To prepare for the future of work, we could do much worse than learning from Geoffrey Owens.
Remember Owens? He’s the former Cosby Show actor who was thrust into our timelines after a “look where he is now” image of him bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s went viral. The tabloids' attempt was to shame, but the public saw his example as something to be praised, not ridiculed.
Here was a man who had spent his life teaching and acting and, like so many people, had picked up additional work to support his family. The tabloid backlash was immediate and justified. Vindication was swift and Owens handled the situation with grace. He summed up the incident well on Good Morning America, “I hope this helps us rethink what it means to work, the honour and dignity of work.”
His story is something to be celebrated, a role model to emulate, but it should also make us think about not just what it means to work, but how employers can better support and prepare people for a world of work that is changing and seems to require more than one career in a lifetime.
Successful workplaces will be places where the best people can thrive regardless of bias about gender, age or background.
This is something I think about in my job at Pearson – how to not just prepare for the future of work, but to also ensure that this future is one which benefits all people. We know that the world of work is undergoing seismic changes. Trends like automation, climate change and political changes will impact jobs and careers. The idea of a traditional career or “job for life” is changing.
We need to ensure that education and employment is fit for the needs of our changing world.
That was one reason why, in 2017, Pearson published The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030, in collaboration with Nesta and Oxford Martin. By combining a wider understanding of the trends that impact the future of work with expert human judgment and machine learning, a clearer understanding emerged of the skills more likely to be future-proof skills.
While the research pointed to a coming disruption in employment (one in five jobs will likely decline), that will be accompanied by increased demand for other jobs. Skills which will be important are qualities like the ability to teach other people, solve problems, read social situations, analyse systems and develop unusual or clever ideas about new topics.
Increasingly, as automation and artificial intelligence plays a greater role in our lives, what makes us human is what will make us employable. Employers must find ways to sustainably support and get the best out of those human qualities. Three ways they can do that are:
1. Support flexible pathways:
Living in London, I am reliant on the web of the Underground. As I wrote in a recent report with Jobs for the Future, the changing world of work will look less like the linear highways of America, and more like the Tube. Pathways to employment may not follow traditional routes. It might look like the gig economy. There may be stops and starts. Whether it’s apprenticeships, degree apprenticeships, flexible working, new models of work-place learning or credentialing, employers should embrace ways to make it easier for people to progress throughout their career, even if it’s not in a straight line.
2. Enable life-long learning:
A changing world of work means that learning new skills will need to be a continual part of each employee’s lives (you can explore what skills you’ll need in 2030 to succeed in your current job here). Employers play an important role in supporting the acquiring of those skills. That might involve the apprenticeships and training offered by a group like Network Rail. The skills mentoring offered by LocalizED. Or it could be the Best You EDU partnership that Pearson operates with Brinker International and its restaurants in the United States. At no cost, employees are able to earn different credentials, including their GED and Associate Degree.
3. Prioritise diversity as a core competency:
Workplaces in the future must see the business case for equality and be able to attract and retain people from all backgrounds at all ages and stages of life. For the first time, five generations of workers are working at the same time. It is difficult to build a “Fourth Industrial Revolution-ready” workplace where these generations can succeed and do good. Diversity makes for better work and we’ve been exploring this critical topic with journalists, educators, scientists and students in Nevertheless. Successful workplaces will be places where the best people can thrive regardless of bias about gender, age or background.
This is just a start, but for the world of work to become a place that values humanity, we will need more than just policy or business actions, we will need better heroes. And we will need to be honest and transparent about the opportunities and challenges.
It might look like an actor trying to continue balancing a career, a scientist whose accomplishments were overlooked (now featured on this STEM Role Model poster) or a colleague who literally worked their way up from nothing to helping lead tech at a major company and mentoring other women in STEM careers.
We need pioneers to show what it looks like to dream, to continue learning, take different pathways and stay resilient in the face of changing circumstances and this brave new world of work.
- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.