Are students ready for the future of work?

“There is perhaps too much emphasis on exam grades and not enough on the students’ actual learning journey”

With a myriad of factors influencing the future of work such as automation, globalisation, mobility, and flexibility, the future of work holds endless possibilities for change and opportunities for growth.

As many admin centric and unskilled tasks are now being automated, it’s important to understand what self-management and unique human skills will be valued in the future. The role of education has traditionally been to prepare students for their future workplaces, but as the pace of change accelerates, are curriculums keeping up with the evolving requirements of the future of work?

Curriculums too focused on exam results

Achieving good academic results is fundamental for schools today, but there is perhaps too much emphasis on exam grades and not enough on the students’ actual learning journeys. Many schools have become so focussed on results and reputation, and not enough on the process of learning and adequately preparing students for higher education and beyond.

At TASIS England, for example, we integrate our learning approaches with a four-year, developmental college counselling programme as part of our learners’ journeys.  For me this is critically important as it ensures the students own the learning journey and develop their social, communication, research, thinking and self-management skills as they apply what they know about themselves and their learning, both successes and challenges, to the arduous yet exciting process of finding the best-fit university and course for their next stage of learning.

Preparing students for the future of work

The future roles that our students need to be ready for, that probably do not even exist now, will require a flexible, adaptable, knowledgeable and creative workforce that can work across physical and virtual boundaries.  Tomorrow’s employees will need to understand and work well with people from different cultures in globalised settings; students already learning within these environments will be at a significant advantage.

“Tomorrow’s employees will need to understand and work well with people from different cultures in globalised settings”

There remains considerable growth in the number of jobs that require uniquely human interpersonal and cognitive skills. These skills will continue to play an important role, and so school curriculums would benefit from focussing on learners’ development of these skills. Students already learning in these environments need to learn how to become critical thinkers and good communicators. They need to feel confident about taking risks, managing failure and understanding the importance of reflection within the context of globalised environments.

Curriculums such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) focus on such skill development through Approaches to Learning – thinking, communications, social, self-management and research skills. These are designed to enhance students’ abilities to think and analyse beyond content and link together concepts from across different subjects to create a more coherent and in-depth understanding of a given topic or curriculum unit.

Our recent IB graduates have been challenged to think beyond subject-based learning outcomes, encouraged to display international mindedness and embrace service leadership, and inspired to become lifelong learners.

Investing in teachers

Investing in teacher training is also critical for helping prepare students for the future of work. Teachers need to be equipped with strong cognitive as well as academic skills.  They too must own their learning journey and be encouraged to see continual professional development and classroom-based research on their own pedagogy as opportunities to grow and take ownership of their own learning.

Appraisal systems also need to change from merely assessing subject mastery and focusing more on growth and learning as teachers model professional learning for each other, their school communities and their students.

“Investing in teacher training is critical for helping prepare students for the future of work”

Future steps

It’s our duty of care to teach students these fundamental meta-cognitive skills at school and to embrace them within our curriculums.  Understanding how we can evolve the results-based judgement of other curriculums, often by national regulators, and by others such as parents, is an important part of developing the workplace talent of tomorrow.

These changes would create a far greater opportunity for students to nurture their intellectual curiosity, embolden their learning journey and equip themselves with important skills for the future.

About the author: Bryan Nixon has been Head of School at The American School in England (TASIS England) since June 2017. Before that, he has led international schools in locations as varied as the Bahamas, Germany, and the United States over the course of his long career in education.