Skills and competencies for future-readiness:
One of the harsh truths about the 3rd decade of the 21st Century which is upon us, is the pace of change that results in “the skills acquired over a lifetime becoming obsolete in an instant”. And the only way to “immunise” oneself against it is to follow the advice of Alvin Toffler and continuously “ learn, unlearn and re-learn”.
In many games a good player keeps track of where the ball is going to, and prepares to be ready to perform his action at the right time and place. In board games like chess or Go, one has to anticipate not only the next move, but many future moves also. In order to be future ready, one has to anticipate the most valued skills of the future that will help one thrive, prosper and flourish.
Edward de Bono lamented the state of future readiness of education with the following words : Education is like a ship where the lights have gone out, the rudder is broken, the crew is demoralised and it’s drifting in the wrong direction. You can fly in a new captain, mend the lights, fix the rudder and inspire the crew but you’ll still be heading in the wrong direction.
One way to know of skills for the future is to follow reports of organisations like the WEF, the World Bank, the ILO, OECD and other similar organisations. For example a recent report from the WEF “ What are the top 10 emerging technologies of the year? “ lists these:
- micro-needles for painless injections and tests
- sun-powered Chemistry
- Virtual patients
- Spatial computing
- Digital Medicine
- Electric aviation
- Lower-carbon cement
- Quantum Sensing
- Green Hydrogen
- Whole-genome synthesis
The WEF had in the year 2020 produced a list of the top 10 skills in demand and compared it with the top 10 skills in 2015. The top 10 skills of 2020 were :Complex Problem Solving , Critical Thinking, Creativity, People Management, Co-ordinating with others, Emotional Intelligence, judgement and decision making, Service Orientation, Negotiation and Cognitive Flexibility.
It is important to note that Complex Problem Solving was at number 1 in 2015 and continues to be so in 2020. Creativity has moved from no.10 in 2015 to no.3 in 2020, and Cognitive Flexibility was not even included in the top 10 skills for 2015.
Cognitive flexibility has been described as the mental ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts, and to think about multiple concepts simultaneously. Cognitive flexibility is usually described as one of the executive functions. Two subcategories of cognitive flexibility are task switching and cognitive shifting, depending on whether the change happens unconsciously or consciously, respectively.
Computational Thinking was brought to the attention of the education community in 2006 as a result of an article on the subject by Jeanette Wing. It suggested that thinking computationally was a fundamental skill for everyone, not just computer scientists, and argued for the importance of integrating computational ideas into other subjects at school. The 4 steps of Computational Thinking are: Abstraction, Decomposition, Algorithms and Evaluation.
First Principles is an approach adopted and evangelised by Elon Musk. The term was coined more than 2,000 years ago by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who believed we learn more by understanding a subject’s fundamental principles. First principles thinking is the act of boiling a process down to the fundamental parts that you know are true and building up from there.
Applying first principles to anticipating the future requires a knowledge of where the frontiers of human knowledge are moving, the landscape of patenting and finally where investments are being made by the Governments and venture capitalists. It is at the intersection of these three that new opportunities will emerge for the young.
In addition to the outputs of various leading research Institutes and organisations, a simple way to observe where the frontiers of knowledge are moving, is to follow the Nobel Prizes awarded every year in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, officially the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is also included in the list of Nobel Prizes awarded every year. The website is nobelprize.org
There is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics, but The Fields Medal is awarded to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement by Mathematicians aged 40 years or under for existing work and for the promise of future achievement. It is not awarded every year but once in every 4 years.
The A. M. Turing Award is an annual prize given by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) for contributions “of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field”. It is generally recognized as the highest distinction in computer science or the “ Nobel Prize of Computing”.
Self-learning is the most important skill for becoming future proof. And in this journey of self-learning one develops competence, comprehension and cognitive flexibility. This is not a sequential path. One may develop competence in something without fully comprehending how it works. Or one may comprehend the principles but take time in honing the skills. Being fluent in both gives cognitive flexibility.
Professor Eric Hanushek of Stanford University in collaboration with Ludger Woessmann emphasised the role of education in promoting economic growth, with a particular focus on the role of knowledge capital, or the aggregate skills of a country. It concludes that there is strong evidence that the cognitive skills of the population – rather than mere school attainment – are powerfully related to long-run economic growth. The relationship between knowledge capital and growth proves extremely robust in empirical applications. The effect of skills is complementary to the quality of economic institutions. Growth simulations reveal that the long-run rewards to educational quality are large but also require patience.
An appropriate example in this context would be the efforts to raise a Quantum ready workforce.
We may conclude that the effort required in the core and allied high value skills will greatly enhance the knowledge capital of the individual, a community and the country.