From education to employment

2020 Vision: Learning for the Changing World of Work

Heard the one about how “most of the jobs in the future haven’t been invented yet“?

It’s an often quoted phrase attached to varying levels of dramatic statistics however there is a compelling case to argue this is simply not true as Forbes argued in an article titled ‘The Myth of Jobs that Don’t Exist Yet’ which may be some consolation to educators for whom the prospectus content has largely not changed in recent years. 

But what if we structured this contention differently and ask to what extent education is preparing people for the rapidly emerging high growth opportunities we see right now, today?

Roles like:

  • AI Specialist
  • Client Success Specialist
  • Data Scientists
  • Cloud Engineers
  • Content Creators and Designers
  • Cyber Security Specialists and more?

If we do this suddenly the content of those prospectuses starts to look a little generic, a little less relevant and a lot less value for money. This matters because from the Treasury to students to their parents and the wider business community, this is about an investment.

The business case for a course in any given College should stand up to commercial scrutiny and in this context market intelligence should be in the driving seat. Often it isn’t and it’s a common element in failing Colleges.

Education is the largest industry in the world. Declining demographics in some areas may be a challenge but there is no shortage of opportunity where market intelligence is applied.

“The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one” – Oscar Wilde.

All of the roles I mentioned previously appear in the 2019 LinkedIn Emerging Jobs Report as in the top 15 emerging job opportunities for the UK, whilst also aligned to high growth and higher earnings potential.

Screenshot 2019 12 29 at 1.28.19 PM

Is your College aligning its employability strategy to these opportunities amongst others?

Does the careers advice service make use of market intelligence like this?

The College of the future will need to align itself to the opportunities of rapidly evolving market forces and practice the forensic application of insights from market intelligence if they are to differentiate in a way that enables sustainable growth, and warrants investment. 

The future isn’t what it used to be

You don’t have to look far to find examples of technologies claiming to be disrupting our world of work, and when you do chances are you’re doing it via a smart device in your hand. Just a decade or so ago this is unlikely to have been the case.

Some technologies are indeed disrupting and shaping our world and the challenge for educators is to look beyond the hype to identify those that are actually having an impact and to align this to the business of learning. I use the word business deliberately because in post-compulsory education only those Colleges and Universities who apply business principles effectively can make a compelling case for public funding.

Not built to last

I often ask people starting a new business what their exit strategy is. The lifespan of businesses is shortening whilst the working life of all current and future working generations is lengthening so if you’re in the business of training people, this has profound implications.

These two forces are creating a major shift in the world of employment:

  • A Millennial may well spend sixty years working
  • A century ago, the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company was nearly 70 years, now it’s less than 20.

You have likely heard the expression that we live in a time of unprecedented change and there is a compelling case to argue this is true. What’s also true is that right now, this is as slow as change will ever be.

Everyone will need to be able to learn new things, embrace change and adapt to new business models that turn conventional thinking upside down and inside out to evolve into something new.

Unfortunately most people are not very good at this. Everyone wants change, but only if it’s others who have to change.

The collective challenge is to educate all our learning communities to become a learning society where skills, subjects and diverse stakeholders converge to create world ready people engaged in the world around them and equipped to make something of it. You can’t do that if you’re training people to fix carbon based cars in a world turning to electric self-driving ones.

Screenshot 2019 12 27 at 4.46.17 PM

As an indicator of just how fast our world is changing consider this.

Ten years ago in 2010:

  • GPS on phones was brand new
  • Google Chrome browser was new (now has a majority market share)
  • Snapchat was new
  • Airnbnb was new
  • Spotify was new
  • Instagram was new
  • Uber was new
  • Bitcoin was new
  • 4G was new

Our world of high growth business is now reliant on internet connectivity and agile business models as a means of survival, hence the rise of the gig economy and the cloud worker and mega businesses that just ten years ago didn’t exist.

Ten years from now, in 2030, it will be the same again.

As the LinkedIn Emerging Jobs Report shows, digital literacy is a critical life skill for higher value employment today, and for educators it should be a high priority irrespective of whether external inspection regimes and funding agencies measure it. The business world will certainly measure it. It’s not hard to observe that every traditional profession you can think of isn’t on the LinkedIn list as a growth area.

A College that puts Ofsted and the Education Inspection Framework at the heart of everything it does might please inspectors but its causality to employability and contribution to ‘world readiness’ is woefully absent and highly questionable, just ask employers.

So what can we do?

As David Price OBE explored is his best selling book ‘OPEN, How we’ll work, live and learn in the future’ our world is now more connected and open than at any time in history, driven by technology.

For learners entering College or University world readiness will require not just a specific set of skills, but connectivity to influencers in their chosen field. For education leaders with responsibility for their institutions, the same applies.

How connected is your College really to the rapidly changing world of work? I hear leaders in education make this claim a lot.

The reason I pose the question is because as an employer the only ‘connection’ I often observe from leaders in education is a request to employ apprentices. If it were dating, that would be like asking someone how many babies they want on a first date.

There is a smarter way for educators seeking to build sustainable relationships with business leaders that aligns learning to the changing world of work.

Since moving from the world of education to run a portfolio of companies I have been amazed at just how bad Colleges and Universities are at engaging with employers in a way that builds a relationship as opposed to clumsy sales pitches about apprenticeships (which the business may not be interested in).

The wisdom of the crowds

Most Colleges and Universities have marketing teams but it’s rare that I see strategic and tactical market intelligence being used to inform curriculum innovation and design. Ever been in a curriculum planning meeting where someone asks what target needs to be achieved and then as if by magic a percentage increase that aligns to it just seems to appear against the forecast numbers? 

