By: Tom Vander Ark & Emily Liebtag

Our future depends on our young people’s ability to face novelty and complexity, and to work together to create a better world for themselves and the next generation they leave behind. They will face challenges in jobs we have yet to envision and work alongside more intelligent machines than Orwell could have imagined.

Educators face the daunting task of properly preparing our young people for the automation age. Many fear the increasingly unknown future and potential for more job competition and displacement.

But as Bill Gates said, “The world is getting better, and progress is coming faster than ever.” There’s never been a better time for youth (and educators) to make a difference. It’s never been easier to build an app, launch a campaign, start a business, or contribute to a global cause.

Following are a few of lessons from a two year study of the future of work and from visiting a couple thousand schools.

How will the automation economy impact the employment landscape?

We’re living through a platform revolution where we are work, learn and live on platforms. Traditional institutions (e.g., taxi cabs, newspapers) are straining or fully disrupted. The expectation of customization has spread across the economy.

Jobs are being augmented by smart tools (think AI in HR, ERP in process management, scheduling software). Repetitive jobs are being replaced by automation.

What’s new is the speed of augmentation and automation. In the last few years, a new generation of processing chips made computation cheap and fast enabling rapid development of artificial intelligence. Proliferation of broadband and connected devices (the Internet of Things) led to an explosion of data. The combination of AI and big data is powering robots and other enabling technologies that can learn on their own.

There is likely to be large scale job displacement as secondary school students hit the job market—but it will be different by sector and geography (what we do right now, region by region, matters).

It is even harder to predict job formation. The way in which the ride share and room share sectors created value from free time and underutilized assets (with some collateral displacement) are illustrative of the alchemy of the automation economy.

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) will also enable custom local manufacturing. Distributed networks of smart micro plants will replace some of the mega plants that governors throw tax breaks at today. Boston call centers staffed by a marketing director and programmer (and a thousand chatbots) will displace hundreds of workers in Bangalore.

There are growing opportunities to care for people young and old. As societies, we’ll have to decide how we value those jobs.

Where to start?

To improve readiness, states, districts, networks, and schools should start community conversations about how the world has changed and what graduates need to know and be able to do for civic and career contributions. These conversations can be summarized in an updated graduate profile and graduation requirements.

In these conversation, it can be helpful to feature updated graduate profile from other communities. Battelle for Kids has great examples of graduate profiles around the country and a guide for how to start the conversation in your community. The MyWays frameworks from NGLC is one of the best student learning frameworks with great supporting materials.

School visits are a great conversation starter and may be the best form of professional learning. They expand everyone’s sense of what’s possible. Check out our list of 100 secondary schools and 85 elementary schools worth visiting.

What’s different?

Our friends at KnowledgeWorks summarize the new landscape as market-driven and user-centered, data and metrics focused, modularized and recombined, and interwoven with learning. And, despite the shift to digital, relating to each other is more important than ever.

The current job landscape and all the trends we’ve looked at suggest that for the next decade that five skills should be a priority:

  • Self-management: The ability to manage one’s time, awareness, attitudes, and learning is more important than ever. A growth mindset (self, learning, awareness, interactions meta-awareness of perceptions, etc.) is far more important and critical to success in the future of a young individual.
  • Project-management: We live in a project-based world. About half of high school graduates will enter the freelance economy and experience project-based careers. Many others that take jobs will manage their work in projects. All young people should learn how to deliver value by managing multi-step activities—and often doing it in teams.
  • Teamwork: The complexity of every profession has transcended the expert craftsmen (see Being Mortal, Atul Gwande). The ability to collaborate and deliver in teams is critical in almost every sector. As jobs are augmented, working with smart machines is a new aspect of teamwork. Self-management and managing social interactions are the foundation of social and emotional learning as advocated by CASEL.
  • Entrepreneurship: An appreciation of the importance of effort, what Carol Dweck calls growth mindset, is the foundation of enterprise. Employers (and customers) would recognized this as hustle. Knowing how to get work (marketing) and deliver value (project management) are important for all whether self-employed or working for others.
  • Design thinking: Adaptive challenges (problems we’ve never seen) will be more prevalent and prominent. Design and computational thinking (attack skills for complexity) are essential. The ability to walk into new situations and know what to do, where to start and how to approach the challenge. This requires iteration, development of solutions and analyzing possible outcomes. Great school examples include One Stone in Boise, d.Tech High on the Oracle campus, and High Tech High, and Design39 in San Diego.

Obviously, literacy and numeracy continue to be critically important but it’s increasingly important how they’re applied (NGLC calls it creative know how).

Want a more extensive list? Minerva, an innovative and exclusive approach to HigherEd, has identified about 100 habits of success and foundational concepts.

What experiences will be most important?

Project-based learning is the best way to build future-ready skills and dispositions. Extended challenges, some with defined conclusions and some more iterative, resulting in public products, are the best preparation for a complex future.

Place-based education embraces the city as a classroom, leverages local assets and invites the community into the school. Done well, situated learning (Minerva calls this location-based challenges) involves working at the top level of Bloom’s – synthesizing and creating in new and complex setting. NGLC illustrates the field of learning (below) and advocates for “situated learning” that combines extended tasks high on Bloom’s scale and engaging complex real world settings.

The key is how you combine, supplement and scaffold these project-based experiences with accelerated skill building so that students are prepared to contribute.

What’s next?

There is a global shift to demonstrated competency where students show what they know and move on when ready. Struggling learners get more time and support rather than being passed on as the get older.

There is growing interest in new learn and earn career and technical pathways that accelerate young adults into family wage employment. For example, RAMTEC is a robotics training network in Ohio, facilities where high school students learn alongside (and sometimes teach) adults retraining for new jobs. Career Tech Oklahoma is a good example of well-run statewide network. The CAPs Network, based in Kansas City, helps high school students build career ready skills and gain relevant work experiences.

Competency-based learning and mobile technology unlock anywhere anytime learning. LRNG, a national nonprofit initiative, is working to expand access to valuable out of school learning experiences for youth.

As the number of school, community, and work-based learning experiences expand, many young people will be able to co-construct unique pathways. It will make the advisory function even more important.

Funding will become more portable traveling with learners to the best option. We wrote a paper about how school funding will become to be performance-based, flexible, and portable to support these new pathways.

Giving youth more voice and choice to build agency is critical. But human beings are prone to do the easy thing not the best thing. Smart advisors (and algorithms) will recommend some experiences that are hard or unpleasant to promote growth and unlock opportunity.

What technologies will be most important?

The two technologies that will shape the future of learning tools (and, as a result, learning opportunities) are machine learning and blockchain.

Machine learning—code that learns from big data sets—will recommend the next best thing to learn, compare outcomes from different tools and schools, schedule time, and (eventually) guide vehicles that transport pupils to learning facilities.

Student transcripts will be on blockchain, a credible, always up to date distributed ledger. You won’t have to call a student’s prior school to get a record of their learning. The benefits of blockchain will eventually be extended to comprehensive learner profiles

What are the civic implications of the automation economy?

Given the likelihood of increasing job displacement, most communities will need stronger social safety nets. Countries and/or states will need some form of income protection. Access to quality relevant job retraining will grow in importance as well training and seed funding for entrepreneurial incubators.

Europe, Scandinavia, and some Asian countries appear better prepared to address these demands than the U.S. where cities are likely to be laboratories of democracy.

The other challenge to civic infrastructure will be frequent and complex ethical question raised by income inequality, autonomous transportation, and genome editing (see 10 Really Hard Decisions Coming Our Way).

What background reading do you recommend?

For more see:


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