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Future of Work Opinion

Skills of the Future: How to Thrive in the Complex New World

By Tom Vander Ark — January 22, 2018 6 min read
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Our friend Pavel Luksha, founder Global Education Futures and professor at Moscow School of Management, has a new report out on what graduates should know and be able to do. Skills of the Future: How to Thrive in the Complex New World was developed with WorldSkills Russia during sessions of the Atlas of Emerging Jobs project. The report is a thoughtful review of global trends, changes in work and concludes with implications for education.

Not a continuation of the present, the authors “believe that mankind should take a serious approach towards the formation of a desired image of the future.”

The report summarizes key trends:

  • Technology: digitization of all areas of life, automation and robotization
  • Social: demographic changes; formation of a network society
  • Technosocial: globalization; environmentalization
  • Meta-trend: acceleration

The report includes a competent 30 page summary of what’s happening in tech and society with a good discussion of environmental risks. Compared to American reports on the #FutureofWork, this one considers broader factors and urges a “switch to a more complete understanding of the Earth’s ecosystem, the role played by mankind and the technology created in the evolution of the biosphere.” The report urges Bio-awareness and “the ability to think eco-systemically” across all sectors of the economy.”
On what’s really new the report concludes that “Each participant in the economy of the future will exist in a world that is way more complex than the one we are used to. This will lead to the emergence of a new class of complex tasks that humanity and its individual representatives will have to solve.”

The report predicts that in the complex new world there will be:

  • No professions for which skills are acquired at a young age and in the future are not retrained;
  • No simple jobs, meaning the execution of routine operations on a conveyor;
  • No linear hierarchy where the subordinate has no possibility of making a decision and all responsibility falls to management;
  • No routine work behind the computer when it is clear what, from where and to where to copy;
  • No clear boundaries between personal and working time;
  • Many new occupations for which there is still no name and which will be constantly changing;
  • Work requiring tuning and training in complex systems;
  • Horizontal teams working on a common goal;
  • Jobs in virtual reality and augmented reality will become a common phenomenon;
  • An opportunity and even a need to combine creative and professional endeavors.

Skills for the Future includes a sector by sector review noting the manufacturing trend of uniting production and the services sector (what the OECD called manu-services) and creating a common product experience. In services, in the face of increasing digitalization and automation, the demand for services from which clients have real contact with a person will grow. In the knowledge economy, the key trend changing the workplace landscape will not be the replacement of humans by computers, but the growth of the complexity of tasks.
Luksha and his co-authors see new sectors emerging:

  • Creative economy: new technologies, in particular, technologies for digital processing of sound and images, technologies of augmented and virtual realities;
  • Cybereconomy: e-sports, video blogging, the provision of services in online mass games;
  • Human services: teaching, mentoring, elder care;
  • New tech: medicine, robotics, biotech, Neurotech, and AI systems; and
  • Environment: problems solving and applying new technology.

Education for a Complex World

To organize education, recognizing changes that took place in the 21st century, the authors suggest using a four-layer skill model:

  • Context-specific skills are developed and applied in a specific context. These can be professional skills (programming in a specific language), physical skills (driving a car) or social skills (video blogging);
  • Cross-contextual skills are those that can be applied in a larger domain of social or personal activities: the ability to read and write, time-management skills and teamwork skills;
  • Meta-skills are primarily different modes of operating objects in our mind or in the physical world, very close to what Dr. Howard Gardner called “multiple intelligences” or “intelligence modalities,” ranging from logical-mathematical to bodily-kinesthetic and interpersonal;
  • Existential skills that can be universally applied throughout the lifetime and in different living contexts of an individual. They include the ability to set goals and achieve them (willpower), self-awareness/self-reflection (meta-knowledge), the ability to learn and relearn (self-development).

The report stresses the importance of emotional intelligence--the ability to cooperate with others in a person-centered economy.
Self-management was also stressed-- the ability to manage attention, to study and choose personal learning strategies and to pick reliable information sources.

Creativity--the ability to find unconventional solutions--grows in importance particularly as related to the need for an eco-oriented civilization.

Luksha and colleagues see schools, technical colleges and universities becoming lifelong learning hubs hosting experiences of different durations (very brief to very long) and different intensity in different styles blending local and global, online and face to face.

Three spheres which will become an integral part of the educational ecosystem:

  • Global learning platforms: Mobile, multimedia, immersive experiences;
  • City formats: Lifelong learning takes place in a city environment and not only in schools and universities: in city centers, fitness clubs, parks, during city excursions, etc.
  • Communities of practice: share common interests and support each other in improving and transferring skills in their area of interests.

The Transition

The “future economic structure will differ significantly from the current one.” The report predicts disappearing jobs and a medium-term global labor market failure and large-scale structural unemployment.

Developed countries will adapt to this fourth industrial revolution (4IR, see World Bank discussion) by incorporating additive manufacturing, robotics and renewable energy. Luksha and colleagues worry that underdeveloped economies don’t have a chance--the “complexity barrier” will create a more significant divide between countries, regions and social strata than all the ones we have experienced so far, such as a digital divide, global income inequality, or the North-South divide). They acknowledge that “politicians and scientists do not dare start a serious discussion” on the issue of growing inequality but that we will be forced to in the coming decades.

In response, the authors think some regions will try to pump the breaks (e.g., slow expansion of autonomous vehicles), some will try to stimulate new kinds of jobs, others will institute a universal basic income.

On a more basic level, the report suggests that meaning will be the antidote to complexity. “Humanity has to learn how to harmonize its desires in order to maintain technological, social and ecological balance in the world. Even if we manage to avoid global military conflicts, accidental or provoked technogenic disasters, we still face the most difficult task of harmonizing our standard of living with the capabilities of the planet.”

The authors urge community conversations that outline sustainable scenarios (preferably non-catastrophic) and discussion of education for a complex society.

For more on Global Education Futures, see:

For more on the #FutureofWork, see:

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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