Future-Proofing Yourself with Learning

Technological innovation is changing the world at an exponential pace, in areas ranging from communication technology, medical sciences, transportation, manufacturing et al. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which involves the fusion of physical and digital technologies such as innovative buy vending machines, promises to upend the work scenario, right from interns to top executives. AI and machine learning are already rendering careers obsolete. The need of the hour is to future-proof ourselves and the next generation for the changing career environment. And this is only possible through learning. 

The World Economic Forum has estimated a loss of 5 million jobs by the year 2020 as artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology will displace human workers. The good news is that while rendering many jobs obsolete, those technological advances will also create new openings in specialized domains such as computing, mathematics, architecture and engineering; thus the need for re-skilling. 

The contemporary educational systems focus on entrance test preparations. Teachers are incentivized to prepare the students for a high rank on tests such as Common Core in the USA and GCSE/A-Levels in the UK. Education should be future-proofed by stressing on critical thinking and knowledge, rather than content, and nurturing solution finders rather than problem solvers. Emphasis should be placed on collaborative learning, playful discovery and connecting learning to real-life experiences.

HBS professor Clay Christensen is an advocate of Blended Learning, which seeks to combine conventional classroom and technology, without in any way belittling the classroom learning and efforts of tutoring and other boutique learning institutions. David Demming of Harvard highlights mathematical numeracy and social skills as the competencies most likely to be needed for the future. Mathematical skills are not about knowing multiplication tables, but being able to manipulate and recombine numbers with ease. Social skills or interpersonal skills are a must as future jobs will require close collaboration with all concerned.

It is important to cultivate skills in domains that are likely to thrive in the future. Sustainability, design and social media will throw up ample opportunities in the future, and so will computing, mathematics and engineering. Jobs that involve working closely with people, such as psychologists, care-givers, teachers and social workers, will also be much in demand. Of course, there would be openings in new areas such as Big Data, AI and Internet-of-Things.

It makes immense sense to gain expertise in a chosen area by investing time and effort in honing the required skills and talents, rather than spreading the skill-sets too thinly. A jack of all trades is condemned to compete in a cut-throat environment with hordes of others, while a specialist stands out from the crowd and is able to put his learning to ample use in the wider world. 

Learning is the means to future-proof for a career, a job and a new environment. The more the awareness of what is in store and preparedness through the medium of learning, the better would be the ability to overcome challenges and capitalize on new opportunities. 

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