From Droid Farmers to Gamer Therapists: Why We Can’t Prepare Students Today for the Careers of 2030

A prediction from littleBits founder Ayah Bdeir.

I recently reread To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. There’s one part in the book that I didn’t catch the first time around, but it really resonates with me now.

Jem and Scout want to build a snowman after it snows for the first time in their lives, but there isn’t enough snow to do it. Jem has the idea to build the base out of mud and cover the outside with snow. Their father, Atticus, is so tickled by their ingenuity and tells Jem, “From now on I’ll never worry about what’ll become of you, son, you’ll always have an idea… I can’t tell what you’re going to be — an engineer, a lawyer, or a portrait painter.”

That one passage for me crystallizes so much the importance of changing the way we think about education. We need to prepare our kids for the 21st century, and it’s not going to be through training more engineers, doctors or software developers. The fact of the matter is we don’t know what sort of careers will exist in 2030. In my lifetime, I’ve seen previously stable careers like phone operators and travel agents become obsolete due to changing technology, as well as the rise of entirely new careers such as data scientists, social media strategists, and UX architects.

According to the US Department of Labor, 65% of today’s students will have careers that don’t exist yet. I initially started writing this post by trying to imagine what careers of the year 2030 might look like. I started with applying existing careers to newly created technologies (Animatronic Veterinarian?) and then extrapolated other careers based what new discoveries can afford us (Celestial Fashion Designer?). After going through a few dozen I realized I could just as easily create a madlibs machine that combined different nouns and adverbs in infinite different ways, and come up with a list that is just as likely to happen as any well-thought-out and researched list. How about a Droid Rancher, a Holoportation Curator, a Visualization Physiologist, a Data Tapestrymaker, a Gamer Therapist, an Athlete Programmer, and the list goes on… I had to stop myself because I was having a little too much fun.

Skills needed: Problem-solving, computational thinking, analytical thinking, programming & logic, empathy

The most predictable thing about prediction articles is how silly they turn out to be when the future time comes (because the predictions are so obvious, or so far off). But here is what I am comfortable stating as a sure prediction: we cannot prepare today’s students for today’s careers. We also cannot prepare students for what we now think will be future careers. What we can do is work together to help kids tap into their ingenuity to build their snowmen. The World Economic Forum recommends that the educational system be completely redesigned to emphasize skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, collaboration and digital literacy. It’s no longer about preparing kids for a particular career, but it’s about teaching a mindset, a behavior, and a skill of lifelong learning.

Skills needed: Analytical thinking, computational thinking, programming & logic, empathy

At littleBits, we stopped talking about creating the next generation engineers or teaching kids to be coders; what we want to do is help ignite kids’ passions, unleash their inner inventor, build up their own creative confidence so that they can be the ones to invent the world they want to live in. From then on we’ll never worry about what’ll become of the next generation, they’ll always have an idea.

Skills needed: Problem-solving, creativity & design, engineering