Head of Adult Skills and Innovation Nesta
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The future of work: empowering people to take charge of their careers

The world of work is changing at a rapid pace but instead of seeing technology as a threat to jobs, what if we used it to better equip workers to map their career paths into the future?

27th Nov 2019
Head of Adult Skills and Innovation Nesta
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The future of work is changing, providing opportunities for new careers and novel ways of working. Trends such as technological development, globalisation and an ageing population are all impacting on the types of skills that employers are looking for, and the roles available.

As the world of work transforms, it is crucial that people feel confident in understanding what jobs will be available in the future and learn the skills to secure them.

Nesta research suggests that more than six million people in the UK are currently employed in occupations that are likely to radically change or entirely disappear by 2030. Automation will transform retail, manufacturing, construction, transport, healthcare and more, removing some routine and repetitive tasks currently done by people.

With it comes the danger of unemployment if not managed well, but also the opportunity for human energy to be directed towards tasks that only humans can do (like holding the hand of a loved one after a medical procedure).  

Engaging with those who need support  

The revolution is already here. On shop or factory floors, robots and machinery are already being used effectively alongside humans to transport goods. Production lines are automated and even the quality control currently undertaken by humans will come next (e.g. AI can use image-seeking patterns to confirm if a car door is fitted properly).

It is not just manufacturing that is changing, however. Bank workers and cashiers, waiters and waitresses, kitchen staff and bar worker roles are all vulnerable to automation.

Individual barriers to learning – such as lack of motivation or access, and time and money to learn – can in part be tackled through the design of training. 

As the world of work transforms, it is crucial that people feel confident in understanding what jobs will be available in the future and learn the skills to secure them. People need to know the jobs and skills that are likely to be in demand, and the pathways to get there.

This information exists already, but it is rarely put in the hands of workers or students thinking about their future career.

Maximising the positive power of technology

To give people agency to change careers they need access to data on the likely future jobs in their area, married with flexible accessible ways to re-skill. Technology can play a vital part in achieving this.

From up to date online information on the skills employers will be asking for, to virtual reality experiences which help people to envisage their future careers, technology can significantly improve people’s access to the tailored advice and support they need to thrive.

There are four key ways that technology can help prepare people for a changing world of work:

  • Expanding horizons: using information about jobs that are growing and the skills they require to help people explore multiple career pathways and feel optimistic about their opportunities. ·  
  • Extending access to career and learning services: widespread technologies such as smartphones have the potential to scale-up the provision of training and careers advice, and reach a broader range of people.
  • Enhancing motivation to learn: using novel approaches to make online learning more motivating, engaging and effective.
  • Increasing long-term adaptability: supporting people to develop career adaptability skills that build their confidence and help them to navigate the changing world of work.

Our call for tech innovators

To equip people with the information and tools they need for the future of work, Nesta – in partnership with the Department for Education – recently launched the CareerTech Challenge, a major new £5.75 million initiative, seeking innovative digital solutions to help working adults across England.

We are calling on all those with products or services that can help prepare people for a changing world of work to submit their ideas, so that we can improve working lives for people across the country.

The CareerTech Challenge will focus on particularly benefiting those people without a qualification at degree-level and earning less than £35,000 per year, in the sectors expected to particularly change due to automation.

Future proofing the workforce

Nesta’s vision is for a labour market system where information about skills and careers is open and empowering for workers, and where technology is harnessed to reduce – not drive – inequalities in access to jobs.

Individual barriers to learning – such as lack of motivation or access, and time and money to learn – can in part be tackled through the design of training. We are calling for learning providers to take into account barriers to learning, and insights on what motivates people to learn. Technology can enable better personalisation of career advice and information, helping to increase people’s agency as they learn.

Thanks to new technologies, there is potential to drastically improve people’s working lives, and help people plan for secure and rewarding future careers. Together we need to make that a reality for many more people across the country.  

Interested in this topic? Read The future of learning cultures: driving performance through organisational change.

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