Jobs and the Future of Work

Three big trends in work and education

Holly Hickman
Writer, GE Look Ahead
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Crystal balls are in short supply. Luckily, one isn’t needed to spot three important trends shaping the future of work and that of education with it.

The first and most obvious trend is the exponential growth of the digital universe, which could reach 44trn gigabytes by 2020. Making sense of such a large amount of data requires engineers to design varieties of intelligent software and big-data analysts to make sense of the information subsequently collected.

Universities across the world have taken notice. In the US, Ivy League universities now offer master’s degrees and certification programmes in data analytics. China is also active, with its Ministry of Education aiming to train some 40,000 students in big data in 100 universities this year.

The decentralised nature of work and talent—the second trend shaping the future of work—is, in turn, changing the way teaching is done provided. “If we can work from anywhere, we can learn from anywhere,” says futurist Thomas Frey. Massive Online Open Courses, in particular, have seen a dramatic rise, with 2,400+ courses offered in 2014—double 2013 levels. They are not without drawbacks, however, and high dropout rates remain an issue for many of them. Shorter programmes, or “nano-degrees” as Udacity calls them, could be a solution. Another option would be to combine open access to material with interactive learning.

London-based SmartUp, for example, complements traditional MBA programmes with gaming, which its founders claim is more effective for learning than memorising case studies. The app also offers a global approach to learning, granting access to nontraditional students such as “the 24-year-old in Bangalore looking to start a company himself who is nowhere near a business school but has a smartphone”, CEO Frank Meehan recently told the Financial Times.

Interactive learning can also help train the existing workforce. Already, many companies, including Ford Motor Company, are employing gaming firms such as BunchBall, Badgeville and Axonify to help improve employees’ performance and skills. “It is evident that much of education in the future will increasingly be company-driven,” notes Erica Orange, EVP & COO of The Future Hunters, a NYC-based futurist consultancy.

All of the above points to the rapidly changing nature of education—driven by technology. These changes should not be interpreted as a sign that traditional methods have become obsolete, however. Apprenticeship, for example, is expected to grow by 22% within the next seven years in the US alone. Vocational training will also be critical to ensuring an adequate supply of blue-collar workers, many of whom will be working alongside robots—the third trend.

Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago, the Indian start-up I2play launched Spicetoons: a multi-player, online gaming experience where children aged 6-12 solve language and math problems. Who said learning isn’t fun?

This article is published in collaboration with GE LookAhead. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Holly Hickman is a writer at GE LookAhead.

Image: Profile of students taking their seats for the diploma ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge REUTERS/Brian Snyder.

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Jobs and the Future of WorkEducation and Skills
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