Society

What the future holds for jobs and education

jobseekers

Jobseekers in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • According to the International Labour Organisation, almost 300 million jobs are at risk due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Of those that are lost, almost 40 percent will not come back.
  • According to research by the University of Chicago, they will be replaced by automation to get work done more safely and efficiently.

The world of work has been changing for some time, with an end to the idea of jobs for life and the onset of the gig economy. But just as in every other field where digital transformation is ongoing, the events of 2020 accelerated the pace of this change dramatically.

According to the International Labour Organisation, almost 300 million jobs are at risk due to the coronavirus pandemic. Of those that are lost, almost 40 percent will not come back. According to research by the University of Chicago, they will be replaced by automation to get work done more safely and efficiently. Particularly at risk are so-called "frontline" jobs – customer service, cashiers, retail assistant, and public transport, just to mention a few examples.

But no occupation or profession is entirely future proof. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), even tasks previously reserved for highly trained doctors and lawyers – diagnosing illness from medical images, or reviewing legal case history, for example – can now be carried out by machines.

Automation

At the same time, the World Economic Forum (WEF), in its 2020 Future of Jobs report, finds that many companies will accelerate the digitisation of their operations as a result of the pandemic, and 91 percent are saying they will provide more flexibility around home or remote working.

Flexible education and training

If you're in education or training now, this creates a dilemma. Will the skills you're learning now even still be relevant by the time you graduate? The answer is No. One thing that's sure is that we're moving into an era where education is life-long. With today's speed of change, there are fewer and fewer careers where you can expect the knowledge you pick up in school or university to see you through to retirement.

Upskilling programmes

As the needs of industry change, models of education will change, too.The education is going to be much more flexible, modular, and online. Because people will not quit their job to go back to campus for two or three years to get a degree, they can't afford to be out of the workplace that long and move their families. There's going to be much more flexible, bite-sized modular certificate programmes that add up to degrees, and it's something people will experience over the course of their working careers.

For instance, another WEF statistic tells us that 66 percent of employers say they are accelerating programmes for upskilling employees to work with new technology and data.

Continuous online learning

All of that has created a perfect environment for online learning to boom. Rather than moving to a new city and dedicating several years to studying for a degree, it's becoming increasingly common to simply log in from home and fit education around existing work and family responsibilities.

One of those popular online learning platforms, Coursera, was launched in 2012 by a group of Stanford professors interested in using the internet to widen access to world-class educational content. Today, 76 million learners have taken 4,500 different courses from 150 universities, and the company is at the forefront of the wave of transformation spreading through education.

It particularly targets people who have the jobs that are going to be automated but do not currently have the skills to get the new jobs that are going to be created. All of this ties nicely with the growing requirements that industry has for workers that are able to continuously reskill and upskill to keep pace with technological change. It could lead to an end of the traditional model where our status as students expires as we pass into adulthood and employment.

Rather than simply graduating and waving goodbye to their colleges as they throw their mortarboards skywards, students could end up with life-long relationships with their preferred providers of education, paying a subscription to remain enrolled and able to continue their learning indefinitely. Personally, I feel that this all points to an exciting future where barriers to education are broken down, and people are no longer blocked from studying by the fact they also need to hold down a job, or simply because they can't afford to move away to start a university course.

Democratisation of education

With remote working increasingly common, factors such as where we happen to grow up, or where we want to settle and raise families, will no longer limit our aspirations for careers and education. This could lead to a "democratization of education," with lower costs to the learner as employers willingly pick up the tab for those who show they can continually improve their skillsets.

As the world changes, education changes too. Austere school rooms and ivory-tower academia are relics of the last century. While formal qualifications and degrees aren't likely to vanish any time soon, the way they are delivered in ten years' time is likely to be vastly different than today, and ideas such as modular, lifelong learning, and entry-level certificates are a good indication of the direction things are heading.