“The future isn’t what it used to be”; never has the Steve Jobs’ quote from 1983 seemed so relevant as it does today. The exponential pace of arrival of new digital products and services is driving a new industrial revolution. It provides for a connected, data-driven world of opportunity, but alongside the increasing application of artificial intelligence, it will change the world of work beyond all current recognition.
Alongside this and as a consequence of the digital social evolution since 2000, today’s learners, the ‘GenZs’, have a very different outlook to previous generations. These digitally enabled learners are fluent in mobile and social platforms and are looking for affordable personalised learning based around video, podcasts, webinars and social media tools; they multi-task effectively and have real-time on-demand expectations, with consequentially shorter attention spans.
I would like to suggest that the digital revolution is out-pacing political and education systems’ response timeframes. Generational and five/ten-year policy time-lines still define curricula that are being rapidly overtaken by new innovations which hit the market place in two to five year cycles.
As well as readily adopting new products and services we must consider the fact that future employment prospects are not what they used to be. As computers become exponentially better at understanding the world, software will disrupt most traditional industries, drastically changing the nature and form of next generation jobs. So the questions we should be considering are what skills will be required to secure future employment and indeed what jobs will there actually be?
It is suggested that 70-80% of current jobs will disappear in the next 15-20 years; which given the accelerating pace of change will very likely turn out to be in the next 5-10 years. This will impact all sectors as, what we currently consider to be ‘tech’ businesses move into, and very likely merge, many sectors - digital manufacturing brings back localised making; driverless vehicles disrupt the world of logistics and algorithms displace professional services jobs. There will be new jobs, but it is not clear that there will be sufficient new jobs in such a short time frame.
As people are released from formal employment, this vision is one of the main drivers behind the required advent of a universal minimum wage. It could lead to a blossoming of creativity; as individuals develop a different means of generating self-worth. For those in the creative sector today this could actually aid their creativity as they are released from the time-consuming low paid zero-hours contracts that they currently use to support their artistic endeavours.
Beyond the world of work the pervasiveness of digital technologies in very fabric of daily life is fundamentally changing the way individuals access knowledge, live and socialise. So, to seize the new opportunities that digital technologies are opening in many areas, individuals must develop the right set of skills to make a meaningful use of these technologies in all aspects of their lives.
As we consider the means of citizens acquiring the necessary digital skills for life, we should be asking are we starting from the right place? If we assume the jobs world in 10 years’ time will be unrecognisable, then today’s 10 year olds need to be prepared for tomorrows world. Today, the answer seems to be coding skills– but how long before we tell the computer what we want to do and it writes the lines of code to do it; indeed, software is already available that allows anyone to code. In a wider context, we must not continue to train in and use 20th Century skills to prepare for 21st Century jobs!!
Even today digital tech businesses identify self-taught programming as the most important source of skills development; followed by in-house training. GenZs are the most digitally savvy generation ever. As the way we engage with tech becomes ever more intuitive we need to focus on training the digital natives in the means of applying their skills and not in technologies that are most likely going to be out of date before they leave fulltime education. The OECD suggests that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on promoting strong levels of foundation skills such a digital literacies, higher order thinking competencies as well as social and emotional skills. Our workforce of the future needs to learn how to learn to embrace the means to life-long learning in order that the learners stand a chance of a full engagement with society in the mid 21st Century.
We need to start-something different, future-proof the way we educate the citizens of Birmingham. Yes, we need to ‘ignite, accelerate and retune’ learning, as identified in the Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP skills strategy, but perhaps that needs to start from a different place, using 21st Century tools. With the proposed devolution on the skills agenda perhaps the new Mayor for the West Midlands Combined Authority can move beyond the Nation Curriculum and identify a Regional Curriculum that will create opportunities for all citizens and strengthen our business communities such that they no longer see access to digital talent as the main limiting factor to economic growth.
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