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Future of Work: Strategies For Creating an Inclusive Future For All

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Study after study is telling us that the pace of change is accelerating. According to the World Economic Forum, four years from now, 35% of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed. Recent McKinsey study predicts that up to 800 million people will be made jobless by 2030, including a third of the workforce in the U.S. and Germany. New study from Oxford and Yale University researchers gets even more specific –it’s predicting that robots will be able to drive trucks by 2027, work in retail by 2031, and work as surgeons by 2053. Researchers believe that AI could automate all human tasks by 2051. With workers spending only 4.2 years with the same employer, 35% of the U.S. workforce freelancing, 1 in 4 adults reporting a mismatch between the skills they have and the skills they need for their current job, and underemployment among recent college graduates at 44% -- it’s clear that the days of having a job for life that pays your bills or a college degree guaranteeing good employment are gone.

Future of work and education is top of mind for many of us in the SXSW EDU community, and I have been thinking about this topic extensively as it relates to refugees and people living in poverty. Last month, I caught up with Esther Wojcicki, educator and co-author of “Moonshots in Education”, and Gary Bolles, Chair of the Future of Work for Singularity University, to get their perspectives on the future of work and education, what choices we have, and what we need to do in the near-term.

While the future of work topic is often defined by anxiety and fear, both Esther and Gary are cautiously optimistic. They recommend shifting the conversation from ‘will there be jobs for humans in the future’ to ‘what do we need to do today to ensure that the benefits of technological innovation are broadly distributed’ and ‘how do we prepare human beings to solve some of the world’s challenges.’ We have a lot of hard work to do and decisions to make in the near future … like, what work gets automated what doesn’t, how we prepare all people to thrive in a dynamic environment, put in place a safety net for all like Universal Basic Income (UBI), and focus the human creativity on solving the problems like poverty, inequality, climate, diseases, refugee crisis.

These are the top 5 takeaways from my conversation with Esther and Gary:

1. Machines will take our jobs but ‘work of the future’ could be more meaningful if we act now.

Predictable, repetitive, task-based work will get automated because robots can do it more efficiently. With the ‘rote’ work being outsourced to robots, humans will have the time to focus on pursuing what they are passionate about including solving problems like poverty, climate change, diseases, refugee crisis, and more. How do we get there? On the societal level, we need technologists to work together with policymakers, educators, nonprofits, communities, and others to tackle the questions like what gets automated and how, and what processes, infrastructure, and policies are needed to create an abundant world for all. Innovation needs to extend beyond technological advancement to institutional innovation, as John Hagel advocates. Individuals need to shift from thinking about work as a job or a fixed set of tasks to thinking about it as a ‘portfolio of work’ that consists of a range of different activities and projects, many of which can be done remotely.

2. Education for the future is lifelong and just-in-time.

As the world of work evolves into a dynamic, portfolio-based work environment -- learning needs to transform from production-based, institution-driven, one-time investment, to lifelong, just-in-time learning that is individual-driven. Just-in-time learning is learning when the need arises, delivered in a variety of formats including nanodegrees and evening workshops, and from many different sources such as Udacity, Udemy, local community colleges. Transformation of education needs to start now so that the first-graders like my nephew who will enter the workforce in 2036 have the opportunity for a good life. Esther is leading by example. In her classroom at Palo Alto High, she is helping young people develop agency – discover what they are passionate about, learn how to think creatively and collaborate with others in order to solve problems.

3. The rise of the empowered individual.

Individuals need to shift from thinking about learning and work as something that’s done to us, to something that each one of us needs to do ourselves. We all need to feel empowered to drive the process of learning and work by becoming creative problem-solvers, adaptive lifelong learners, and active participants in value creation. In order to become adaptive in a dynamically changing environment, we’ll need to have transferable skills such as creative and entrepreneurial thinking, collaboration, and ability create new products on the fly. As automation accelerates, we need to identify and master the skills that are uniquely human and that can’t be easily replicated by machines.

4. Institutions as lifelong learning platforms.

In addition to educational institutions, employers – private and public, big and small - need to transform into supporters of lifelong learning opportunities. First, they need to get better at signaling what kind of work is available and play an active role in helping individuals upskill and reskill through a range of programs such as trainings, mentorships, apprenticeships, nanodegrees. John Hagel talks about this as shifting from scalable efficiency model to scalable learning. Technology can help us be more adaptive in a fast changing environment by supporting our learning and work. Managers will need to learn to manage distributed teams and help people become collaborative problem solvers. On that note – Gary believes that we need to change the underpinning of our form of capitalism and reward the organizations that are focusing on solving the world’s challenges.

5. Closing the access and participation gap.

In order to close the gap between those who have access to opportunities and those who do not, we need to shift from thinking about access as a connected device in our hands to having opportunities to learn how to fully participate in a connected society as a value creator not just as a consumer. This is probably the most important takeaway from my conversation with Esther and Gary as we are already living a life of abundance or a life of dystopia, depending on who you are. As change accelerates, we have a choice in how we handle it and a responsibility to ensure that the benefits of technological innovation are broadly distributed.

To explore these takeaways further, consider adding these sessions to your SXSW EDU 2018 schedule:

Guest blog post courtesy of

Leila Toplic
SXSW EDU 2018 Advisory Board Member

Leila leads NLG Tech Task Force at NetHope, a tech consortium of 53 global NGOs. NLG Tech Task Force is a community of 50+ organizations including UN and global NGO agencies, private sector companies, academic institutions, and social entrepreneurs, working together on innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems such as access to high quality education and employment for millions of refugees. For more information, check out Leila’s session at SXSW EDU 2018 - AI in Education: Opportunities and Challenges.

Photo courtesy of Leila Toplic

By Guest