Uniquely Human: The Centrality of Humanism in the Future Workforce

tk2My nephew Reuben was born on December 9, 2017. Reuben is a member of generation Alpha, a cohort that is younger than smartphones, cryptocurrency, and synthetic human cells. Reuben was born in Australia only a few short months after Sophia became the first robot citizen of Saudi Arabia. Reuben will take his first steps in a pair of self-tying shoes to walk into a world of self-driving (maybe even flying!?) cars, digital assistants, and augmented reality.

Yet, this is only the beginning. Reuben will encounter an exponential rate of change that will continue until approximately 2101. As the global population compounds, and the number of brains (both natural and artificial) swells significantly, new knowledge, skills, and tools will proliferate. It is crucial that we, as individuals and as a global population, ponder what this tidal wave of change means to the ways that we mold our citizens and build our societies. We then must proactively prepare children for the world they will face tomorrow, rather than for the one in which we live today.

Conversations focused on how the World Bank can help countries to improve lives today while also preparing for this uncertain future are increasing in prevalence. Examples include the recent discussion with Rob Nail, CEO and associate founder of Singularity University, on “Exponential Technology” and World Bank Group President’s blog intended to contribute to this conversation, focusing particularly on the importance of fostering the skills that are uniquely human.

As our world evolves, so do the shape and scope of the global workforce

In recent years, discussions on the changing nature of work have intensified and focus on the impact of automation and artificial intelligence (AI). The Oxford Martin School estimates approximately 50 percent of all US jobs are at risk of automation. In parallel, McKinsey believes that 60 percent of occupations comprise at least 30 percent of automatable activities. These transformations will seismically shift the nature of our working lives, and the skills we need to engage in the workforce.

In search of an education system that can prepare citizens for the future
Kuwait, for example, is one of many countries committed to address this challenge by building an education system that will prepare its citizens for success and prosperity in the coming decades. In October 2017, the former Minister of Education, His Excellency Dr. Mohammed Al-Fares, joined the World Bank team in Boston at MIT’s inaugural Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab, which convened more than 100 education experts from across the globe to explore issues relating to the future of education across all age ranges.

As advanced automation and AI spread, the most uniquely human traits will be in high demand
By the time that Reuben enters the workforce in approximately 2040, many of today’s jobs will not exist. Between 2000 and 2010, it has been estimated that robots and automation have made redundant approximately 5 million manufacturing jobs in the US alone. Some industry leaders believe that by 2040, AI with human level intelligence will be walking the streets, let alone undertaking much of the work that we do today. Partnering with Nesta and the Oxford Martin School, Pearson has predicted which current jobs are most likely to see increased demand by 2030. These jobs are concentrated in two areas: Service Providers, and Content Creators and Managers. Both areas require skills sets that are unique to human beings and are the most difficult to replicate with AI.

Education will need to emphasize the uniquely human traits required to do these jobs
Although the foundations of a good education––literacy, numeracy, science and the use of languages––remain important, many scholars and futurists argue that computers will be as good, or better, at these skills than human beings are. At the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba Group, was the most recent of many political and industrial leaders to advocate a shift in education to mitigate this techno-creep. Moving from a knowledge-based approach to emphasize the qualities and skills that AI is not yet able to emulate is a crucial step in preparing for this impending shift in the world of work. The uniquely human traits include, but are not limited to, creativity, empathy, knowledge sharing, leadership, listening, resilience, teamwork, and the ability to cope with ambiguity and uncertainty.

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning identifies four skills that should be emphasized today to prepare children for the future: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. The next generation will require all these skills and more to adequately explore, process, and use knowledge well beyond their own bounded learnings and understandings. It is such skills that will empower them to function in an ever-changing world.

Fostering these uniquely human traits not only will help to prepare future workers but also will foster a new generation of high skilled and flexible human beings and engaged citizens
Perhaps serendipitously, the skills and behaviors required by the next generation of workers are the same skills we admire in well-rounded human beings. Socioemotional skills, including the ability to experience, read, express and manage emotions, are central traits required by our future workers. These same skills are the cornerstones for establishing positive relationships not only with colleagues but also with families, friends, neighbors, and other community members.

Thus, focusing on these skills will drive not only economic growth but also the growth of a better world.

So where to from here?
With the world changing faster and faster, and television shows such as “The Simpsons” being seemingly the most accurate predictors of the future, it seems unwise to attempt to forecast what will be next for education systems! What is certain is that individuals who are equipped with the uniquely human traits required to succeed both as an employee and as a human being more broadly will be most at ease in the new world. In Kuwait, the new national curriculum framework attempts to focus on the human side of education by embedding these skills and competencies throughout a students’ entire learning journey. Kuwait’s second School Education Quality Improvement program, supported by the World Bank, aims to ensure that Kuwaiti children emerge from education as holistic individuals equipped to succeed in the new world.

Additional resources:
The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030
Robots taking our jobs? Stop agonizing and take action to skill up for the jobs of the future

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