What the Future Holds

by October 15, 2018 0 comments


A generation gap is a cliche now. With average lifespan increasing, learning has new challenges.

Any thinking person knows that change is the law of life. There are classes and categories of change. Next to the topic of leadership (perhaps the largest block of time), researching topics of universal interest to human kind is the topic of change. Like leadership, attempts to understand it have taken place from the vantage point of philosophy, sociology, literature, management and more. Clearly, the list can be added to. Yet, the predictive validity of directions, content and speed of change are always a challenge to discern.

In the context of present times, it is obvious that technology is the biggest variable in the processes of change. Illustratively, those who cannot keep pace with digitisation are likely to be enveloped by the expanding frontiers of the Jurassic Park. The second most significant aspect of change of present times is its speed. People in the generation of this writer have in the four decades, beginning mid-80s of the 20th century, lived through at least seven generations of changes in desktop computing.

Similarly, felicity with numericals and numbers has become exceedingly important. In the late 50s and early 60s, the permission to take a ‘log table’ into the examination hall of school leaving ‘O’ level certificate examination of Cambridge University, was considered a revolutionary move. There was heated exchange of opinion amongst those who claimed to know, whether this move strengthened accurate and ethical assessment or weakened it. Six decades down the line, young boys taking the school leaving examination may even find it difficult to understand the content and purpose of a ‘log table’.

Put simply, generational change is now a passé. People undergo three to five significant changes in a life span of say 80 years. Longevity increases, pace of change increases and aid to learning becomes critical. There is as yet no programmed formula to facilitate this. This then becomes one of the core challenges of the present times. What has to change is the selection, content and execution of research themes. Higher education system in most parts of the world seem to have hardly developed a method of reorienting themselves to respond to this challenge.

The conflict between the outcomes of learning and the requirements of livelihood, as they stand today, need to be understood if they are to be tackled. The almost endemic spread of digitisation has encumbered learning to a point where video medium of transference of learning seems to become incrementally more important. Obviously, whether in a face-to-face situation with a person or through intermediary of videos, learning content would in many ways remain the same. Variable elements touch delivery of knowledge, the assessment of precision and volume of transfer of knowledge. It is there that the challenge lies.

There is one more area which needs to be flagged. If elements of change are as noted above, the sources of livelihood would also get affected. There was a time where the mason was literally the building block of a physical structure. Today, that profession is not eliminated but has been substantially taken over by prefabricated walls and structures. A skilled person, who can put them together, is now in demand. A clear case of a profession which is receding, and a skill which is expanding in replacing it.

When this is the global scene, fora like the World Economic Forum cannot be left far behind. They survive on riding the crest of the current interests. They are credited with a report, ‘Future of Jobs Report 2018’. It is their estimate that global change will throw up emerging roles. By 2022, there will be 133 million emerging roles. By the same token, by 2022, declining roles would be about 75 million. Hence, the approximate rise in the merging roles will be about 58 million. Like many reports, the derivation of this figure and its methodology is not clearly stated. It may be closer to truth to observe that there may be a likelihood of expanding the number of emerging roles. However, this does not necessarily convert itself into the actual number of available jobs. And this is the catch.

Globally, there is talk of recession and the prophets of gloom are talking of the possible repeat experiences of a decade ago. Irrespective, one thing is clear. That one thing is that skills of employability would have completely transformed. This would have rendered escalation of the ability of self-learning and sourcing of information to the top of the list. One needs to wake up to this reality.

In the future, the skills of postal service assistants, material recording and stock-keeping assistants would have been rendered obsolete and the requirement of operations and coordinating managers, artificial intelligence and machine learning intermediaries would have gone galloping.  The question is simple: Is this, above phenomena, widely recognised enough to give confidence to everyone for the future?

(The writer is a well-known management consultant)

Writer: Vinayshil Gautam

Source: The Pioneer

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