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The Future Skills Challenge
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The Future Skills Challenge

It is claimed that up to 50% of all employees will need some degree of reskilling by 2025 as the adoption of technology continues to increase. Critical thinking and problem-solving and newly emerging skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility are becoming much more prominent.
Young woman is thinking about future education opportunities by chalk board
© DCU

It is claimed that up to 50% of all employees will need some degree of reskilling by 2025 as the adoption of technology continues to increase. Critical thinking and problem-solving and newly emerging skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility are becoming much more prominent.

Let us take a closer look at this highly topical subject of future skills.

“It’s hard to make predictions…
…especially about the future”.

This quote is attributed (rightly or wrongly) to Yogi Berra, a famous American baseball player and coach, and in this, he was entirely correct. Nevertheless, it is important to try to do so. As Professor Gilly Salmon (2019) writes in a useful and thought-provoking Education 4.0 think piece:

“…forget SMART goals use FAST instead: Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific and Transparent. It’s important to do things quickly and be open to challenge and change. This is how we create Education 4.0, rather than risk see it pass us by” (p. 110).

We chose the title of this step carefully, as the central topics in the Future Skills discussion are all very much developing, fluid trends rather than established realities. They reflect possibility, not necessarily probability, but the wider questions that they provoke are all important for 21st century educators to consider. It follows that they are also open to debate, contestation, and shaping from a wide variety of stakeholders and perspectives, so we encourage you to do just that! As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated across many fronts, it is often the most unexpected of events that lead to transformative change.

This illustration depicts the growth of industry throughout the ages. Starting at 1784 as industry 1.0 where mechanization, steam power and weaving looms were used. On to 1870, industry 2.0, where mass production, assembly line and electrical energy was prominent. Industry 3.0 with automation, computers and electronics. And finally, industry 4.0, where cyber, physical systems, internet of things and networks are used.

The recent pandemic, however, is not the only momentous event that is occurring and through which we are all living. Other examples include:

  • Technological changes, leading to increasing disruption,
  • An ever-more globally connected world, with shared challenges,
  • Societal trends such as tensions between the rise of individualism, nationalism and decolonization, and,
  • The emergence of Industry 4.0, including employment trends of automation and the growth of a “gig-economy”.

These are all wider forces in which educators, and the higher educational systems, exist. Changing ways of working, learning and living are all visible across the globe, bringing new questions to light and new issues to tackle. More broadly still, climate change has brought, and will likely intensify, a range of tensions and questions regarding the sustainability of the way we do business, travel and maintain a planet which is habitable and safe.

2 billion new learners between now and 2050.

No institution is an island, thus we raise the wider change forces mentioned above. The above issues are all implicated and relevant to discussions about how higher education is likely to change over the 21st Century. For example, due to demographic factors alone demand for higher education is expected to significantly increase, with 41% of the African population currently under the age of 15. Indeed, HolonIQ estimates that nearly 1 billion additional higher education places will be required by the year 2050 to meet this demand. As the calculations in the above figure illustrate, even if we built one new university, with a capacity to accommodate 30,000 students, every single day for the next 30-years, we would only meet around a third of this demand for places. This suggests part of the solution has to involve new models of online education.

As this example is only one of many changing forces, with the year 2030 in mind, we ask you to consider and share your responses to the following questions:

  • What changes do you think are going to be most-substantial to the higher education system over the next ten years?
  • How will these most-substantial changes affect or seriously impact your own university or college?
  • What impact do you think these changes will have on the lives of a typical student at your institution?

These changes can be social, technological, economic or, as we have indicated above, a combination of many different facets – the choice is yours!

© DCU
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