With our advances in technology, we moved into the Information Age with the availability of personal computers and the internet. However, are we still in the Information Age or are we moving into the Conceptional Age? I would argue that we are in the latter, as information which was held traditionally by professionals, teachers and even professors, is readily available by simply “googling it”. With this information open and available, what will happen to certain professions and jobs and what will we need for the future to have successful careers?

It is obvious from many different sources that the job landscape is changing. This is clearly shown from a report that the World Economic Forum did in 2018 which predicted the Job Landscape in 2022. In this report, it clearly indicates that workers in Data, Artificial Intelligence and other new technologies will increase, while jobs like accounting, manufacturing and operational jobs will suffer and decline.

With such a changing landscape, what is it that employers are looking for in the future? Most employers are looking for skills rather than knowledge, namely: communicative, analytical, interpersonal, problem-solving and collaborative skills. So why are companies concentrating on skills and not knowledge?  As large organisations, they know they can easily teach their new employees the required knowledge, but if they don’t have the required skills, they will be unable to make sense of this vast knowledge that we as a species are accumulating quicker than ever before.

When you think of some of the most successful companies in the world, which companies spring to mind? And of course, the next question is, why are they so successful? Most people would say they are innovative, but where does this innovation come from?

What do these people have in common: James Cameron, Thomas Edison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, Pablo Picasso, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Ellen DeGeneres, David Karp, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Yoko Ono?

The surprising answer is that they all dropped out of university yet, most of us might say they are some of the most innovative and creative people on the planet. This proves that success is not guaranteed by only having a university degree as I believe it was their creativity which made them stand out to become who they are now.

So, if creativity is so important, do we teach it in school? Yes, normally through the traditional subjects like Music, Art and Drama. Though evidence from NASA still suggests that as we get older, we lose our creativity. This is exemplified by the research which showed that in 4 and 5 year-olds, 98% scored at “creative genius” level, while as adults we only have 2% identified as creative geniuses.

One of the most successful companies in design over the past two decades has been Ideo, which was founded by Tim Brown. He is a strong advocate of design thinking to increase the creativity of a whole organisation as many of the problems we face have a design element involved in its solution. Along with his partner Tim Kelley, they have advocated for this process to be involved in education as a method to teach students creativity and solve pressing problems in every subject area. For me, this is a very exciting avenue for education to go down as I have seen first-hand the power of design thinking when it comes to solving problems.

Another skill for the future is analytical or critical thinking. This again is very difficult to teach in a traditional situation of a school, however these skills are utilised while having fun in the idea of an escape room. The idea is simple; solve clues and get yourself or your group out of a room within a given period of time. This idea has been yet more simplified and put into an educational situation with the development of Breakout Edu. This is simply a box or boxes which have various padlocks attached, whose combination must be solved through a series of clues spread throughout the classroom. Students get highly engaged in these activities while using their critical thinking skills. A great way to teach these skills!

As we move further into the 21st century, our ability to be flexible will also be tested more and more. With ever more knowledge and understanding, we must constantly reassess our understanding of almost everything. Therefore, our flexibility in learning, unlearning and relearning will be required even more in the future. This skill comes from the love of learning and can be called life-long learning. This love of learning usually only comes from our interests and passions. This comes from learning new interesting things however, as education is geared up to teach a particular curriculum, we sometimes get bogged down by the content of a subject. Also, as our curriculums dictate what each child must learn, we can sometimes teach too much and lose the excitement and enthusiasm that comes from being an amateur at something. Prof. David Perkins of Stanford University agrees, and he suggests we should really consider the content and teach our students to be expert amateurs. In this, we teach the basics and the student can apply their knowledge and skills confidently, correctly and flexibly. In this way we do not need to worry so much about the content but focus on the skills that will allow our children to be flexible, creative, analytical and hopefully successful in this ever-changing world.

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