Understand the four Super Skills that can help future proof your children’s employability.


It may seem downright silly for me to start worrying about my four year old’s chances of getting a job. We’re talking about at least 15 to 20 years before the little one would actually start looking for full time employment. To be fair, it does seem like an overkill.

Yet, these days we’re seeing more and more news about the threat of robots, AI (artificial intelligence) and their disruptive impact on the job market. There’s now even a popular website aptly called “Will robots take my job” that classifies the risk of automation for over 700 jobs. You simply punch in a job title and it will spit out the job’s chances of being automated in the future. I had a go at it and thankfully it said “Writers & Authors” had only a 3.8% chance of automation.

As a parent, all of this got me thinking – What would the future job market look like for my two young preschool children? What would employability mean in 10 to 20 years? What are the practical work skills that my children would need to do well in a world where intelligent machines would play a larger role in our daily lives?

In my search, I came across the Four Cs or the Four Super Skills of 21st century learning – Creativity, Collaboration, Critical thinking and Communication. This framework was established by US based non-profit P21, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning which was founded in 2002 and represented by business leaders, educators and policymakers.

I believe the Four Cs accurately represent the skills our kids need for jobs of the future. This has helped me frame why and what we can do today to prepare our preschoolers for the new workplace. Here is my take on on the Four Cs.

Creativity

A 2015 University of Oxford study has shown that creative jobs have been and will likely be more resistant to automation in the future. Observers argue that this does not mean that we will need more artists, musicians or playwrights in the future (though I cannot see why not!). It does however mean that when cheaper computing power and advancing AI drive repetitive task-based jobs toward automation, creative thinking will be a highly value added skill which can help future employees stand out from others.

A good memory and reliance on pure hard work may no longer be enough. There will be a stronger need for future employees to display their creative abilities in solving problems and applying new technologies for product development. More importantly, creativity will remain difficult (though not impossible) for machines to automate.

The bit of good news here is experts now believe that creativity is more a skill that can be cultivated rather than a natural inborn gift. To add to this, many of us parents have already started fostering creativity in our little ones. Who would have known that all our weekend art and craft sessions and make believe activities are contributing to better odds of gainful employment for our children.

There are plenty of books and articles out there on how to encourage and develop creativity but I find Christine Carpenter’s article quite useful. One of her seven ways to foster creativity in kids particularly resonated with me and how I should shape activities for my kids at home. She mentioned that “you need to foster a creative atmosphere” and can do so by making “your home a Petri dish for creativity”. Within the safe confines of your home, you should encourage your preschooler to make mistakes and learn to not be afraid of failure as fear of failure will curb creative thought. Your home should also be a place where you “celebrate innovation and creativity” and where creative expression in art, music, nature, science and technology is proudly displayed.

Collaboration

Many of us today are already working in teams that span across multiple geographical, cultural, language and commercial (permanent/contract) boundaries. As technology steadily advances, we will see the job marketplace and businesses continue to break current conventions. This means that collaborating and effectively influencing outcomes within diverse teams and across different platforms will be a much needed skill set in the future.

A Harvard University associate professor David Deming has argued that “the modern workplace, where people move between different roles and projects, closely resembles pre-school classrooms, where we learn social skills such as empathy and cooperation”. Reading this, I felt surprised by how fundamentally important collaborative and interpersonal skills are to our children’s future success and yet how little value has been placed on it in our formal education process.

The good thing is – I now more than ever understand why we need to encourage better interpersonal skills in our children. Although the preschool classroom will likely be the primary place where our kids develop collaborative and other soft skills, parents too can play an important reinforcing role. In an article called “Teaching kids to collaborate”, the authors listed down five practical ways parents can participate and help to hone collaboration skills at home. I could identify heartily with two of these points – “acknowledge and support children when they work well together (or with others)” and the other is to “talk about stepping into someone else’s shoes to teach empathy”. I believe that empathy and the spirit of cooperation are cornerstones of effective team collaboration and as parents of young children we should start fostering these qualities in our kids.

Critical thinking

During a Bloomberg interview, billionaire Shark Tank investor, Mark Cuban said that the automation of automation is coming and when that happens, hard technological skills like programming and engineering will stop being as important as they are today. He believes that when this technological equaliser sweeps across all industries, workers who can offer different and unique perspectives on business information will become more valuable. This requires critical thinking.

In an article titled “7 Critical Skills for the Jobs of the Future”, the author rightly highlighted an important issue in our education system – “We spend so much time teaching students how to answer questions that we often neglect to teach them how to ask them”. The ability to solve problems lies in the asking the right questions which in turn sets the foundation for critical thinking.

As parents of preschoolers, we need to prepare them to think better. This means we should encourage them to be more open minded, to approach problems from alternative angles and identify different solutions. An important aspect of support a parent can commit to is to consistently provide responsible and sound responses to questions (even when they come repeatedly). The Foundation for Critical Thinking has developed a standard of 5 qualities (be clear, be accurate, be relevant, be logical, be fair) which can help kids think better. However, as a parent of a preschooler I found the reference from an article in the Roots of Action site more useful and of immediate practical value.

Communication

Experts at the World Economic Forum (WEC) believe that by 2025, 90% of the world’s population will have regular access to the internet. The ubiquity of (connected) computing globally will also mean growth in access to global talent particularly from populations where communication was previously not viable. This is why it’s unsurprising that the WEC also lists “digital communication” as one of the “8 digital skills we must teach our children” which they have defined as having the “ability to communicate and collaborate with others using digital technologies and media”.

Whether we like it or not, our children are growing up in a world where online connectivity and digital media exposure is more pervasive than ever. A 2016 study has shown that the average age for a child in the US owning their first smartphone is now 10.3 years and that 64% of US kids now have internet access via their own laptop or tablet compared to 42% in 2012. As a parent, I’m eager to expose my kids very early to technologies that will play a large part of their learning, formal education and subsequently employment. At the same time, I am weary of the risks that come along with it like overexposure and unwelcomed online behaviour.

An article I read from an author who is both a teacher and a parent clearly identifies the two areas important in the development of our children’s communication skills. Firstly, they would need “practical skills, such as typing, common word processing, effective presentation abilities and an understanding of digital note taking and mind mapping tools”. Second and more importantly, they would need to “learn to effectively navigate the internet; understanding the nuances of search, discerning good content from bad, and comprehending the importance of e-safety”. As parents of preschoolers, it is our responsibility to teach and guide our children how to use new technology both effectively and responsibly.

As I wrap up this article, I would like to share a viewpoint from digital media expert, Shelly Palmer. He believes that our goal is to “anticipate what parts of our work will be fully automated and what parts of our work will be so hard for machines to do that man-machine partnership is the most practical approach”.

The Four Cs represent human qualities and skills that I anticipate will stand resistant to automation. If properly imparted on our young children, these skills will provide them with the necessary advantage to manoeuvre in the AI and technologically fuelled job market of the future.


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