The future of work: focusing on education to meet the needs of the future

There is much talk about the impact technology will have on work, but the discussion must also feature the impact transformation will have on education.

According to research by McKinsey, around 15 per cent of the global workforce could be replaced by automation in the next few decades. This will be offset somewhat by the fact that the period will also witness the creation of new jobs. Technology has the potential to improve job growth by not only creating new types of work but also by increasing the demand for work.

This transformative scenario puts a lot of pressure on governments and non-governmental organisations to respond effectively, and in a way that doesn’t create a system of “winners and losers”. In order to respond to the challenges, there has to be a focus on education – the workforce of the future must have the right skills to meet the needs of future work.

Responding to shifting skills

As mentioned, certain jobs will disappear while new ones will appear as part of the technological revolution. This means the skills required to navigate the workforce will be remarkably different and the education system must respond to this – at all levels.

McKinsey’s research shows physical and manual skills will decline – these are the easiest for technology to replicate and replace. As the workplace continues to become more technological, advanced technical skills will grow in importance. This is why many governments are establishing digital training as part of the early education curriculum. In Saudi Arabia, Microsoft and the government have worked together on a number of “Saudi Codes” initiatives, aimed at guaranteeing the country’s youth have the right skills.

In addition to technological skills, the need for so-called soft skills is also predicted to increase. Social and emotional intelligence are becoming increasingly important. This is not just down to the changing nature of the types of work we do, but also the transformation of the workplace in general. Workplaces are becoming more diverse, which means the ideal employee of the future won’t just be talented in the role but also emotionally and socially smart enough to navigate the system.

Re-education is the key

For national governments and the private sector, the focus shouldn’t just be about training the next generation of the workforce. The future of work is that of constant change – according to PwC research, workers won’t hold a single job or even career path any longer. Retraining has to be part of the educational system of tomorrow.

This is why national governments are embarking on projects such as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which focus on education not as a pyramid in which you move from one stage to another, but as a continuous cycle. The programme highlights education as a lifelong process. This means that not only will people be trained in new skills that will be in demand in the more automated and technological world of the future, but that they continue to train and gain skills as they move in the workplace – with opportunities to develop skills or even change jobs for all, if needed.

Education’s big challenge

The road ahead will be filled with challenges, especially in the less developed parts of the world. There is still a huge gap in education in terms of attainment, even though poorer nations are catching up in terms of the numbers of children in education. As there is already a big gap, governments and international organisations have to ensure it doesn’t widen as education has to respond to future shifts.

The good news is that technology itself can play an important role in ensuring these challenges are met. The Economist recently published an article on how technology can help improve education in many different ways. It can improve student and skill management and ease the burden on teachers, among other things.

In Saudi Arabia, the National Transformation Programme puts digital education at the heart of the country’s educational system. The focus is to ensure technology is part of the classroom to support learning at all levels. The country’s Saudi Electronic University is a good example of how technology can help in reaching out to more people, while also preparing people to the new workplace.



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