In the end, skill sets are probably not as important to develop as habits of mind. Creativity, discipline, conscientiousness, and a bit of daring are more important to maintaining one’s relevance than a particular narrow expertise. Those lucky enough to have such qualities will do well in the future whatever technology brings.
Saadia Zahidi, the head of education, gender, and employment initiatives at the World Economic Forum, and a member of its executive committee
Forecasts show that some of the highest growth in jobs will occur in two types of roles: roles that require STEM expertise and roles that are based in the “care economy.” So if you are choosing your college degree today, STEM subjects are a good bet for future job prospects. But so is specialized preparation for care-related roles that have been created by changing demographics, family choices, and consumption patterns: nurses, childcare workers, early-education specialists, eldercare workers, and therapists, among others.
However, a single skill set or narrow expertise is unlikely to sustain long-term careers in the new economy. So regardless of the subject you choose to major in, expect to need some level of competence in areas that go beyond your immediate domain once you get started in your career. So if you are majoring in natural sciences and planning to have a research career, think about taking an economics or finance course: You may have to think about your department’s bottom line in a few years’ time.
Digital skills will be critical no matter what you want to do in the future. For example, if you are majoring in a language and planning to be a professional editor, you may find yourself accessing your market through an online platform even if the actual work will require in-person collaboration. A high degree of comfort combining digital tools with strong social skills will be critical to future-proofing your career.
Finally, across nearly all industries, the impact of technological and other changes is shortening the shelf-life of employees’ skill sets. So no matter what you choose to study today, expect to have to keep learning throughout the course of your career. This requires governments and companies to give people learning and training opportunities throughout their lives, and, done right, could provide deeply fulfilling careers to future workers.
Carl Frey, the co-director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment and the co-author of “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?”
I would emphasize the need for teaching creative and social skills, in combination with technical skills, which are also least susceptible to automation. As creative, interactive, and social skills are likely to increase in importance over the next decades, online learning thus needs to be complemented with face-to-face interaction to foster the skills needed to compete in the 21st-century labor market. To achieve this, more investment in tutorial-style teaching and problem-based learning, or PBL, is needed. PBL revolves around small groups of students being taught by tutors in sessions, receiving direct feedback on their work while being required to analyze, critique, and defend the work of fellow students that directly fosters creative thinking as well as social skills. PBL has in a similar way been shown to foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills.