Skills for the future are the greatest challenge we face

Author: Vinous Ali, Head of Policy - Skills, Innovation and Digital Strategy, techUK

From the rate of automation to the future of the office, the future world of work will look and feel very different to today – exactly how, we simply cannot know. In this Comment piece for the Observatory, Vinous Ali, the Head of Policy – Skills, Innovation and Digital Strategy, at techUK reflects on the challenges ahead for all educators and employers.

The greatest challenge we face is how to educate and prepare the children of today for the world of tomorrow. techUK wants to lead that conversation with policy makers but also with parents and educators up and down the country. That is why we have launched a major survey looking at tech parents’ perspectives on the future of work and their views on the education system as it is designed today.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution presents a huge opportunity for individuals and society as a whole – it could create more time for leisure, free up workers from mundane tasks and ease the way into the labour market for groups such those with disabilities and those with caring responsibilities. But, these opportunities will only materialise if we are prepared for it – ensuring people are equipped with the skills necessary to thrive.

This is not just about digital skills, which we desperately need to fuel our economic growth, but also about so-called “soft skills” which will rise in prominence. The World Economic Forum has estimated that “over one-third of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed” by 2020. Creativity, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility will all become critical to succeeding in a new, agile world of work. Countries such as Finland, for example, are moving away from a traditional knowledge-based curriculum choosing to place an emphasis on skills. Recognising the importance of digital to future jobs they have integrated technology in the classroom to equip children with the skills they’ll need to flourish in a new economy.

There have been a number of reports on the rate of automation. Some predict that as many as 1 in 3 jobs could be lost to automation whilst others say automation and AI will likely augment roles rather than replace them. There is robust debate as to whether it will hit blue-collar or white-collar workers most and who stands to gain. Frankly, the uptake of automation is likely to be a slow and steady process with incremental changes rather an overnight transformation.

We should remember that the UK lags behind our competitors with regards to uptake of robotics. The MadeSmarter review lamented the fact that the UK has only 33 robots per 10,000 employed, compared to 93 for the US and 170 for Germany – and the gap is widening. Germany, it adds, invests 6.6 times more than the UK in automation, although its manufacturing sector is only 2.7 times bigger.

The review cites a number of reasons why this might be the case – including a negative public perception of automation fuelled by headlines of “robots will take our jobs”. It is our responsibility as a sector to influence and change public perception as well as help government and other stakeholders prepare for the changes that are coming.

The survey we are a conducting is the start of that conversation. Parents working in the tech sector or in the many tech roles that now exists across the whole of the economy will likely have views about the future of work based on their understanding of the rate and pace of change. Every parent wants to give their child the best start in life and prepare them as best they can for the future so it will be interesting to see what advice they are giving in light of all the uncertainty. We also think this will be a great reminder that tech leaders have concerns and hopes for their families just like everyone else!

We need to move past shrill headlines and to real solutions but we can only do that by making this a conversation that involves the widest pool of people and ask parents how they are preparing their children for the future of work and their views on the current education system and curriculum.

If you work in the tech sector or in a tech role, and have children under 18, then techUK want to hear from you. Please take 10 minutes to fill out the survey.