Education Cheat Sheet: Preparing for Jobs of the Future

We may not be able to predict what technology our kids will need to master in our changing world, but one human skill will always be needed.

Photo: Courtesy of Honolulu Waldorf School

Editor’s Note: When I was a kid, no one wanted to grow up to be a webmaster, or a digital content specialist, or a multi-media manager. We didn’t even use the internet in schools at that time. Those positions wouldn’t exist for decades. Trying to predict now what technical knowledge our kids will need for the job market of the future can be a hit-or-miss proposition. But Kat Fitzpatrick from Honolulu Waldorf School says there is a set of skills that will likely always be key in the professional world.

It is not unusual to hear that schools need to prepare students for jobs that don’t currently exist. But how do we prepare children for an unknown future? Will their success necessarily depend upon mastering computer programs and technology? To gain some perspective, we turned to one of our millennial parents.

“The cell phone is how we got computers into everyone’s pocket,” said Liam Burke, an IT consultant at Honolulu Waldorf School. “People imagined wild things happening but no one saw the cell phone coming.”

Cell phones (and the following cell-phone addiction) are just one element of the technological changes in our communities. We are repeatedly told that artificial intelligence is our future. You can see bots in the Honolulu Interisland Terminal, buy them on Amazon, and watch them via social media. In some places, they have replaced humans in factories. In Hawai’i, school children are being taught to program, build, and guide them in an effort to stay up with the “curve.” However, even though technology promises to provide efficiency and save money, it cannot replace people when it comes to one key factor—feelings.

So when questioned about what might be the key jobs of the future, Burke jokingly responded with “Robot Feelings Manager.” He said this in jest, but he had a serious point to make: Social-emotional learning and other “soft skills” will not disappear with the advent of artificial intelligence.

Soft skills are not as measurable as numbers and mechanics, so sometimes these traits don’t receive as much attention as technology but that doesn’t lessen the importance of these traits.

For example, Burke said, let’s say people didn’t know they could get stronger by exercising. If a person couldn’t pick up a heavy object, but then could a few weeks later, it would appear magical. That’s what he says our understanding of soft skills is like.

“We as a society, don’t teach [those skills] but we recognize them when we see them,” he says. “We know they are important and needed.”

In a future where robots may dominate, we will need to be explicitly clear about the difference between people and machines. This will be necessary in order to capitalize on the advantages and aptitudes that human beings have—and that robots can never develop. It can be a confusing concept in a world where we have been forcefed that hardware and software is the key to advancement.

“So that’s probably a job of the future,” Burke adds, “teaching people soft skills— systematically training people to handle it when a new crazy thing happens [like the advent of the cell phone]. They can take it and analyze it and see how it will apply and how to handle it organizationally and when it comes to projects.”

“I am not the best at coding” he concluded, “but I know how to look at a project, analyze what action steps are needed, prioritize them, communicate them to the people involved and then problem-solve when unexpected problems come up. Those are skills that are under-taught but that will never not be needed.”

Of course, inventors will continue the quest for more human-like robots, with more emotion-based responses. Will that mean we will need people to manage robot feelings in the future? It’s a far-fetched concept, to be sure. Will we need to learn better how to manage the relationships and emotional intelligence that goes into organizational and project management? Undoubtably.

After all, if it just took hardware and flashy apps, all the world’s problems would have been transformed when the cell phone made its debut.

Parent Homework

  • Create a time and place to spend non-screen time with your child or children. Some ideas:
  1. Go for a hike on a nature trail
  2. Watch a sunset from a lookout or the beach
  3. Spend some time with a baby or a baby animal
  • During this time together, focus on being present. Resist the urge to look up trail names, take photos, or research baby or animal habits.
  • After the encounter—perhaps over a meal or with a snack–ask your child(ren)’s about the experience. Listen for what part of their responses echo their feeling life:
  1. Did they express curiosity about at anything on the hike? Or perhaps express annoyance about the bugs?
  2. Did they express wonder or awe at the sunset? Did they notice how it was time to go inside once it started to get dark?
  3. Did they notice how much a baby or baby animal needed care and love?
  • When it seems appropriate (a later time might be best), bring up the fact that only humans can experience curiosity, wonder, awe, interest, annoyance, and need. Also mention only humans can respond to these feelings with joy and with empathy—that’s why it is a gift to be human! And that is why we we will always need humans who can work with emotional intelligence in the world.

Kat Fitzpatrick, MFA, grew up on Maui and sent her children to Haleakala Waldorf School when she realized the importance of soft-skills in an increasingly complex world. She is now the Director of Advancement at Honolulu Waldorf School and enjoys seeing the many ways today’s children can delight in the gifts of being human.