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How automation is changing the skills that matter for the next generation

NEWS 1 July 2022
Soft Skills

They’re often referred to as ‘soft skills’ — those skills that can be hard to precisely describe and measure but are increasingly key to the successful careers of the next generation.

In 2020, the World Economic Forum underscored the rising importance of some of these skills in The Future of Jobs Report. The report identified the top skills of 2025 with the list including analytical thinking, active learning, complex problem-solving, critical thinking and analysis, creativity and initiative, leadership and social influence, resilience, flexibility and problem-solving.

‘Skills gaps continue to be high as in-demand skills across jobs change in the next five years,’ write The Future of Jobs Report authors.

‘The top skills and skill groups which employers see as rising in prominence in the lead up to 2025 include groups such as critical thinking and analysis as well as problem-solving and skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.’

An Education Commission Report focusing on the future of the ‘Learning Generation’ declared that half of the world’s jobs — around 2 billion — will disappear by 2030 due to automation. Employers will be seeking workers with the kinds of skills that can’t be replicated by technology, which is where ‘soft skills’ become highly relevant and sought after. Currently, they are in short supply.

‘Already some 40 per cent of employers globally are finding it difficult to recruit people with the skills they need,’ reports the Education Commission, a global initiative that is focused on inclusive and quality education and lifelong learning for all.

The term ‘soft skills’ doesn’t sit well with Anna Sever, Deputy Principal (Teaching & Learning) at Haileybury, who feels it doesn’t reflect the importance and complexity of those skills.

“They are undoubtedly very important skills for today’s students to have, but they are actually very difficult to master and they can also be intangible and difficult to assess. You can measure academic outcomes with an ATAR but you can’t easily measure critical thinking or problem-solving or social influence,” she says.

Despite their complexity and intangibility, Haileybury is already firmly focused on helping students build a bedrock of these skills to help prepare them for evolving future careers.

“The nature of work is changing and students will go into a workforce that is unbundled, compartmentalised and more fragmented,” says Ms Sever.

“The use of technology has become paramount, which is why we’ve implemented a managed device program. All our assessment and content delivery happen through a learning management system and we run courses for students to enhance their digital learning and use of technology with the support of a structured team of digital learning leaders across the school.”

A number of initiatives at Haileybury introduce, build and then embed some of the skills identified by the World Economic Forum.

In Year 8, it is compulsory for all students to study entrepreneurship via the Haileybury Startup program. Students develop an idea for a startup business and at the end of the year they take part in a Pitch Showcase where they present their business idea to a panel for a chance to receive $1,000 seed funding. Past teams have developed a contraption that converts a home bath into a dog bath and a smart-bandage for sports injuries that measures the amount of inflammation in an injury and feeds information to an app to show if the injury is healing.

“The program develops skills such as teamwork, digital literacy, critical thinking and presentation,” says Ms Sever.

“It also teaches problem-solving and resilience because it’s important to fail before you come to a solution. It’s not so much about the outcome but more about the creative and critical thinking process and showing the leadership that is needed to be successful.”

Students in Year 9 take part in the Haileybury Incubator Project (HIP) that also focuses on entrepreneurship, design-thinking, creativity and collaboration. Students learn from leading industry professionals who share their expertise and advice about how to succeed in business. The school is also currently discussing the introduction of an Entrepreneurship Academy for Senior School students.

The Curious Minds program provides students from years Prep-12 with a range of innovative and challenging Extra-Curricular and academic extension opportunities including Model United Nations, Haileybury Hive — the school’s beekeeping program, Digitech Explorers and competitions such as Tournament of Minds, Future Problem Solving and the Human Powered Vehicle Energy Breakthrough.

Each activity is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) and LEAP (Literature, Entrepreneurship, Arts & Politics) themed to allow students to explore topics at a deeper level and through a defined learning structure. The skills and competencies honed through these activities are formally recognised by HYCreds – Haileybury’s micro-credentialing system.

“While the world is marching towards increasing automation, there are things the human mind can do that computers simply can’t. There are nuances that only the human brain can understand and articulate,” says Ms Sever.

“We need to focus on developing those skills while not taking our eye off the ball in terms of the foundational skills, like maths and English, that students need to be successful and to flourish in life.”