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Monday, 25 March 2019
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The Future of Jobs

Effectively pulling off the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require uniquely human skills

By Tiffani Razavi, TIE Staff Writer

02/06/2019

I just found out that we are in the throes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. With some trepidation, I googled the term and was relieved to discover that I am only about two years behind, which isn’t too bad, especially considering that “rapid pace of change” is one of the salient characteristics of this period.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution pushes the limits of the digital age, on which it builds, and explores new uses for technology while simultaneously advancing its spread across all industries. Writing for Forbes, Bernard Marr explains: “It’s quite different than the three Industrial Revolutions that preceded it—steam and water power, electricity and assembly lines, and computerization—because it will even challenge our ideas about what it means to be human.”

The term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was coined by Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. It was the title of his 2016 book, and served as context for the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report. Schwab insists: “The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril.”

Projecting ahead to 2022, the Future of Jobs Report indicates that, while about half of today’s core jobs will remain somewhat stable, experts note clear ongoing trends of growth and decline in the world of work. New technologies are generating completely new roles, and these same advances lead to the displacement of a range of work tasks and job redundancy.

Among the stable roles are managing directors and chief executives, human resource specialists, financial and investment advisers, and university and higher education teachers. New roles identified in the report include specialists in technology, big data, digital transformation, innovation, and people and culture. Redundant roles listed include data entry clerks, accountants and auditors, telemarketers, and lawyers.

New jobs and conditions generally increase work quality and productivity and have the potential to raise income levels and improve the quality of life globally in the long run. But the loss of jobs in the short and medium term could lead to a segregated job market and increasing socio-economic disparities.

The report suggests that increased demand for new roles will ultimately offset decreased demand for others, but it warns that achieving such gains requires proactive attention to making the transition. Schwab notes that the “opportunities for economic prosperity, societal progress, and individual flourishing in this new world of work are enormous,” but expresses concern that “decision-makers are too often caught in traditional, linear (and non-disruptive) thinking or too absorbed by immediate concerns to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.”

One aspect of such strategic thought is the analysis and response to the reskilling imperative created by the changing nature of work. The report highlights changes in skills demands in 2018 vs. 2022, listing the top ten skills today, the ten trending for 2022, and those in declining demand in 2022.

Just a glance at these lists should give educators pause. On the declining list are items such as “reading, writing, math and active listening”, “memory, verbal, auditory and spatial abilities” and “coordination and time management”, while skills both in demand today and trending in 2022 include “active learning and learning strategies,” “creativity, originality, and initiative,” “critical thinking and analysis,” “complex problem-solving,” and “emotional intelligence.”

Lest we be tempted to think that proficiency in new technologies is at the core of the shift in the world of work, these findings draw attention to the importance of some uniquely human skills, which should occupy the minds of educators and shape efforts to prepare young people for their working lives.

For example, as William Dixon and Amy Jordan of the Centre for Cybersecurity of the World Economic Forum point out, while there is generally great emphasis on STEM subjects in relation to equipping the workforce of the future, we would do well to turn to the arts and the contribution that individuals with non-technical educational backgrounds can make. They argue that the strengths and abilities needed to keep pace with changing technology and to maximize its benefits are the very skills in which arts graduates are trained—the generation and application of creative responses to complex issues.

The Future of Jobs report itself concludes that there is an urgent need to rapidly raise education and skills levels across all age groups, with regard to STEM as well as to non-cognitive soft skills. It suggests that intervention in school curricula, teacher training, and vocational training in keeping with the characteristics of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are fundamental components to successfully managing the rapid changes in the labor market projected in the period 2018–2022.

It seems that, in this age so readily defined by technology, we have to resist the urge to allow all our responses to center on technology. Rather, the future of jobs depends on securing the best possible outcomes for individuals, societies, and economies by adopting a collaborative, people-centered approach.

As Schwab says, we must “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them, and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”




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