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At a recent Global Social Leaders and Future Foundations Conference I met some amazing students from an amazing school. The future of education is being re-shaped in a school like ‘The Studio’ in Liverpool. It is aimed at preparing students for the future of work in a digital age. Hats off to them for what they are doing.

It is a massive undertaking to prepare students adequately for a world of work when the landscape will be all but unrecognisable by the time they get there. Just this week, Price Waterhouse produced a Report estimating that almost one third of UK jobs by the 2030s could be affected by advances in automation. John Hawksworth, their chief economist, said that the jobs most at risk are those that are “more manual, routine jobs” which “can effectively be programmed.” “Jobs where you’ve got more of a human touch, like health and education,” would be less affected, he said. New automation technologies will both create some totally new jobs in digital technology. Such productivity gains will generate additional wealth and spending that will in turn undergird additional jobs in services sectors that are not less susceptible to automation. As the head of technology and investments at PwC, Jon Andrews, observed, “in the future, knowledge will be a commodity so we need to shift our thinking on how we skill and upskill future generations. Creative and critical thinking will be highly valued, as will emotional intelligence.”[i]

The World Economic Forum concurs with what industry leaders are saying, that emotional intelligence, creativity, and people management will be among top skills needed for jobs post 2020. [ii]

In the UK budget two weeks ago, the Chancellor turned his attention to the woeful state of vocational training and further education. A big injection of funds was promised (a 19% increase in the 16-19 year old vocational education budget over five years). About time too. In 2012, the UK was placed 16th out of 20 OECD countries, ranking 20-45 year olds finishing education with a vocational education qualification. Students will work towards technical “T-levels”, developed with firms.

Curriculum reform for a digital era seems to have everyone’s attention these days. In March, eleven university presidents from South Korea, Indonesia and Turkey tackled the issue during a roundtable meeting at the Times Higher Education Asia Universities Summit, hosted by South Korea’s University of Ulsan and Ulsan Metropolitan City. “I think all the universities all over the world are forced to reform their curricula to cope with the coming new era,” said Gu-Wuck Bu, president of South Korea’s Youngsan University. But he added: “The real problem is the future is unpredictable. We cannot say what kind of job will disappear and what will survive.” [iii] The concern about how universities should respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution is about advocating wholesale changes to teaching to prioritise software skills versus warning voices that such moves would render institutions “slaves to industry”. Maybe it’s true that when the next jobs are not predictable, even five years from now, the thing to do is not to accommodate but to enable students to step back and generalise. A liberal education on its own, however, will not equip students adequately for a digital future. Social, soft skills are vital.

A few days later saw DQWorld.net, launched at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai. In the same way as IQ and EQ measure general and emotional intelligence, DQ measures a person’s ability and command of digital media. The DQ Institute observed that focusing on DQ was identified by the World Economic Forum as an effective way of improving digital citizenship.

Yet to do well in the world of work that is coming upon us will require not just technical expertise but also emotional intelligence: empathy.  It is a combination of creativity and empathy that will help young people develop the sensitivity to multiple perspectives and the ability to work across cultures that are hallmarks of future global leadership.

On the edge of Southampton, we’re developing a pilot project inviting area secondary and further education providers to become linked to an all-age creative and empathy hub. By placing students into a creative environment where young and old can mix, they can, for example, teach IT skills to those who are perhaps socially isolated. In return, life wisdom is imparted. The prize to be gained from such inter-generational exchanges is the nurture of empathy, collaboration and insights into team work. Ultimately the benchmarks could be assessed and publicly accredited in ways that future employers would respect. 

In addition to community schools and colleges, there are plenty of heritage spaces around that make ideal social eco-systems of this sort. For decades, the emphasis in education has been about imparting knowledge. Offering experiences to learn creativity and empathy is a vital combination of social skills increasingly needed in the digital economy. To ensure there are sufficient jobs of quality and not just quantity, education systems need re-tooling. As a report by an economic think tank, the Hamilton Project, argued, it is ‘Goodbye, maths and English. Hello, teamwork and communication’! [iv]



[i] Market Business News March 24th 2017 ref ‘Consumer Spending Prospects and the impact of automation on jobs UK Economic Outlook March 2017

[ii] The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and  Workforce Strategy for the  Fourth Industrial Revolution Global Challenge Insight Report World Economic Forum January 2016

[iv] Hamilton Project Seven Facts on Noncognitive Skills  from Education to the Labour Market Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Ryan Nunn, Lauren Bauer, Megan Mumford, and Audrey Breitwieser. www.hamiltonproject.org Economic Facts  |  October 2016 referenced February 2017

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