27/07/2017 9:44 AM AEST | Updated 27/07/2017 9:45 AM AEST

How Our Children Will Have To Combat Career-Hungry Robots

We need to focus on developing cognitive skills and creativity to future-proof our kids.

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The constant refrain of past few years that 'the robots are coming to take our jobs' has become shorthand for the new economy, one driven by automation, globalisation and flexibility.

Much of this conversation has been fixated on which occupations will stay or go before 2030. The truth is that automation is going to impact what we do in every job 13 years down the track.

To thrive in this new work order, our focus needs to be less on what artificial intelligence is doing and more on how our human, emotional intelligence needs to evolve.

The fifth instalment in the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) New Work Order Series, 'The New Work Smarts', looks at the way we learn, think and do at work, and how this is going to undergo profound changes in every job over the next decade.

We partnered with data analytics company AlphaBeta to crunch 20 billion hours of work performed by 12 million Australian workers, mapping the changes over the past decade and what we can expect in the decades ahead.

What the report shows is that as our focus shifts from manual or administrative tasks, which can be performed increasingly by technology, workers will spend more time focusing on people, solving more strategic problems and thinking creatively.

This new understanding of what it means to be work smart will require young people to develop their cognitive and emotional skills to a much higher level.

The findings of the report open a window into the future and allow us to forecast which skills are likely to matter the most -- or those which can't be replaced by technology.

For example, on average, workers will spend 30 percent more time per week learning skills on the job; spend 100 percent more time at work solving problems, spend 40 percent more time on critical thinking and judgment, and 70 percent more time using STEM skills; utilise written and verbal communication and interpersonal skills for 29 hours each week (up 14 percent); and activate an entrepreneurial mindset due to having less management (down 26 percent), less organisational coordination (down 16 percent) and less teaching (down 10 percent).

In the past, building a successful career required young people to learn core technical skills for an occupation and gradually build their skills over time. This is what it meant to be 'work smart'.

By 2030, being work smart will look completely different. As opposed to being solely focused on foundation and technical skills, young people will need to be able to deploy these capabilities in an increasingly enterprising and creative ways, as well as requiring a thirst for ongoing learning.

This new understanding of what it means to be work smart will require young people to develop their cognitive and emotional skills to a much higher level. They will need to be smart learners, able to continuously learn every day and respond to new information and technology constantly. Smart thinkers, with strong problem solving and communication skills, who draw on foundational maths, science and technological knowledge more frequently. And smart doers, able to activate a more entrepreneurial mindset, working more flexibly and independently.


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Today's primary school students will be close to finishing their school education and our high schoolers will be entering the workforce in 2030. To prepare them we must urgently invest in immersive, enterprise education and careers management strategies where the 'new work smart' skills are core to teaching, learning and assessment across all school and higher education systems.

A renewed, strategic and intergenerational strategy is required which encompasses a focused education strategy to redesign the learning system from preschool through higher education (and beyond); a new skills, training, careers education and real jobs commitment to young Australians; and a promise and plan for the equitable intergenerational transfer of knowledge, resources and power in the new economy.

Our young people have creativity, energy and courage in spades but there is a clear and present danger. The knowledge that a new mindset and set of skills is required to navigate a changing world of work is not enough.

We must collectively build a national vision in which every child and young person is equipped for a lifetime of learning, diverse ways of working, and the hearts and minds to help build the future. The future, our future, depends on it.