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Future of the Workforce

The Future is Here – Are You and Your Learners Ready? 

Predicting the future can be difficult. But one of two things is very likely:

  • your current job will look very different, or
  • your current job will not exist

The Korn-Ferry ‘Future of Work’ report suggests by 2030 there will be a talent deficit of 85.2 million workers. But here’s the challenge: According to another report authored by the Institute For The Future (IFTF) and a panel of 20 tech, business and academic experts from around the world, 85 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.

There’s a term for the workforce talent challenge ahead of us – VUCA:

  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

How do you prepare for a future that is VUCA? The human species has faced many disruptive periods before and, so far, we’ve managed to adapt, thanks to the neuroplasticity of our brains. So, a good place to begin is with the human brain and how it learns.

Looking at the future

While still in its infancy today, by 2030 we can expect the science of learning, founded on cognitive neuroscience and many other disciplines, to be more advanced and more targeted, giving us a new set of tools to inspire and inform the workforce of the future. Scientists are already working on new ways to maximize the power of the brain to change behavior, learn new skills, form new connections and envision new ideas. Some of the new tools you may be using in 2030 include:

  • Implants that form a direct brain-to-computer interface, allowing near real-time access to digital information just by thinking about it
  • Ingestible “knowledge pills” that alter brain chemistry to accelerate processing or deliver specific information, such as process steps or languages
  • Optogenetic devices that can turn neurons on or off by shining different frequencies of light onto the brain
  • Widespread practice of meditation and mindfulness that helps people handle stress, make decisions, and work together in harmony much better than today
  • “Coworkers” who are artificial intelligences (AIs) working side-by-side with humans

Learning to perform, again and again and again 

Challenges for the future will include faster technology transformation, working with more people from diverse cultures and regular revolutions in ways of working. This means we’re going to have to learn more, faster and to repeat the process more often. 

Fortunately, your brain is plastic and is a learning machine, but not everyone knows how to access that ability. Many learning activities are still firmly rooted in the days of medieval monks; forcing people to sit quietly in classrooms, or stare at screens until they eyes glaze over. This passive approach is simply not the most effective. It wastes valuable time and energy – commodities we simply don’t have if we’re going to survive our next period of disruption.

To make learning more aligned with how the brain works, there’s an increased focus on self-directed learning, like the way all of us use social media to find information we need outside of work. But how do you find “the good stuff?” And when you’ve got it what do you do with it? Building a personal playlist of funny cat videos doesn’t seem to translate well to the modern work environment.

Or does it?

The answer to this question is, “It depends.” Learning for the long-term requires a few key behaviors, such as:

  • Activity that involves the body as well as the mind
  • Mental effort to understand and apply the information
  • Repetition spaced out over a period of time (days, weeks, months)
  • Recall information in context 
  • Reflection that links information to personal experience 
  • Adequate sleep to allow the brain to rest 

As Learning and Development leaders, we need to be aware of all the tools available through science, breaking out of our own patterns and moving into new practices that may make us uncomfortable.

If you want to help your learners prepare for the uncertain future ahead, you must first teach them the fundamentals of learning itself.

That is the one skill that will never go out of style.

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Margie Meacham

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