The nature of our work has shifted dramatically, starting from everyday practices such as the way we conduct meetings and hire new employees, to more far-reaching matters such as the probability of some jobs disappearing altogether. How are these rapid changes affecting higher education internationally and what should graduates expect for their future as professionals?
Does new technology also mean new jobs?
New professional opportunities are springing up, largely thanks to the evolution of technology. Cloud computing, virtual assistants, and cybersecurity are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hottest tech trends shaping the workforce. The expectations we have about our dream careers and day-to-day job duties are also evolving fast. “Millennials are driving the demand for great collaboration tools, great video conferencing tools, and the ability to do all their work online and at home,” says Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, as an example of how offices are changing along with their inhabitants.
The gig economy is also booming. According to an annual report conducted by Upwork and the Freelancers Union in the US in 2018, more people than ever are choosing to freelance, up to 56.7 million, or 35% of the total US workforce. With the advent of digitalisation and access to technology, more flexible and independent working conditions are also more preferable for many high-skilled office workers. People are looking for different ways to utilise their professional skills, and with technological innovation comes an array of possibilities to channel those qualities in the right direction.
While it is true that some routine jobs in manufacturing do not need human workers anymore and can be completed more efficiently by machines, the situation is not all black and white. Technological innovation is also contributing to the creation of new job positions for university graduates, and although some job titles may still seem a bit futuristic, they are becoming our reality. For example, one of the potential avenues for the creation of new jobs is the interaction between humans and technology. As AI algorithms and chatbots are now a major part of the services offered by many organisations, we must learn how to manage and interact with these new digital tools. We need a smooth transition between the raw capabilities of the technology and its integration into the real world.
This is the direction where ambitious university graduates can head in their search for a future-proof and tech-driven career. Marketing website CMO.com points out that Augmented Reality Journey Builder and Human-Machine Teaming Manager are two examples of job titles which will be common in the upcoming years. At the same time, changes in technology are already shaping higher education content as well. Zofia Niemtus, editor at The Guardian, refers to a 2017 UK government report which recommends the introduction of an industry-funded Masters programme to meet the needs of our current and future workforce in developing AI expertise.
Important skills for the future of work
In times when technology is fundamentally changing the way we work, there is one set of skills which is expected to remain in high demand regardless of industry or position – soft skills. Technology is efficient, practical, and profit-driven, but as individuals, we may actually have the winning hand. Communication, creativity, and the ability to connect the dots between projects are qualities which robots cannot replicate yet. Employers have thus started emphasising the importance of these skills when hiring freshly graduated professionals. Educational institutions are also brushing up on their curricula, teaching, and career services to be able to prepare students for the future of work.
“The ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself,” says Dell Technologies in a profound statement after publishing their 2017 report on “The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships”. The remark echoes the importance of lifelong learning – another hot topic in higher education related to the advent of technology. As industries and jobs are changing, people can hardly allow themselves to fall behind in upgrading their skill sets and industry expertise. Soft skills should be nurtured and trained constantly. Knowledge about different disciplines and roles should be enriched in time to reflect the current market.
To be able to put this process into action in higher education programmes, Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University (Canada), emphasises the importance of experiential learning. “We cannot teach skills we don’t know exist yet,” she told Fast Company. “We need a different strategy and [we need to] make sure they’re becoming lifelong learners.” Studies have already found that experiential learning teaches students about theoretical concepts and improves their performance. Experts from academia also suggest that employers and educators need to collaborate closely to be able to adapt their programme content to actual workplace needs. An interdisciplinary style of education is one of the ways to reflect shifts in the workforce, because it helps students gain more varied skills and teaches them to adapt as new jobs and new demands come up.
One thing is certain – the development of new technologies is unleashing an ocean of opportunities for global talent. Only time will show where this exciting journey will take us.