"We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist … using technologies that haven't been invented … in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet."—Richard Riley, former Secretary of Education
Less than twenty years ago, a student saying that they wanted to be a data scientist, digital artist, app developer, virtual assistant or blogger would’ve been met with confused faces and the standard “what’s that?” question from parents and educators.
You can’t blame them, most of those jobs (if they even existed yet) were just fringe roles on the outside of tech spaces. And at the time, education and job prep were still based on careers that had been solidified. But, the students of the time filled those new roles, many of them having to teach themselves how to effectively do the functions of each job.
Today, many now wonder if the same thing will happen again with our current students and will there be a skills gap between graduates and careers? Well, it will. A 2018 report by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) said that 85 percent of the jobs that today’s students will do in 2030 don’t exist yet. So, how are we supposed to again prepare students for the jobs of the future, such as a self-driving car mechanic, telesurgeon, or whatever else we see appear?
We asked this question to some of our Connections Academy® teachers. Being pioneers in online learning (another field that didn't exist 20 years ago), they’ve seen firsthand how the world has changed and how we can better prepare our students with the future job skills for it. Here is what they recommend:
Teach students these three essential skills
Traditionally, you choose a field that interests you, decide on it as your major/career path and then follow the educational paths that have been laid out to prepare you for that role. But, with the future of work, that’s an outdated recipe.
We can’t predict exactly what these careers will be. However, based on what we’ve already seen and the forecasts of economic experts, it’s better to prep students with these four future job skills that can be applied to many different future jobs:
1. Complex Problem Solving
The days of insert material into machine, push button, remove product and start over are gone. Today, employees need to think independently, identify increasingly complex problems, and solve them or present ideas on how to solve them.
In fact, the World Economic Forum report predicted that "in 2020, more than one-third (36%) of all jobs across all industries are expected to require complex problem-solving as one of their core skills." Now that we’ve passed 2020, that number is way higher.
Our teachers suggest using these methods to allow students to develop problem-solving skills:
- Provide project-based learning opportunities that allow students to define a real-world problem and create and test solutions for it, like making a fruit battery out of a lemon.
- Give students more responsibility for their learning pace as they advance through the school years. These three Connections Academy students graduated high school early by taking advantage of their online school schedule.
- Track students' problem solving in real-time through an education management system that helps you intervene with help when needed.
2. Critical Thinking
Thanks to the digital age, we're flooded with more information today than ever. But we’ve also seen that there are chunks of it that are false, which can cause students to get sucked down the rabbit hole of misinformation. Not only will this hurt their academics when they use unverified and/or misleading information to complete an assignment, but it will also hurt their chances at employment since they’ll abandon important critical thinking skills that employers will want.
We need to teach students to think critically. This means differentiating between credible and noncredible sources; analyzing information for bias, logic and accuracy; and recombining that information to create new solutions and products. Some of the best ways to do this are to:
- Set high information standards with multimedia resources from leading education publishers and providers.
- Integrate critical thinking, research, and writing skills across content areas—from math to American history.
- Help students sharpen those skills in online clubs and courses geared to their personal passions and career interests.
Collaboration is more important than ever in today’s work environment. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced people into remote work and learning environments, the workplace silos (cubicles) were already trending down in favor of getting coworkers to interact with each other. Some industries have teams regularly connecting with co-workers all over the world through digital tools…an advantage that an online school graduate will already possess.
According to our teachers, collaboration skills can be practiced and improved if you encourage your students to:
- Work and learn online with peers from diverse backgrounds and geographic areas.
- Team up on group projects where they learn to plan, delegate, communicate, and hold one another accountable for meeting a common goal.
- Learn and practice foreign-language and cultural skills with native speakers online.
- Use online collaboration tools respectfully and effectively for everything from the chat room to the virtual classroom.
4. Life Skills
Life skills—the abilities and behaviors that help you deal effectively with the challenges and pivots of everyday life—are skills that allow students to be as adaptable as possible. As future jobs and workplaces continue to evolve faster than ever, we know life skills will never become outdated:
- Time management skills gained from setting up a schedule for class, studying, and eventually a work schedule, are critical in the future of work.
- Organization skills like juggling homework, lessons, study breaks, and other priorities are other great life skills for kids to start mastering now.
Learning these four skills will help prepare your child for wherever their career choice takes them in the unpredictable future of work. To help them begin the career exploration journey, check out our 5 Ways to Help High School Students Pick a Career post.