The coronavirus pandemic has deeply disrupted the lives of all of us. Its consequences are likely to be felt for many years and may even potentially impact the lives of our children as they make their way into the new world of work.
As if the 4th Industrial Revolution and its impact on jobs, careers and skills were not enough, the youngest generation of learners will also have to face up to the fact that nothing in life is guaranteed.
There is no guarantee that school buildings and teachers will be there for each and every tomorrow going forward. There is no guarantee that the world economy will provide a favourable starting off point for careers characterised by rising wages, promotions and advancement. And there is no guarantee that there will be no more disruptions to 'normal' life that will make learning even more difficult.
As a society we face the challenge of a youthful population offering up a potential economic 'dividend' to future generations. Yet, without the right skills and competencies, we face the very real prospect that our skills shortage will short-change or even curtail a potential future dividend.
Even in these times of crisis, philanthropists like Bill Gates are working at innovative ways of getting children to continue learning, putting technology to assist within reach of every child and teacher.
The downturn generation
If we fail, we face the very real prospect of the Matric Class of 2020 contributing to another 'lost generation' whose learning fails to meet the standard required for competence in the world of tomorrow. We had our lost generation in the 70’s as a result of the educational disruption necessitated by the struggle against apartheid. We cannot afford a lost generation that stands on the wrong side of the digital divide, equipped for jobs and careers that no longer exist.
As our country’s economy contracts further as a result of the pandemic, we face the reality of an unemployment crisis that could further exacerbate poverty and inequality. We now face a tipping point, brought forward in its inevitability by this crisis.
South Africans are renowned for staring down adversity and uniting in times of crisis. By any definition this is just such a time. For those of us lucky to be employed – either in corporates, small businesses or in the rapidly emerging but high risk 'gig economy'; we need to pay attention to Tom Peters' 46 Strategies for Dealing with Gut-Wrenching Downturns:
- No. 1 - You come to work earlier
- No. 2 - You leave work later
- No. 5 - You volunteer to do more
- No. 10 – You take better than usual care of yourself and encourage others to do the same
- No 18 to 20 – You sweat the details as never before
- No 41 – You are kind to all mankind
These pragmatic words may just assist in us finding our way. To those who are unemployed or entering the new world of work, the message is also unequivocal – don’t ever stop learning, don’t ever stop thinking about ways you can add value or solve the ever-present problems that exist all around us. Own your own learning – nobody is going to be able to teach you what you require for the future – you will need to hunt it out, exploring the internet, taking advantage of every free and open course that equips you for making better connections and insightful decisions, for being more empathetic, collaborative, creative and courageous.
Leadership for this crisis and beyond is going to have to emerge at every level of society – political, business, faith groups and communities. We are going to have to jointly address our societal challenges so that we can build a sense of some 'bounded optimism' about the future that inspires and provides direction for us all.
McKinsey, in their article on Leading in a Time of Crisis, reflects on the need to combine confidence with realism in the early stages of a crisis so that leaders don’t lose credibility. But what does 'bounded optimism' of the future world of work look like, and how do we inspire a sense of realism in what and how we should learn, develop and equip our learners of today and tomorrow?
The one thing about surviving a crisis is that it create a sense of gratitude for life. How do we turn that gratitude into a real-life 'each one, teach one' moment, where we take the time out to invest in imparting whatever wisdom we possess?
It is the hope and prayer of every generation of parents that their children enjoy a better standard of life than they did. Most parents are willing to sacrifice so much for that to happen. Our perspective however needs to shift – it’s not just about our children, it’s about our neighbours and employees’ children too.
It’s about doing whatever we can to make sure that they have an opportunity to face up to the crises and challenges of the future, better equipped emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually than we ever were. If we don’t, the economic headwinds of the future world will bear down harshly, not only on ourselves, but on our children as they commence their journey into their own futures.
Deidre Samson is a futures consultant and new knowledge market executive at the Institute for Futures Research (IFR), a unit for strategic foresight at Stellenbosch University. Views expressed are her own.