Preparing the next generation for the future workplace

So darling, what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s an age-old question that adults delight in asking little ones, cooing over their charming responses of “ballerina” or “school bus driver”. “Well sweetheart, you can be anything you want to be!” we reassure them – with an affirmative pat on the head.

Of course, several years later – when school or university subject choices need to be made…the warm glow of those initial encouraging words fades a little as we take a pragmatic look at future employment prospects. And these days, against the rapidly changing backdrop of the fourth industrial revolution – it’s harder than ever to know what kind of career today’s children can aspire to.

Which jobs are going to be obsolete by 2030? Which ones will be significantly altered by automation and AI? What kind of new jobs will be created?

In our everyday lives it might not seem that things are changing all that fast. But in reality, the gulf between what I know, and what actually exists and is being invented out there – is probably widening. I only found out recently that there are ATMs which will scan your palm before proceeding to allow you to make bitcoin transactions. I’m feeling like a tech dinosaur.

You might have come across this fascinating video “Humans Need Not Apply” about the potential impact of automation across almost every industry you can think of, from blue-collar jobs to white collar professions:

So you probably knew that “school bus driver” is a job that might not exist in ten years time. But even lawyers, accountants and doctors are finding themselves outdone by the algorithmic superpower of computers in certain areas of their work. And the fact that AI is now being used to write articles, create art and compose music – demonstrates its ability to disrupt even the “creative” professions. Yes, there’s even a guy trying to build robot ballerinas.

Just for fun, I googled “robot” + (a number of random professions) and I was pretty surprised at the results. Fortunately “robot” + “architect” didn’t turn out anything much! But robot firefighters, robot barbers, robot masseuses, robot chefs and robot cameramen are just a few examples of future employees in production. Of course, the likelihood of these appearing in your neighbourhood in the near future really depends on where you live. But in a high-tech city like Singapore, where workers are in short supply, the impetus to develop robotic labour is very strong.

I know that Singapore has already trialed robot teaching assistants and drone postal delivery to remote locations. Room service robots and robot librarians are currently in use. Driverless buses are set to appear on the roads by 2020.

So whether my kids or going to be competing with these bots for jobs, or at least working alongside them, it’s probably safe to assume that they’re going to need a significantly higher level of ICT skills than I’ve got.

Last year, the World Economic Forum published a report entitled The Future of Jobs, which attempted some researched crystal ball gazing about the shifting nature of skills and employment in the years to come.

Whether or not automation / AI wipes out a significant proportion of jobs going forward remains to be seen, but it seems likely that the nature of human input will evolve across the board. Four key skill areas which are continually being mentioned as vitally important in the future workplace are:

  1. Digital literacy – a relatively high minimum level of ICT skills will be needed for many future jobs.
  2. Creativity and innovation – these qualities are still difficult to automate.
  3. Social skills, relationship building and ethical decision-making – work which relies on understanding the subtler nuances of human interaction will generally still require…humans.
  4. The ability to keep learning – parents and teachers need to impart the adaptive skills needed for the unknown jobs of the future economy, rather than equipping them with a known skill set for a specific profession.

I find it hard to imagine that traditional schooling is going to prepare our kids adequately. Formal schooling has been repeatedly called out over the last decade for quashing creativity and throwing iPads and tech kit at students without really helping them understand how they work. I guess public schools are just huge administrative, political beasts, despite (in some cases) the best intentions of forward-thinking governments.

Singapore is pushing forward, but change is still relatively slow. This year Miss Chu’s timetable has made space for PAL (Programme for Active Learning) which offers students more opportunities for creative pursuits and social interaction. It’s Miss Chu’s favourite part of the week! And after complaining in last month’s post that her school offered no provision for coding classes, I contacted the head of ICT to find out if there are any plans in the pipeline. Happily they will be rolling out coding for P3 students from this year onwards! (They must have read my blog.)

Additionally, a new Singapore-based global initiative called DQ Institute has been recently set up. It is targeted at all schoolchildren age 8-12 and aims to raise their DQ (Digital Intelligence Quotient) as defined under these eight subheadings:



image source: DQ Institute


This all looks great to me but surely they can’t pack all this extra stuff into the curriculum without giving up time spent on other things. Having said that, this year, Miss Chu’s school week has been extended by 1hr 25 mins, spread out over the five days. So they have squeezed in an extra 57 hours a year to accommodate some of this new material!

Given the predictions, an awareness of current technological progress and an understanding of the breadth of future possibility is key to helping our kids navigate their educational journey. I have no idea what my girls could be when they grow up, and at the moment, their future ambitions are as whimsical and fickle as they should be – at this age.

My aim is certainly not to supercharge them with “the latest” skills required for a prestigious, high salaried career. Rather, it’s to help them realize their passions, talents and priorities, so they can find work which aligns with those priorities and hopefully make a useful contribution to society. These days, that’s an important part of my job.

*featured image source:


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