The majority of the world’s education systems were designed to prepare people to be employable economic contributors in a world of work created by the industrial revolution.
Until fairly recently, this 20th-century education system has served much of the world fairly well. However, there’s a new industrial revolution taking place and it’s transforming the world in which we live and work.
This means that, unless the education models of the world change as dramatically and as quickly as the world in which they exist, the children who are starting out on their education journeys today are unlikely to be prepared for what awaits them in the workplace a decade or two from now.
What’s more, if tertiary education doesn’t fundamentally and rapidly transform itself, it is going to be woefully unprepared to give the students of 2030 the education they need, let alone do so in the way that they have been doing it.
What will those students of 2030 be like? What will they need to learn in the next 10 years to ensure they are able to thrive, lead and contribute to the economy of the future?
These are extremely difficult questions to answer.
Not because 10 years is a long way off.
It isn’t. But because the fourth industrial revolution is having such a massive influence on the world, literally on a daily basis, that even the most futuristic of predictions are likely to end up being laughably conservative.
That said, the consensus seems to be that the graduates of 2030 and beyond will exist in a world that is entirely contained on their mobile devices (yes, even more than they already do).
Of course, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), those devices will look nothing like they do today and most will probably be virtual.
Many of these graduates will be entirely comfortable with a completely digital life and many will have spent much of their schooling and tertiary education in front of a screen, or following the instructions of a robot, rather than engaging with a real-life teacher or lecturer.
In fact, some of them might have obtained their degrees without ever setting foot in a physical university building.
Although this will undoubtedly have influenced their social skills, it will also ensure that their education has been highly personalised.
At a more personal level, the young adults of 2030 are likely to be the most diverse, tolerant, caring and socially and environmentally aware generation the planet has seen.
Which is just as well, because they will have some very big social and environmental problems to solve.
They will live in a highly commoditised world where products as we understand them have given way to services. Think Uber everywhere, versus owning a car.
They’ll also live longer than any generation before them, be more entrepreneurial, innovative and creative than their parents or grandparents, and expect to be very stimulated, challenged and well rewarded by the work they do.
Oh, and some of them might not even live on Earth. But that’s a tale for another article.
In terms of the work that these graduates will be required to do, the predictions become even more difficult.
Most of the routine workplace tasks will be done far more efficiently by robots.
Our young graduates will instead focus almost entirely on innovating, disrupting, analysing, creating, engaging and problem-solving.
Their strong social consciousness will mean that, while the business world could be dominated by a few, massive global organisations, those corporates will have a genuine interest in making the planet a better place for everyone and protecting its resources.
And they will need the minds, and hearts, of our young generation of graduates to achieve those objectives. Which means that, if they are not sincere in their sustainability intentions, they will have little to no chance of attracting the talent they need.
But despite these massive corporations dominating the economy, entrepreneurs will be the people who are truly building a better world.
Whether these entrepreneurially minded individuals are employed by corporates or set out on their own, they will be the ones creating jobs, designing solutions, shaping industries, and inventing, and constantly reinventing, the future.
In other words, the short answer to the question of what the workplace of 2030 will look like, is “nothing like it does today”.
Which obviously implies that the graduates of 2030 will need to have learnt qualifications and skills that are unlike anything schools and universities offer now.
So, while knowledge and job-specific skills are likely to always be an essential component of tertiary education, there is little point teaching a student how to be a clerk, when the traditional job of a clerk will no longer exist by the time they set out to look for work.
Instead, we need to be teaching them the skills to be able to constantly reinvent themselves to adapt to the constantly changing requirements of their employers.
Of course, the required shift in education approach is extremely difficult to make, especially for tertiary institutions that have always pinned their very reason for existence to their role as sanctuaries of traditional learning, knowledge and academia.
However, change we must and rather than aligning our curriculums to job functions, we now have a responsibility to transform our roles from teaching skills to enabling adaptability, from imparting knowledge to teaching how to access and process it, and from demonstrating how problems have been solved in the past, to equipping young people with the tools they need to solve much bigger problems, many of which have not yet even been conceived.
It’s a massive challenge, but it’s also a massive opportunity. One that every stakeholder in education has the responsibility to embrace.
Professor Louw is president of IIE MSA
Get in touch
|Rise above the clutter | Choose your news | City Press in your inbox|
|City Press is an agenda-setting South African news brand that publishes across platforms. Its flagship print edition is distributed on a Sunday.|