The Future Of Work & Preparing Your Child For 2030


So your child is in grade school and you have high levels of anxiety! Where is the homework? Worksheets? Textbooks? Spelling test? Cursive writing? Times tables? Where is it all? You went to school; you know what school looks like!! Where is it all?

School is changing and the changes are leaving parents dizzy.

“Recognizable” homework and textbooks were thought to be just for the kids. However upon reflection, one can see that it was also a means of daily and weekly communication between parents and teachers about what children were doing, and how well they were doing it. This was based on an expected and recognizable scale, that could be reduced to a percentage and a letter grade.

The story went like this: Little Dwayne had a spelling test every Friday out of 10 points. If he got on average 10 of these tests and a score of 8 out of 10, his mother knew that he knew how to spell 80% of the words for his grade level (At least at the time of testing…But that is another article altogether)

This worked to reduce parent anxiety, and at least could inform little Dwayne’s mom on how to assist if something was going wrong based on her similar past experiences in school. This type of testing really focused on content memorization and output. However it did not focus on understanding, the learning process or methods of thinking.

As this old paradigm began to change, many education systems in the “west” focused on informing teachers tactically (although not always strategically) through university courses, workshops and additional qualifications. Children were informed once they entered school. Parents however were not well informed on why the changes, and what they were to do to support those changes, or how those changes were to support their child’s learning.

This oversight indirectly lead to “Unknown School Curriculum Parent Anxiety” and “ What Are Those Teachers Doing All Day Anyway Anxiety” (Two completely fabricated medical terms that I just made up. The terms don’t actually exist, but you get the point.)

As a result helicopter parenting did not feel like a choice. It felt like a desperate necessity to vindicate oneself from the perceived crappy parenting job that one was going to do, trying to help one’s child with 5 strands of math, that no longer focused solely on procedure, but now stressed the importance of concept! Many parents felt compelled to roll the dice and randomly outsourced to expensive after school academic programs. Parents also over scheduled extracurricular activities, in an attempt to quell the reactive panic mode that ensued after a long day at work, and a longer commute home. Other parents remained angry and generally hostile to schools and teachers, cornering educators at house parties, coffee shops and grocery stores, with pitchfork mobs that were out for blood, or at the very least demanding that their “summer vacations” and any form of reasonable pay, altogether be removed from their foreseeable future until the spelling tests return! Spell check be damned!

I have spoken to parents internationally, and at conferences, presentations, meetings or one on one sessions that I participated in or conducted, and most asked some version of the same two questions. Why all the change? Why can’t we just go back to the way things were when we recognized and knew what school was? I have told many parents the hard uncomfortable truth that was not that obvious, but hiding in plain sight.

The short answer was we could not go back because our reality as a society was changing, and the rate of change was increasing exponentially. School systems were responding to those changes.

Here in Ontario our curriculum is actually reasonably advanced and forward thinking. More than a decade ago Ontario started moving towards inquiry based instruction. In one of my parent/school presentations, I discuss the idea of disruptive theory and change as it related to school curriculum. School systems globally were adopting inquiry based curriculum and moving “up market” as their former areas of expertise (categorized gatekeeper of “age appropriate” educational content) was being disrupted via rapid digital encroachment. Understanding what multiplication is vs. just memorizing the procedure of multiplication became more important because of these changes and others that we will soon address.

In the meantime our children’s learning is like those old TV/VCR/DVD units. We know that something new will be here soon, but until we see it, we want everything and the kitchen sink included into the same 6 hour school day that has existed for generations. We want big academic concepts, academic fundamentals, computers, coding, STEM, STEAM, financial literacy, character education, music, drama, all the strands of math, and all kinds of language arts. We want all the languages themselves, dance, gym, anti-bullying, entrepreneurship, extra-curricular everything, culturally specific age appropriate content and also a fix for the non compliant behaviour of a sleep deprived child. All reactions based on a fear of tomorrow. But why the changes in the first place?

Rationale for changes

One of the purposes of formal education is to prepare children to be contributing members of society. In the past this was a much easier task to get accomplished. In countries in the “west”, children grew up to get jobs in reasonable proximity to where they lived. The jobs were “white-collar” or “blue-collar” jobs. Those jobs were expected to afford them a house, a vacation, and a fridge full of food with a car to get said food. Those jobs were expected to keep them financially secure for the next 35 years, until they retired with a paid off house, and a nice retirement plan that would support them until death.

Over the last few decades our world started changing much faster. In fact according to author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, changes that would take a generation or two, now happen in as little as 5 to 15 years. We went from an emerging industrial society to a knowledge based, information fuelled, globally connected society. These changes have started to affect the future of work in very profound ways. This disruption is quickly changing everything. It will almost be impossible for a child today to work in one career for their entire life!

This disruption really ramped up at the dawn of the Internet era. The Internet became mainstream circa 1994. Google was founded in 1998 and the Apple IPhone came to market in 2007. Now fast forward approximately 10 years. Think of Apple’s SIRI, Amazon’s Alexa, IBM’s Watson and the ever-improving Wolfram Alpha. Add in the fast advancements in artificial intelligence and 3D printing. The convergence of biology and information, with cloud computing. Remove the friction between capital, ideas and borders, and all of a sudden science fiction starts to blend with science facts. Stir in exponential microchip doubling and the cocktail of the future becomes something that is breathtakingly amazing, full of wonder and possibility. At the same time it becomes absolutely terrifying because of its velocity.

