Future-Proofing Students to Face Uncertainty

“An elite coder with vision, people skills, and high-powered mentors, New York City 9th grader Emma Yang is as close to future-proof as a 13-year old can get. But with technology radically reshaping the labor market, schools face a monumental challenge preparing all students to thrive in a murky future.”

—Mark Abramson for Education Week

More attention has to be paid by teachers to developing pupil’s skills to be able to cope in a rapidly changing world. Schools need to ensure that students have the skills to adapt to change, including using technology appropriately, as they enter an uncertain future.
Lot of students will end up in jobs that have not yet been invented. This leads to uncertainty as to what skills they need and how schools can provide them.

The Availability and Nature of Jobs Going Forward

Today’s 6th graders will hit their prime working years in 2030. By that time, the “robot apocalypse” could be fully upon us. Automation and artificial intelligence would have eliminated half the jobs in the United States economy. Robots and algorithms would take care of what used to be solid working- and middle-class jobs. And the kids who didn’t get that cutting-edge computer science course or life-changing middle school project would be relegated to a series of dead-end positions, serving the elites who did.

Elite-level technical abilities, the probing mind of a scientist, and a deft human touch: That’s the experts’ best guess about the combination of traits that will guarantee rewarding employment in tomorrow’s economy.

Facebook, for example, recently offered this advice to students who want to work in artificial intelligence. Take all the math you possibly can, and also find the time to study computer science, engineering, economics, philosophy, and neuroscience; cultivate mentors; learn to think about troubling challenges in new ways; and publish your own open-source code. But, many fear that the bar for future-proofing today’s students is being set unrealistically high.

Already, AI-powered digital agents rival humans at strategy games, translating languages, and also flipping hamburgers. They also drive cars and diagnose cancer. Now, they are able to learn by observing us humans, rather than they being programmed by us.

Automation has already started replacing warehouse stockers, assembly-line workers, and cashiers. Paralegals, line cooks, radiologists, truck drivers, travel agents, insurance underwriters, tax preparers, lab technicians, and office assistants will be next. And with artificial-intelligence systems starting to write their own code, even the six-figure computer-science jobs could eventually be lost to technology.

If that is how things are going to play out, then today’s students will need a new set of skills, irrespective of which field they enter. Every person entering the 2030 labor market might need a solid grounding in statistics and data science. For example, farmers would need to understand the data generated by drones and sensors on weather and soil conditions.

To retain their edge, workers would need to start focusing on cultivating the human qualities that robots lack as of now, such as empathy, creativity, and abstract thinking. And because most jobs could constantly evolve, today’s students need to be able to adapt.

So, to prepare the students for the future means helping them think critically about the new ways decisions will and are being made. Each person needs to have the skills to contribute in some way to a rapidly changing world which throws up a lot of problems that need to be solved.

While knowledge is all about knowing the “what,” skills are all about knowing the “how.” Some 21st century skills that are needed to survive and flourish include creativity, critical reasoning, communication skills, and problem solving. In addition, students will also need to possess a tolerance for ambiguity, or the ability to be comfortable with unpredictability, uncertainty, multiple demands, and conflicting directions. In other words, they should have the ability to operate smoothly and effectively in an environment that is uncertain.

10 Tips on How to Future-proof Students

1. Make Them Embrace Uncertainty

Uncertainty and ambiguity are the two big issues that we will be facing in the future. To deal with this ambiguity, we need creativity, critical thinking, agility, resilience, and learning how to learn. A crucial part of that is teaching them imagination. Imagination will help one deal effectively with ambiguity. We should be able to imagine futures that have not happened hitherto.

2. Teach Them Design Thinking

Design thinking will be of great help in preparing the students to face and deal with the uncertainty of the future because it is about embracing, and not being scared of, complexity. Design thinking is a toolbox, or a collection of methods, and also a way of thinking that empowers people to deal with uncertainty. It provides methods in their approach to (a) Thinking, (b) Solving complex problems, (c) Thinking convergently and divergently, and (d) Coming up with ideas, and at the same time finding solutions.

3. Make Them Avoid Putting all Their Eggs into One Career Basket

The average young person nowadays goes through seven jobs or more in a career spanning their lifetime. That means there will be uncertainty. One absolutely key way of thriving and succeeding is to adopt a multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary approach. Even in specialized jobs, interdisciplinary approaches will be paramount. Hence, the importance of a broad, liberal education for preparing students for the future.

4. Make Them Understand the Importance of the ‘F’ Word – Failure

In the face of all this uncertainty, it’s essential to have resilience. If you look at innovation and entrepreneurship, 95% of start-ups fail. Hence, we should teach the students how to be resilient, how to deal with failure, and how to bounce back from failure.

5. Teach Them Borderless Leadership

The borderless leader has the capacity to transcend operational, disciplinary, and geographical boundaries in solving complex problems. The borderless leader must learn how to work across sectors: in the future people are likely to have multiple jobs – not just employers. They must have the capacity to collaborate and design solutions that are not only locally rooted but also globally scalable.

Thus, to pull off being a borderless leader you need to be operationally agile, comfortable with digital technologies, literate in a broad range of disciplines and good at mobilizing and sustaining personal networks. Entrepreneurship underpins this skill set.

Hence, schools should embed opportunities for entrepreneurship into a student’s experience. To do so, you should fuse disciplinary knowledge with applications outside the classroom, fostering an appetite for continuous learning where skills are constantly reconfigured to match the size and shape of new problems.

6. Change Their Mindset

Students need to change their mindset on several fronts. We all derive status from the company we work for, job title, and our career. While that is fine, you will need to renounce your attachment to your current career because you have to be mentally and emotionally ready to walk away when such a job or career is no longer in demand. You cannot afford to let your entire identity revolve around your job. If you do so, you will be destroyed when you lose that high-status job with a prestigious top-tier company. You should have the ability to pivot toward something new, when it needs to be done.

7. Improve Their Communication Skills

This includes knowing how to write—memos, business letters, and emails. Students should know how to pick up a phone to call someone in an important position and hold a conversation. They should also learn how to be aggressive at times. It is largely effective communication skills that will let you survive and thrive in the future jobs and careers.

8. Teach Them the Importance of a Wide Network of Contacts

Most people end up associating with like-minded colleagues, peers, and co-workers. They also seek out friends from the same profession outside of their workplace. This leads to a very siloed view of the world, with groupthink mentality. Hence, you should diversify your network of friends and acquaintances. This will ensure that you understand the views of a wide range of people. You will also get to know what is happening in other sectors of the economy. If you need to change your career, you will know people who can give you correct advice.

9. Teach Them to be Open-minded and Flexible

At certain points in your career, you may have to relocate to find a new job. This will mean reinventing yourself several times over the course of your work life. You will need to learn how to adapt. It helps to always keep reading and learning, so that you are aware of what direction the wind is blowing.

10. Teach Them the Importance of Thriftiness

Students should know the importance of setting aside money for a rainy day. If you are living beyond your means and things suddenly change, it can be devastating. With sufficient funds tucked away somewhere, some of the stress that comes with the loss of a job is not there. You will be able to bide your time to make your next move.

Call to Action

Butterfly Fields faces uncertainty all the time like any other entity in the corporate world. We can share with you the lessons we have learnt on how to cope with uncertainty. So, give us a call and fix up an appointment for us to come and make a presentation to you.

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