ARE OUR CHILDREN DEVELOPING SKILLS THAT CAN BE EASILY AUTOMATED?
'The more technical the work, the more technology can accomplish it.'
There is a lot of emphasis on developing STEM skills – our education systems are promoting the importance of learning how to interact with technology. In the dawning age of AI, big data analytics and cloud computing, this makes sense. But there is a danger in only promoting these skill development areas.
Any aspect of a job that is repetitive and routine is likely to be automated. McKinseys has been studying what kind of work is most adaptable to automation. The outcome of this research suggests the more technical the work, the more technology can accomplish it.
There is a growing movement suggesting the skills that should be focused on are those that are not likely to be replaced by technology. Some might say this is common sense. but common sense is not evenly applied nor is it seemingly common in this space.
In education systems world-wide there is still a large focus on what to learn and what technical skills to master. For example how to write a persuasive argument, the framework of an experiment, sentence structure, research skills, how to present projects. By contrast 'soft skills' are skills you can not learn from a book. For example, you can learn to write a persuasive text but not to become persuasive.
These technical skills are already being replaced by technology in the working world. For example, Deloitte estimates that 39% of jobs in the legal sector could be automated in the next 10 years.
What are the skills that can't yet be automated?
The skills that cannot yet be automated are often referred to as ‘soft skills’. Ironically, they are anything but ‘soft’, they are the hardest skills to master as they take time and experience to develop. Skills like empathy, creative analysis and strategic thinking are harder to automate.
As McKinsey put it in a recent report: “The hardest activities to automate with currently available technologies are those that involve managing and developing people (9 percent automation potential) or that apply expertise to decision making, planning, or creative work (18 percent).”
A recent Harvard Business Review identified that employers across all industries are consistently seeking these ‘soft skills’ in job candidates. For example, 93% of employers reported that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important that his or her undergraduate degree.” Other ‘soft skills’ that are in high demand are the ability to learn adaptively, to make good decisions and work well with others. These abilities are exactly the kinds of skills that are difficult to automate.
Perhaps the most undervalued skill by th largely standardised and conformist education system is creativity. Sir Ken Robinson has spoken many times about the need to nourish all abilities in our children because “human communities depend on a diversity of talent. Not a singular conception”.
The need for standardised testing has led to generation after generation of students learning subjects to pass exams, rather than learning a subject because they are passionate or curious about it. This leaves many students with no idea about either their passions or talents by the time they finish secondary education. The task of developing those malnourished ‘soft skills’ is often left to industry.
The education system is a slow-moving beast. This information has been widely known for over 10 years and whilst there are reforms taking place and curriculums evolving it can be said that the pace of change in industry is too fast. The education system needs to be reimagined and revolutionised.
There are schools that are spearheading this revolution like Big Picture Education. Where learning is personalised and passion-based with the aim of nurturing creativity and curiosity. Industry is also stepping up and taking on the responsibility of developing these ‘soft skills’ by recruiting students straight from school rather than just from university. Companies like Google, EY and Apple are no longer stipulating a degree as a requirement to join them.
AS A PARENT OF CHILDREN IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEM, WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP YOUR CHILD DEVELOP SKILLS THAT ARE MORE FUTURE PROOFED?
There are a number of extra-curricular activities that will help your child flex their imaginative and creative muscles. There aren’t many options when it comes to developing communication skills, a creative mindset and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Starting Well is leading the way in helping to develop these skills by partnering with Leading Well (a renowned leadership coaching organisation) to bring training, usually reserved for those at the top of industry, to students that are still at school. This is designed to help students identify their talents, confirm their passions and discover a career pathway that is right for them.