An Oxford study estimated by 2030, automation of jobs will see up to approximately 50% of all jobs today disappear. In the next 13 years 2 billion jobs gone! Vinod Kholsa estimated that 80% of all IT jobs will be automated. The social and economic ramifications for this will be revolutionary, and the revolution has already begun. This convergence has led to a decrease in many types of jobs already and a freeze or decline in salaries as work and value contribution is reorganized. It has become apparent that the world is advancing at a technologically rapid pace and that pace is having seismic impacts globally.

First jobs were shipped abroad to reduce the cost of goods, but now those same jobs are being shifted to automation to further reduce cost of goods. According to Fortune magazine, in May 2016, Foxconn the company that makes almost all Apple and Samsung products in China replaced 60 000 workers with robots at once! Try to visualize all those people out of work at once and all from one company. That is almost equivalent to all of the 66 000 workers that work at Apple. Foxconn reportedly plans to replace 500 000 workers in total with robots. That is 5 times all of the workers employed by P&G! Now converge automation with some of the other aspects mentioned above, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and cloud storage. These innovations will affect the idea of work itself and will create massive shifts in society as a whole. How do we prepare our children for this world? How do we prepare them to find the opportunities and to take advantage of those opportunities? What will those opportunities look like? How big will those opportunities be? Should we prepare them the same way we were prepared?

The truth is the world that we remember when we went to school no longer exists.

Our children are now the digital natives, and we are the digital immigrants. We have traveled from another world and we are now learning about this new one. Ask any new immigrant about this process. It is extremely difficult. I lived in a few different countries, and I was amazed at how difficult it was to have my version of reality, slam against the host country’s overarching culture and subcultures. The culture shock made it very hard to understand a new way of interpreting reality. At first this made me very inefficient, afraid and full of distrust. I sought out those that were like me, to slow the shock, until I could sort out my thoughts and inner processes. I attempted to see all the new ideas around me as just extensions to what I already knew. However I soon had to give way in many instances to completely new realities and ways of doing things. I had to train my mind to release fear and seek out the new opportunities that were everywhere. I also had to learn to avoid the new threats and the over glorification of those new threats in the process. I suspect that this transition will not be much different. You are here! The culture shock is staggering for many.

Yesterday we had to learn to become experts of tools, to be productive. We traded this expertise with our time, for compensation derived from the margins on corporate gross revenue. Tomorrow our children will spend less time learning how to become experts of tools, and more time learning how to direct the tools to create new ideas, and new outcomes. Will they have to trade their time for compensation? Will they depend on larger corporate entities for their livelihoods? This future starts to become very blurry as accepted assumption are placed on the conceptual chopping block.

The idea then was for my wife and I to identify the strategic thinking themes needed for our son, so he would be able to navigate and thrive in a world that we could not yet see clearly. I contemplated this before his birth when I was a teacher, and again while I was a technology scout, seeking out the exact technologies that would bring about some of these changes. I contemplated this while I was part of the strategic planning team for one of the world’s best private schools, and while I was the executive director of a business intelligence firm. I contemplated this in my fascination with leaders that find opportunities in novel situations and train their families to maintain that advantage over generations.

What I have learned

I have learned that my son’s future success does not lie in just content acquisition and an ability to temporarily conquer that content in the form of an arbitrary examination. His success will lie in his ability to think strategically through frameworks, that give him mental flexibility and agility. It will lie in his ability to use inquiry to drive a deeper meaning of phenomenon. He will need to direct his focus to curate information to create new outcomes. His success will lie in his ability to see disruptive paths, past legacy gatekeepers that store value behind their walls. His success will lie in his ability to strategically leverage his imagination. He will need to generate multiple open ended questions and meta-cognitively generated connections to create opportunities for synthesis and discovery, while absorbing new concepts and creating new models for life.

Here are a few key takeaways:

1. Oxford study is predicting that 50% of all jobs today will be lost to automation in the next 13 years!

2. 3D printing is merging with biology and cloud computing! This will have a profound effect on just about everything.

3. Because of 1 & 2 the way we prepare our children for their future will require a shift.

4. Information is changing the way our children learn and its also changing what they will need to learn. Future genius may be more about questions and synthesis. Focus on inquiry.

5. Many schools are focused on concept and social. You be focused on fundamentals and character. If you have a teacher that is focused on fundamentals, you focus on concept.

6. Fundamentals can be digitally outsourced, while you can focus on character and emotional intelligence.

7. Emotional intelligence and empathy may seem like soft skills, but in reality they will become even more important in the near future. Act accordingly with your kids.

8. The Internet is the education equalizer. Curate or find a curator.

9. Prepare your kids for adaptability.

10. In the age of information everyone has something valuable to share.

11. Everyone should go back and watch Star Trek Next Generation. (Message me if you don’t get the connection)