Wharton: Want a Job in the Future? Be a Student for Life

New digital technologies are expected to take away many jobs. They will also create several new ones. However, to grasp these new opportunities, everyone must continuously learn new skills. “We will now have to move to a continuum of lifelong learning, which essentially means we have to be lifelong learners,” says Ravi Kumar, president at Infosys, the digital services firm.

By 2020, 75 million old jobs are expected to go away, and 135 million new jobs are expected to be created due to new technologies1 . Enterprises and governments are thinking of this – about automation, AI, machine learning and new digital technologies that are taking away jobs of the past and creating jobs for the future. This has happened in most tech revolutions of the past, but the sheer scale and accelerated pace of what is happening now, sets it apart.

Shifting from repetitive to non-repetitive tasks, and from problem-solving to problem-finding

Kumar thinks there may be two big shifts. First, many repetitive tasks at the workplace may be automated with machines and AI. When that happens, humans may do the cognitive, non-repetitive tasks and may have to start using machines as a way to amplify their own abilities.

Second, institutions and enterprises are likely to move from a people-only workplace to a people-plus-machine workplace. If that thought is extended further, they may move to people-plus-gig-plus-machines, where machines do the problem solving and the gig economy brings variability and agility to the workforce, along with scale. The private human capital - scaled with public human capital made accessible in the gig economy – may switch to the creative job of problem-finding.

A fundamental shift to lifelong learning

There used to be a linear progression from learning at schools to working. Now, there is a need to move to a continuum of lifelong learnings, which means learning to learn, learning to unlearn, and learning to re-learn. Kumar refers to this as the “anti-disciplinary” approach to education, because there isn’t any one discipline that one is required to master. In this construct, Kumar feels that while the technology is important, a bigger virtue is the ability to apply it in a human and empathetic way to solve a business problem. “Being a lifelong learner is probably the most valued attribute in these times of digital.”

The second aspect is about nurturing curiosity and learning problem-finding. Kumar thinks that as lines between industries are being blurred, one has to start thinking in a more diverse and cross-functional way. The workforce may need to be more diverse – coming from liberal arts, design, humanities, anthropology and disciplines of almost every kind. That is a big shift from the previous era where the technology revolution embraced only technologists. Kumar points out, “In the digital age, applying technologies to businesses will be a more valued virtue than learning the technology itself.”

Balancing between technical skills and emotional and social skills

Technologies of the future are expected to change the paradigm of workforces and workplaces and deep programming skills are needed to build these technologies. However, Kumar thinks that alone is unlikely to be enough. The skills that are likely to be valued even more are the abilities to find the pressing problems of business and society, and finding ways to apply these technologies to solve those problems. “This will need an emotional quotient and an empathy quotient to use technology to make our lives better”, he says.

Source: Knowledge@Wharton. (Jul 02, 2019). The original article can be found at https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/lifelong-learning-future-of-work/

1 https://www.milkeninstitute.org/videos/investing-cutting-edge-technologies-and-jobs-future?rel=0