Nanterre, May 23rd 2019
What will the world of work look like in 2050? Difficult to know precisely. Some experts therefore recommend that those now seeking to prepare for the coming era should concentrate on non-technical skills.
A recent survey conducted by cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab reveals that some 42% of all European students believe that they need to educate themselves for a job or profession which does not yet exist! Generation Z, like their elders the Millennials, are in fact well aware of the changes taking place in the world of work and are keen on the new trend towards flexibility.
Nowadays, both teleworking and freelancing have become widespread, the popularity of so-called third places is growing, and hierarchical structures are becoming less common. Thus the work environment of tomorrow is taking shape. The impact of increased automation and robotisation on the jobs market is no longer in doubt, but many other factors remain to be determined, especially if we try to make projections as far as the year 2050. In his latest book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, historian Yuval Harari, best-known for his best-seller Sapiens, argues that the pace of change is now so rapid that it is hard to know what tomorrow has in store for us. Consequently, what children are learning in school today is quite likely to be useless knowledge by 2050. In this situation, how can we prepare the next generation for the future of work?
Four key skills to success
Yuval Harari has his own answer to this question. As information becomes ever-more accessible, next generations will need to learn not so much facts as how to distinguish between true and false. They will need to be flexible, capable of permanently re-learning things. Jacob Morgan, a futurologist and conference speaker who has authored three best-sellers on the future of work, underlines that “as retirement age gets pushed back and life expectancy increases, we are going to be in the workforce longer which means that every few years we will have to go through some kind of reinvention of ourselves.” Meanwhile Whitney Vosburgh, CEO of Brand New Purpose and co-author of workthefuture.today, predicts: “We’ll probably be living to 120, we’ll be working till we’re 100 years old and might have as many as 20 careers along the way.”
Harari argues that the school’s role will not be to give children a general education but to impart the 4Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. This assessment is widely shared by experts in this field. Management consultant John Hagel, who serves as Co-Chairman of Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge, underlined during a session at the South By Southwest tech festival that mankind ought to be focusing on tasks which will create most value by making the most of those human characteristics that artificial intelligences lack, namely imagination, creativity and emotional intelligence. “Efficiency is for robots, not for us,” he told the audience. Jacob Morgan has very similar views. “I always say that every company in the world can exist without technology but no company in the world can exist without people.” he points out, adding: “I think the human skills of empathy, self awareness, and curiosity will be absolutely vital in the future.Of course there is a strong emphasis on technical skills which I don't think will ever change, however it's just not having specific technical domain knowledge that is crucial but also a general technological fluency, meaning you are just comfortable with technology”
This view seems highly relevant, given that a report by the World Economic Forum published end of 2018 forecasts that by 2025 machines will be performing over half of all company workplace tasks, compared with just 29% today. “By 2050 we will all be working with AI as co-workers, this will be commonplace,” Morgan predicts.
Shaping the future of work for yourself
In order to adapt successfully in these circumstances, it seems that people will need most of all to learn non-technical, soft skills. We will moreover need to be “open to change and able to embrace ambiguity, to be curious. Another life skill to have is critical thinking, creative thinking, abstract thinking” says Whitney Vosburgh. Other items on his list are: “Be interested, be active, get involved, be the change, stand up for what you believe in, live your life as you wish, find your purpose in life, follow your passion, explore other cultures, other points of view and embrace difference.” This is one way of saying, as does Jacob Morgan, that we need to “actively design our own future of work and stop assuming that there’s only one single future of work when the reality is that there are many futures of work that will all happen at the same time.” We should also “stop assuming that the future is something that happens to you as opposed to understanding that the future is something that you can help create, shape, and design,” he advises, concluding: “And the best place to start is by trying to understand what kind of future you want to see happen and then taking steps required to build that future for yourself.”