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October 20, 2017 6 min read

Yeah, yeah -- in the very near future, robots will be passive-aggressively strong arming us out of all of our jobs. We’ve heard this rant countless times. But let’s get past the hand wringing and become proactive. Let’s figure out exactly which skills we -- and our kids -- need to develop to stay nimble on our human feet and remain gainfully employed. The robots can take their jobs and shove it.

Today’s elementary school crowd will be entering the job market around 2030. The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has never been more relevant than right now.

Some of our current best and brightest minds are paving the way for how to help kids best prepare.  Pearson, a global educational assessment company, teamed up with researchers from Nesta, the innovation foundation, and Oxford Martin School (a division of Oxford University). They collaborated in an extensive study about the nation’s top jobs in 2030 (you’ll never guess what one of the top five jobs will be -- it’s revealed toward the end of this interview).

Hint: it’s not going to be about man vs. machine. It’s going to be about man and machine.  

Here, Pearson educator Amar Kumar and career development expert Leah Jewell share the results found in the study. The findings reveal less about the jobs themselves than about the skills we will need to land them.  

RON: Your research is showing, essentially, that when it comes to jobs and careers, the future is not something to fear, but something to embrace and prepare for.

AMAR: The popular wisdom is that robots and technology are going to take our jobs, and that we must all be afraid. What this research is trying to say is that is actually not true.

In fact, let’s start the with the premise that there will be jobs, and what are those jobs going to be? And much more importantly, what skills will we need in order to prepare for those jobs?

RON: How do you market yourself for careers of the future?

LEAH: I think the way to reframe it is actually around the skill setthat you are going to need. It’s more about the skills that are going to be in demand, rather than the jobs that are going to be in demand. And how do you figure out the skills that are going to help you work from job to job, and adapt to the fact that those jobs are going to change because of technology.

RON: What did you find?

LEAH: Some of the things that we found is that the key skills are going to be a combination of things, like personal skills, complex problem solving, and other uniquely human skills like social perceptiveness, judgement and decision making. It’s the combination of those skills that is going to enable you to work alongside the technology, and also help you make the transition from job to job as you go through your adult life.

RON: When is the ideal time to be developing these skills?

LEAH: You’re not just going to be developing those skills when you’re in high school and college. You’re actually going to be developing those skills and other skills throughout your life. Connecting to lifelong learning is going to be really, really important.

RON: Attitudes are starting to change about the relevance and the vast expense of college. In the future, will college be as vital?

AMAR: Yeah, I still think so. One of the biggest implications of this report is for educational institutions helping students prepare for those jobs. How can [colleges] create more flexible and adaptive pathways?

Students are not just preparing for schools, but schools are preparing for students as well. As individuals commit to lifelong learning, colleges and universities need to say, ‘OK, it’s not just: now you’ve got a degree -- you’re done for life’ -- [Instead, it’s:] ‘How do we create a lifelong relationship with those learners?’ And that’s going to be a much more exciting world to be a part of, because we’re committing to new skills and new learning, all the time.

RON: How do you encourage a skill you see developing in a child?

LEAH: I have a son who is in high school, and so I have a sense of the challenges that are built into that relationship. It’s important for parents as well as schools to really provide students with a lot more information about jobs: the skills they are going to need, and how technology is going to impact them -- the combination of the hard and the soft skills you are going to need to actually prepare yourself. I think it’s more about giving them more information about how things are changing, and they’ll hopefully be attracted to doing more.

RON: Drill down a bit more about the more common human skills that the next generation is going to need to develop to be employable.

AMAR: Research shows that one of the top ten skills that are going to be more in demand include problem solving, decision making, collaboration, being original, and having lots of ideas. Those skills are going to be important, no matter what the jobs of the future look like. So why not start there and then build from that?

RON: What are some of the skills that will be going away?

AMAR: Our research shows that one in five jobs are likely to decline. These are areas of the industry where the pace of automation is so vast that we wouldn’t want to encourage more students or more learners to go into those fields. And these are what you’d expect: basic production jobs, where we know that robotics are doing those. Those skills are typically manual skills, being able to lift things and move things. Those are the jobs you will likely see decline. But some of those jobs are changing, so that’s what this research tries to outline: how are they changing, and if you want to go into those fields, what are some specific skills you might need.

RON: What about the jobs that are expected to evaporate?

AMAR: I’ll give you a specific example of sales. Retail workers -- the people who work in shops -- our research predicts that the majority of those jobs are likely to go away. But there are some that are going to remain. The skills that are most important for those jobs are persuasion and influence or judgement. How do you persuade [customers] to purchase that product or how do you help them through that decision? So you start to look at the job of the retail worker not as someone helping with the checkout, but someone who is helping customers make decisions. So that’s the kind of nuance that we want to make sure that we are working through with education, with our students, and our kids.

RON: In the course of your research, what surprised you the most?

AMAR: Believe it or not, one of the top ten jobs in our research: librarians! I would have never predicted it. It’s hard to think about it unless you get down to the level of skills. So what are the skills a librarian needs? It’s not about walking around the stacks of a library; it’s about helping you find information. In the information age, that’s going to be really important. Everyone is going to want to know an information scientist or a librarian to help them navigate this world, spotting what’s real and what’s not. That was an a-ha moment for us.

RON: What did you take away from this project?

LEAH: For me, the biggest takeaway is that you’ve got to start to prepare your child for a lifetime of learning. You have to say that, look, this is a progression over time, and it’s OK if you don’t necessarily follow a linear path. You have to learn, through every job, all the way through your adult life. That’s a change in mindset, and that’s a different way that we need to be talking to our kids about education.

Click here to find out more about Pearson’s Futureskills project.

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