Research on future skills is the current hot topic of the day with fundamental changes in the job market due to a number of powerful drivers. While many studies focus on the changes brought through digital technologies, they relate future skills directly to digital skills, which – as important as they are – only represent one side of the future skill coin.
The NextSkills studies show that a veritable turn away from specialist knowledge and towards Future Skills can be observed. In times of global networked organizations and steadily accelerating product cycles, the prevailing model of qualification for future jobs seems debatable. The vast majority of employers surveyed for the “Future of Jobs Report” of the World Economic Forum (WEF 2018), released in 2018, expects that by 2022, the skills required to perform most jobs will have shifted significantly.
Future Skills are competences that allow individuals to solve complex problems in highly emergent contexts of action in a self-organised way and enable them to act (successfully). They are based on cognitive, motivational, volitional and social resources, are value-based and can be acquired in a learning process.
Can graduates really be prepared for the future by predominantly acquiring knowledge? Do we already have adequate concepts for competence development in higher education? Or do we need something new, something radical? Our research shows that the discourse on Future Skills is becoming more prominent (Ehlers 2020). Examples are lists of skills for living and working in 2030 (OECD 2018) or the analysis of work area-related qualifications (Deming 2017) (for a complete analysis of the state-of-the-art research see Ehlers 2020). What is needed, however, is to go a step further and conduct in-depth research.
Starting point for the research on Future Skills reported in this paper is an analysis of factors which influence our lives, the way we work and live, learn and develop. Such descriptions, by dealing with the future, carry a certain degree of vagueness, while being as precise as possible in capturing aspects that can be seen as influencing factors for the future: future ways of living, future ways of work, future ways of learning, etc. (e.g. OECD 2019, 2018, 2017). Analyzing the currently existing papers on important skills and abilities for the future work life, at least two converging primary factors crystallize:
- Increasingly fast technological advancements and their effects on all spheres of our lives, work and societies lead to an excess of information and options.
- Increased global cooperation, exchange and communication are no longer an option but a necessary ingredient of every process of society, work and life.
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Resulting from that, a number of connected changes can be observed:
- Due to the changes in work structures, there will be a new demand for (higher) education studies and innovation in learning pathways and qualification structures including certification and credentialing schemes.
- The rising demand for higher education will turn industrial societies into education societies where education is the means by which one can manage risks.
- The very essence of how learning and studying is organized is evolving into new concepts – from static to reflection in action in complex situations.
In order to find reference models which are capable of capturing the intertwined and networked nature of these developments, we base our NextSkills studies in ecosystem theory and cybernetics. Combining these approaches with an educational science as well as with a sociological point of view, our research is rooted in the assumption that there are ongoing changes within the structure, nature, and profile of competences and skills (Ehlers 2020). Our studies show that the changing skill requirements can be described and analyzed.
In order to be able to research the articulation, extent, nature and contexts of such Future Skills, we designed a threefold long-term research project, starting in 2015, called “Future Skills – Future Learning and Future Higher Education”. In this paper we shortly outline the methodology of the studies to arrive to the 17 Future Skills profiles. We then report about the Future Skills turn and state good practice examples of organizational concepts to support the development of Future Skills with students and employees.