Training the future workforce for an automated tomorrow

David Sproul
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Daily Life At A Secondary School
Businesses must be more vocal in communicating to the education sector and to policymakers the skills they need (Source: Getty)

The General Election shattered several supposed rules of British politics, above all the idea that young people are disengaged.

We don’t yet have exact numbers, but by one estimate turnout among 18-24 year-olds rose by half, from 44 per cent in 2015 to around 66 per cent this time.

Jobs, pay and the quality of work are central issues for young voters. This reflects a profound, and largely unnoticed, economic change. In the last two decades Britain has been hugely successful in tackling unemployment. The jobless rate is at a 40-year low, the employment rate has never been higher, and there are three quarter of a million unfilled jobs.

Read more: Nope, robots won't take over the world... AI could actually create new jobs

But for younger people, unease about the security and quality of employment has mounted.

Analysis by Deloitte has found that as many as one third of all jobs in the UK are at high risk of automation. In the past decade, young people have taken a significantly smaller share of the new jobs being created compared with older, more experienced workers – and many of the occupations that young people are turning to are lower skilled and thus more susceptible to automation.

We are optimistic that technology will continue to be a net job creator, but there will be losers as well as winners. We must guard against a situation where too many young people find that their jobs have been automated, and that their hard-earned subject-matter knowledge is too academic to fill the jobs of tomorrow.

Future-proofing young workers

Mitigating such an outcome must be a priority for policymakers. The response required is complex, but recent history shows that policies which bring together the best of government, education and business can triumph against apparently intractable social problems.

Teach First for example, which this year celebrates its 15th anniversary, has been a big factor in the improved performance of London’s state schools, where disadvantaged pupils outperform those in the rest of the country after years of lagging behind.

We have been a partner of Teach First for 10 years, and more than 4,000 of our people have supported 12,000 students across 18 schools through a range of education and employability related interventions. We know the benefits such interactions have on the school pupils we work with – and in turn on our own people.

Similar collaboration is required to help develop the necessary skills the workers of tomorrow will require. By 2030, our analysis shows there will be a big increase in demand for Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills, as you would expect in an increasingly digital economy. But there will also be a rise in demand for cognitive and social skills such as complex problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking and emotional intelligence.

More than maths

There are examples of initiatives focused on developing this blend of technical and softer skills. At Deloitte, we created a business game where teams of students from Teach First schools develop and present technology-based solutions to the challenges raised in our annual Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions report. This year, a team of students from Milton Keynes Academy won with “BioBuddi”, a wristband designed to aid people with mental health issues by measuring biological indicators such as a patient’s heart rate, oxygen and PH levels.

All of the teams in this challenge show remarkable creativity and ingenuity, not solely through what they have been taught at school but also by how they learn through working in an environment more like one they would encounter in business – an environment that demands ideas, collaboration, problem-solving and communication

But more action is needed to make the development of such skills a priority nationally.

Policymakers and educators must consider changes both to the curriculum and in how pupils can learn these cognitive, creative and collaborative skills better in the classroom. If the three “Rs” were the mantra of 20th century education, the three “Cs” should become just as important in the 21st.

Businesses must also be more vocal in communicating to the education sector and to policymakers the skills they need, and – as we have found – they must play a bigger role themselves both directly and in partnership in preparing the future workforce.

Read more: Four in five young people feel let down by workplace preparation at school

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