Rod McNaughton on the skills of tomorrow

11 April 2018

Professor Rod McNaughton is Deputy Dean of the Business School. He discusses the changes that are impacting the types of jobs we do and outlines the role of education in delivering the skills needed to thrive in a shifting world of work.

Video Transcript


Much of the discussion at the moment seems to be around technological changes, with the implication being that advances in artificial intelligence and robotics and other fields are going to change the kind of work that we do, and potentially put a lot of people out of work.

But, there are a lot of other forces that we need to be thinking about. Some of those are demographic, and because they are demographic forces they take place over a longer period of time so they have been more invisible to people. One that is very important, particularly in developed economies, is the population is aging. And a smaller proportion of the population is of working age, and the participation rate is declining.

Another factor that we often don't think about is the movement in a number of large, populous countries like China, India, Russia, towards more open markets. And because of that there are literally hundreds of millions of new people competing in a global labour market.

If you combine those two things, you think about a number of developing countries that are opening their doors and relying on immigration to fill some of their labour market, which is creating a much more diverse workforce than we would have had previously.

And then, on top of that, we have all of the disruption that arises from different digital platforms, the ability to create social networks that truly span the globe, the ability to work from any location. And that is having an impact on the kind of jobs that people do, it is fragmenting markets, it is taking jobs and breaking them up into smaller pieces.

So, there are a number of forces that are changing the nature of work. And many of these are technological in orientation, but a lot of them aren't.

1:59 A perfect storm

The result of all of this is nearly a 'perfect storm' for today's graduate. You have a number of fields where there are jobs wanting and no people to fill them. In other fields you have recent graduates who are employed, but the aren't using their full skillset. And, we also have a number of people who are truly frightened because they are employed but they see an end to the kind of career that they are currently in, and that they need to move on to something else, but they don't know how to do it.

So, the primary issue is how to better prepare young people for jobs that don't yet exist and that we don't even know what those jobs will be. But, also, to prepare people who are currently in employment to make a shift into the new kinds of jobs that will exist as well. And that is often portrayed as being an issue of training, but I think it is much more than that.

I think this means that we also need to think about how to restructure education. For example, traditionally within universities knowledge is usually thought of in terms of disciplines. And it is quite clear that, in the new economy, knowledge isn't going to be the source of competitive advantage. There are a number of fundamental skills that are important, and these cut across traditional disciplines.

At the School of Business we have already realised that this is an issue and we are beginning to change the way that we teach our students. We are moving away from traditional lecture-based classrooms and towards opportunities to provide students with more real-world experience, to work in teams, and to experience the kinds of workplace environments that they are likely to encounter in the future.

A good example is our Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which has recently opened the Unleash space. The Unleash space incorporates both a maker space where students can interact with technology and equipment, work in teams, try out ideas, build prototypes, but also a more general activity space where they can engage with businesses and with others on projects related to entrepreneurial kinds of activities.  

4:16 How to future-proof yourself

To future-proof themselves, I think that individuals have to change the way that they think. They need to stop thinking about job-specific skills and rather start thinking about the core, fundamental, foundational skills that help them deal with change.

People should focus on becoming more resilient, on becoming more adaptive. And by deepening their understanding of a few foundational skills they will probably find that it is much easier to pivot between careers that, on the surface, don't have a lot in common, but underneath rely on a few basic skills that they can use in different ways throughout their lifetime.

Paradoxically, the foundational skills that are most important are those that make us most human. They are things like emotional intelligence, our understanding of culture, and our ability to collaborate and communicate with other people. In essence, the skills that machines can't take over.

And the last thing we need to think about is we have to stop thinking about education as being something that is separate from our work life. Education is not something that we do until our early twenties and then we transition into work. Rather, education is something that is intertwined with work throughout our lifetime, that helps us to continue to deepen our understanding of those foundational skills, but that also constantly gives us an overlay of new technical skills that help us to move between different jobs no matter what those may be.




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