By KIERAN FLANAGAN & DAN GREGORY
To be a parent in the 21st Century is to experience a sense of angst when it comes to education. Newly minted mums and dads have been known to enrol their kids at private schools on the way home from the maternity ward, academic inflation has all of us worried about whether our child is in front, or gasp, falling behind, meanwhile not even teachers are entirely sure that the subject matter they are sharing will prepare the students in their charge for a world that is changing at an ever increasing rate.
Into this maelstrom of confusion, we’d like to offer a raft of calm. In fact, the panic around the worlds of change, education and training is one of the primary reasons we chose to pursue the research for our book, Forever Skills.
Our view, put simply, is that our collective perspective on change is rather too narrow and that, in addition to understanding what is changing, we should also pay some attention to what will be unchanging.
We’re not alone. Behavioural scientists and change managers the world over regularly advocate for emphasising the familiar and evergreen when it comes to encouraging new behaviour and for making change stick.
So, if we want to future proof our children’s educations, it makes sense to spend our time, money and focus on skills that will forever useful.
Our research with hundreds of educators, leaders, futurists, economists and business people around the world identified three key categories of Forever Skills:
- Creativity Skills
- Communication Skills
- Control Skills
It seems what we used to think of as “soft skills” are more enduring than their hard, or more technical, counterparts.
This may appear a little surprising against a background of what seems like universal calls for more STEM, or teaching children to code or our current commercial focus on information technology, but when you consider that information technology work is often offshored and that AI is on the verge of “self-coding” in languages it will develop for itself and execute with speed and efficiency no human (offshore or otherwise) can match, perhaps it shouldn’t be.
These are skills that have their origins in our histories, are those that employers are currently crying out for (according to research shared by LinkedIn) and are also considered to be increasingly important in the future.
In a world that seems to be constantly asking “Can AI do it?” or “Will I be replaced with a robot?” perhaps better questions to ask are, “What will human beings always excel at?” or “What will we always find rewarding and choose to do for ourselves?”
Creative skills include activities beyond art, design and music and the industries we typically associate with creativity, including problem solving, insight generation, converting raw resources and information into new products, services and formats as well as developing mental agility – the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn (to borrow a quote from Alvin Toffler).
Communication skills such as a capacity to build influence, to sell others on our ideas, to engender trust, build teams and translate information across contexts and generations take on increasing importance in a world that is hyperconnected and “always on”.
Control skills which encompass everything from self-control to resource management and the ability to establish social consensus and order also have strong roots in our evolutionary past and will remain relevant and important in our shared futures.
Of course, it makes sense to give our children as broad an education as possible and to ensure that they are acquainted with the specific technical skills of the age that they inhabit. Although, it’s also worth remembering that at some point, even working a forge was considered revolutionary.
So, if we are to truly equip our children to navigate a world of work that no one can accurately predict or guarantee, it also makes sense to invest their educations in Forever Skills.
Kieran Flanagan and Dan Gregory are experts in leading change and are the co-authors of Forever Skills and co-founders of The Impossible Institute.