Future of Work: What Skills Will Help Us Keep Pace?

From Elon Musk’s tweet that artificial intelligence may be more dangerous than nuclear weapons to the growing clamor of voices warning robots will take away our jobs, it is clear we are focusing more on the problems of AI, robotics, and automation than the solutions. While the problems are real and should be taken into account, social innovators around the world are already working to deliver solutions.

humans-robots-future-of-work-11It’s true that today’s technology is reworking the economy and our role in it. But this needn’t herald economic end times. To smooth the transition, we need to ensure that displaced workers have the resources to learn new work and children are given a good head start.

This is nothing new. Modern society has long invested in humans alongside machines.

During the Industrial Revolution, in the US, we demanded every child attend school and learn reading, writing and math. Education gave workers the requisite skills to operate new industrial machines and sped integration into the emerging industrial social organization of competitive, hierarchical, siloed businesses with employees using machines to perform repetitive jobs.

Throughout the 20th century, humanity poured tremendous resources into ensuring every human develop these skills as technologies advanced. Now, in the 21st century, we are faced with a similar task but a new set of technologies and skills.

Most of us have heard of STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, and math), but there is another lesser known skillset that will also be critical. These are the changemaking skills of empathy, innovation, new teamwork and new leadership. As STEM skills help us learn the latest technologies—changemaking skills can help us flourish in a society transitioning from hierarchical to flat, fast moving networks.

STEM and changemaking skills can help kids flourish in tomorrow’s fast-paced, interconnected economy.

Each of the changemaking skills is key, but I’ll focus on the most important one—empathy. In our increasingly interconnected world, one’s actions have a bigger impact on others and can create tremendous positive or negative outcomes in record time. From the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, ISIS, the Ice Bucket Challenge, and the increasing rate at which new companies and industries are forming and collapsing—change that traditionally took decades is now happening in months.

Hierarchical systems of authority are increasingly struggling to keep up. The systemic solution is to help everyone develop the new skills needed to get along with others in a flat, fast-moving world.

We have already seen the power of empathetic and decisive people successfully leading and navigating in this new world.

Examples include the biotechnology community deciding to self-regulate at the Asilomar Conference, the leaders of 3D printing companies regulating 3D printed guns ahead of regulators, and Facebook building empathetic conversations into their technology to manage hurtful posts and pictures rather than trying to govern the process themselves.

It’s important to note, however, that these skills aren’t necessary just for those in traditional leadership positions. We’ll all need to be empathetic leaders and innovators as innovation increasingly happens on teams where no leader is managing everyone, telling everyone what to do, and making sure everyone gets along.

Each of us will need the skills to manage those tasks individually.

Future workers will need to direct tasks and priorities, set boundaries with others, and make decisions that account for the bigger picture of how everyone’s work fits together.

The most influential people will be those who can wade through large amounts of information to spot problems, trends and opportunities, see the immediate task as well as the big picture, come up with original ideas in an increasingly noisy world, and then build and manage teams, networks and ecosystems to address problems and opportunities in a way that creates value and fairness for all who engage.

Ashoka is supporting and connecting changemaking schools around the world.

Some communities are already anticipating this future. Examples include the maker movement, the open source movement, the social emotional intelligence movement and the mindfulness revolution.

At Ashoka, my organization, we have launched a global strategy to help children around the world learn empathy and changemaking in school.

We are selecting schools around the world who are already teaching children the changemaking skills as part of their core education, networking them together, and creating a movement so that all schools can adapt their curriculums and innovations.

The message is simple: As we invest billions in robotics and artificial intelligence we musn’t forget to invest in ourselves. The better we prepare for the future, the smoother the transition will be.

Image Credit: Ashoka; Shutterstock.com

Darlene Damm
Darlene Damm
Darlene Damm is faculty chair and head of social impact at Singularity University. She has spent nearly two decades working on moonshots and initiatives designed to solve our world’s toughest social problems and empower people to create abundant futures. At Singularity University, Darlene focuses on helping people understand how exponential technologies are creating abundance in the global grand challenge areas, as well as articulating and preparing for new social challenges created by exponential technologies including technological unemployment, inequality, and ethical issues. Darlene has a broad background spanning across both technology and social change. In 2012, she founded DIYROCKETS, the first company to crowdsource space technology, and in 2011 was an early cofounder of Matternet, one of the world’s first companies using drones for commercial transport and delivery of medical goods in the developing world. Darlene served with Ashoka, the world’s largest association of social entrepreneurs for nearly ten years where she built the organization’s fundraising system (raising over $30 million per year) and led Ashoka’s presence in the Silicon Valley launching major partnerships with companies such as Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook. In addition, she helped launch Ashoka’s StartEmpathy initiative which has scaled to over 30 countries ensuring young children grow up learning empathy and changemaking as core skills for the 21st century. Prior to that, Darlene spent over a decade working in Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, East Asia, and the US on educational and economic programs that empowered youth and helped bring developing nations into the global economy. She received her bachelor’s degree in history from Stanford University and her master’s degree in international affairs from Johns Hopkins SAIS. She was a Fellow with Japan-US Community Education and Exchange and a graduate of Singularity University. She holds a patent and regularly speaks around the world and publishes on the topic of technology, innovation, and social change.
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