Imagine a future where your gourmet meals are prepared and cooked by a robot. Where your bus, car or cab drives itself. And where your health problems are diagnosed by a complex algorithm. Sounds like the stuff of science fiction, right? Well, here’s a fact: these things are already happening. And by 2020 – just three years away – five million jobs will be lost, according to the World Economic Forum. In the next few years, every commercial sector will be affected by robotic automation.
With the rise of automated technology and artificial intelligence (AI), the world our kids will find themselves in will be unrecognisable to us right now. And it’ll have a profound impact on what they do for a living. For many of our kids, the majority of jobs that universities prepare them for will be handled by intelligent machines. So does that mean the way we learn and work is a thing of the past?
Really, the tide is already turning. Since tuition fees were unceremoniously hiked up in 2012, students today have to pay up to £9,250 a year for higher education. For all that money, you’d expect a first-rate learning experience. But according to a recent survey, over a third of first (and second) year students said they were receiving poor or very poor value for money. Traditionally, university was about getting a top notch degree. But maybe even more than that, it was a journey of personal discovery; a chance to find out who you were, what you liked, what you were good at as well as to meet new people, experiment, and build self-confidence. And as the allure of higher education continues to wane for many young people, other ways to learn and gain life experience are becoming more popular.
“There is no one way to gain these valuable experiences,” says Mark Lester, director of partnership development at FutureLearn, an online learning platform. “Many school leavers opt to undertake a traditional full-time university degree, but with the growth of apprenticeships – including in major professions like teaching, accountancy and law – there are growing numbers of ways for students to obtain an education, meet other people, discover themselves and secure gainful employment.”
Our degree system, according to Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, is “a blunt instrument”.
With so many thousands of students achieving the same grades, employers are finding it tricky to find the right talent. A first, 2:1 and 2:2 degree in today’s world simply isn’t enough to give recruiters an in-depth understanding of what an applicant is capable of. Our degree system, according to Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, is “a blunt instrument”. Not only that, we need “a more detailed account of what a student has actually achieved during their studies”.
More and more, it’s an applicant’s wider experience and achievements that are attracting employers’ attention. What are their passions? What skills do they have outside of the role they’re applying for? What attitude will they bring to the workplace? A recent report revealed that the majority of leading employers now value an applicant’s work experience more than their grades or the university they went to. Nearly half stated that a student’s personality was the second most important quality in a candidate. And when you consider the likes of EY (formerly Ernst & Young and one of Britain’s biggest graduate recruiters) have banned CVs and jettisoned a requirement for applicants to have a minimum 2:1 degree, it’s clear that traditional academic values don’t throw as much weight as they used to.
Elsewhere, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK has also launched a new paid internship programme that scraps the usual recruiter requirements, giving people from all backgrounds a chance to apply. Called The Pipe, the six-month internship has no upper age limit and doesn’t require a degree. Or any experience. Applicants don’t even need to know what an ad agency is – all they need is a creative streak. “We want the ones who wouldn’t normally apply for this sort of thing,” said Emma de La Fosse, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK’s chief creative officer. “The ones who can’t afford the time off work nor rely on mum and dad to help them out.”
With machines taking over in the workplace, it’s the human skills that we need to nurture in our children to give them the best chance of success in the future
Tomorrow’s job market is going to need a different set of skills from its workers. With machines taking over in the workplace, it’s the human skills that we need to nurture in our children to give them the best chance of success in the future – the ability to communicate well, to empathise, to be creative and to manage people effectively. Ogilvy, for example, assigns an intern to a mid-weight creative. It pushes the creative to develop their people management skills and experience in guiding the creative direction of co-workers – effectively preparing them for creative director roles down the line. After all, no matter how advanced AI becomes, a machine can never be truly human. Well, at least not yet.
What does this all mean for younger kids? Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson had the foresight a decade ago to understand that our current education system – conceived during the industrial revolution and biased towards pure academia – is outmoded in our 21st century society. That in the (future) world we live in, mathematics and languages aren’t the only important subjects needed to succeed – that dance, theatre, music and art are just as necessary for our kids.
As we move into an AI-rife future, it’s our kids’ ability to be creative that will stand them in good stead – and that’s not just in the arts.
“All kids have tremendous talents, and we squander them pretty ruthlessly,” said Robinson in his famous 2006 TED Talk. “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” As we move into an AI-rife future, it’s our kids’ ability to be creative that will stand them in good stead – and that’s not just in the arts. Science, technology, engineering and maths – they all require a deep understanding and high levels of lateral thinking.
While we can’t say with any certainty how the work landscape will look in 20 years’ time – will we all be doing the things we love thanks to basic universal income, or will we be living in a two-tier society where the only human jobs are leadership roles? – what we can do is ensure that we nurture our kids’ creativity all throughout their school years. To make sure they don’t, well, grow out of it. Work in the future will involve several roles at any one moment (most likely on a part time or freelance basis), and if we can encourage our kids to always harness their curiosity and to think outside the box, they’ll be able to keep developing their knowledge and skills as they get older. And that’s something that will be vital in tomorrow’s working climate.
Ian Hsieh is a Cornwall-based freelance journalist and copywriter, he writes about music, culture, technology and the creative industries for a range of global brands and publications. He’s in a constant state of exhaustion/hilarity thanks to two fantastic kids. He likes coffee.