What Workforce Skills will the Next Generation Require?

credit: Pan Xiaozhen on Unsplash

credit: Pan Xiaozhen on Unsplash

My son attending kindergarten received a note stating that he was receiving an award and that the award ceremony would be held in the school auditorium in the evening. It’s always great to hear that your child is receiving an award and for whatever reason, my mind automatically assumed that he would be receiving the math award. (I swear it’s not because we’re Chinese! =) He had received perfect scores on his previous two math assessments so it seemed likely he would get that award. At the ceremony, they called out the winners of the math award and my son was not called. And once again, for whatever reason, my mind jumped to thinking that perhaps he would be receiving the “Student of the Month” award for his overall academic excellence. They called the winners of that award last so we’d have to wait. Instead, they called the winners of the “Best Citizen” award and my son’s name was called. He was so excited to hear his name and go up on stage to receive his award, and I was a proud papa too.

Having observed him in class a week prior to the awards ceremony, it was clear why his teacher chose him for that award. As the kindergarteners arrived in the classroom, their teacher set a timer for four minutes to put their jackets and schoolbags in the closet, their lunch box on the counter, place their homework folder and workbook in a pouch behind their chairs. Once done, they are to sit at their desk and read quietly. My son was neither the fastest or the slowest in getting ready. Actually, he was probably in the slower group if I had to be honest as I saw many students already sitting in their chairs and reading. When my son was finally done with everything, he saw a student at a different table struggling to get things ready. I saw my son go over to the student to help him unpack his school work and placing it in the pouch, before going back to his own seat to start reading. I was happy to see him help someone else out as oftentimes children are self-focused and think mostly about themselves. That was just one example I saw of him being a “good citizen.”

I’m not going to lie though, a previous me may have been a little disappointed that he didn’t receive an award for his academic prowess. In the past, I remember thinking that I would push my kids towards the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). If they want to be economically successful, the STEM fields are where you find the high paying jobs and jobs in these fields would likely remain in demand. With automation and artificial intelligence on the horizon, jobs in these fields are much safer than in other fields. I remember judging people for their choice in majoring in something in the humanities. How do they expect to find a job? How will they pay their student loans with a low paying job? Surprisingly, growing up, I was naturally more interested in the humanities and struggled with the sciences and advanced mathematics. I majored in Business in college, but added another major in Political Science which was a subject I found more interesting. I eventually went on to get a law degree.

In a recent Afford Anything podcast where Paula interviewed Suze Orman, Orman said that the U.S. would probably experience 25 percent unemployment in the future as AI taking over many jobs. In a related podcast episode, Paula spoke to Darrell West, author of The Future of Work, about artificial intelligence, robots, and the future of jobs. It is no surprise that robots and AI will take over many low-skilled jobs, but West said that it may not just be entry level jobs. There are higher level jobs that may be at risk as well. For example, West explained that radiologists currently read CAT scans, but AI systems can learn to read scans with a pretty high degree of accuracy. And as for me working as an attorney which many would consider a higher level job, AI systems have their tentacles in that industry as well. So I won’t be safe either.

Paula suggested that one way to prepare for this future is by strengthening soft skills (empathy and social skills) which were once lower valued in the marketplace. She suggested that these skills may be increasingly more important because AI might be able to read a CAT scan, but they won’t have good bedside manner. In a World Economic Forum article, it said that according to PwC’s workforce report, 39% of CEOs considered the impact of AI on skills their businesses will need in the future and included: problem-solving, adaptability, collaboration, leadership, creativity and innovation. It mentioned the importance of emotional and social intelligence of future workers which would differentiate the human workforce from an automated one. One member said, “Though we can teach human emotions, there are no standards for emotions and the machines will not or may not be able to mimic the natural ability of basic instincts of human beings.” Another member of the forum advocated for bringing the human and robot workforces together, connecting “engineering thinking (fixing broken things and inventing new ones) to human sensitivity (following your heart).”

So what work skills can prepare my kids for the future as the future is filled with uncertainty? As hard as teaching math to a child appears, teaching emotional and social intelligence may even be harder. I want to foster a love of learning in my children as learning shouldn’t just be limited to schools. With an ever changing world, everyone needs to be a life long learner and learning should not be a chore if you love it. I want to teach them empathy and to build their self esteem and self confidence. I want to encourage them to be leaders not followers. Ultimately, I want to empower them to have the ability to choose whatever path they feel is right for them in their future.