As the FE Commissioner has noted in many failing Colleges, wildly over optimistic planning not informed by rigorous and robust strategic intelligence is often a factor in their downfall combined with ineffective financial management. It’s arguably ok for educators not to know how to do the former, but it’s not ok to fail to seek out the help of those who know how to do it.

If you’re a Governor on the Board of a College, how well do you understand the strategic planning process in this context and how do you triangulate it via external leading expertise? If you don’t triangulate it externally, how do you avoid an unpleasant surprise?

When I was the Chair of an outstanding School I not only secured external scrutiny from one source, I used multiple sources. It carried a cost but in business price is what you pay, value is what you get, and it’s all about value. 


Seth Godin

When it comes to market intelligence informing curriculum design the good news is that in our digital world we have an unprecedented toolkit at our disposal to engage with our actual audience.

Marketing guru Seth Godin pointed out some time back that ‘everyone is not your customer’ and indeed they are not, yet nearly every College and University prospectus in the country appears to think it is.

Find out what your differentiator is, and have the courage to do it, and yes, this will mean you stop doing something you have done for years and that may not be popular but it will be respected and will connect with the right people in the right way. In doing so you will be aligning your world of learning far more to the rapidly changing world you operate in.


Looking at market research the author James Surowiecki wrote the brilliant ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ back in 2004 and as time has passed his insights have become ever more relevant.

The combination of insights from economics and psychology can be combined with the digital assets at our disposal now to provide unprecedented insights into future scenarios to inform curriculum planning as well as wider services. 

Some years back I tested this hypothesis by applying a ‘wisdom of the crowds’ approach to scenario planning for both curriculum and finance in a College.

A survey was shared with a couple of hundred College staff with a series of structured questions covering finance and specific subjects areas. They were given parameters to operate within in terms of worst, likely and best case scenario type outcomes and they individually completed this task before submitting it, enabling me to aggregate and collate the data.

The findings were close to 100% accurate in predicting the financial outcomes of specific areas of College business up to three years in advance in a way that was never previously achieved through conventional business planning processes. As it turns out, Surowiecki was indeed onto something.

If managed in a certain way, the many are indeed smarter than the few. The trick is to harness the individual yet collective talents of people in a way that provides unprecedented insights, and anyone can do it. For the answers on how this is done, pick up a copy of the book.

What this means for educators is the possibility of accelerated innovation that is better aligned to our changing world. Our ‘OPEN’ world as David Price OBE would describe it cannot be ignored by educators seeking to prepare people for the world of work.

You may have seen the case where Elon Musk and his SpaceX business took a comment on Twitter from feedback to implementation in just six days.

To put this into context, could your College launch a new course six days from now? If not, why not? What’s stopping you?

If you smiled at this comment as though it’s ridiculous, I hate to break it to you but you might be part of the problem. If a large and complex organisation like SpaceX can do it, any College or University can, it’s simply a matter of radically different thinking.

In this century, whether it’s our relationship to the environment or how we transform our world of organisations, that’s a prerequisite for survival. Our open and digitally connected commercial world is about radical open transparency, and it’s the world that current and future generations of learners are already in.

In the competitive world of education, although in the UK we have an arranged marriage of ‘coopertition’ where Colleges and Universities are often forced to collaborate to secure funding with entities they also compete with (work out the logic of that) competitive advantage and innovation will come from agile thinking and the ability to evolve quickly.

The more open and connected your University or College is, the faster curriculum innovation can be enabled and the more we can better prepare people to transform their life chances. In this context open mindsets are a prerequisite for success.

I see some great examples of this in the UK College sector, one being Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT) and specifically TES award winner Scott Hayden and his team in their use of open social media channels to debate a range of topics that many College leaders would be uncomfortable about.

The result? BCoT is engaging with its stakeholders in an open way that matters to them, and it’s impressive. It’s authentic. It conveys integrity and trust. There is no ‘corporate filter’ and it’s all the better for it.

The best way to stop a robot taking your job is to stop behaving like one

will ai robots take your job

Looking ahead at the future of work you will probably have seen various articles and statistics about how robots will take jobs.

A recent study by Oxford Economics predicted that by 2030 more than 20 million manufacturing jobs will be done by robots and this was subsequently reported by journalists globally.

For me the key message from the research was that if you do something a robot can do better, don’t do it.

If AI can write my emails faster and better than I can (as GMail now does), why would I waste my time on that activity?

If AI can help me to work out the preferred learning styles of a large group of students faster than a person can do it, and do so in a way that combines unprecedented insights with the elimination of factors like unconscious bias, why wouldn’t we do that?

My contention is this, for current and future learners the changing world of work requires:

  • Open thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Digital skills
  • Resiliency, and
  • The capacity to continually learn anew

Irrespective of your specific subject of study, these characteristics are essential and should be in the DNA of curriculum design. Old fashioned structures based on hierarchy no longer work. Organisations, and the individuals in them, developing capabilities to harness the wisdom of the crowds in the application of an open approach to innovation and world readiness as illustrated by the Elon Musk SpaceX example, will prosper.

What this means in the context of learning for a changing world is that it is likely we will see a rise in authority based accountability, meaning authority based not on position but rather based on who knows what.

Some of the most effective organisations I know work in this way, creating agile teams to manage specific projects based on specific competence.

This approach is more or less the opposite to nearly every single Academic Board I see in education where those present tend to be based on seniority and whose membership is relatively static.

The office of everywhere

How well is your College or University preparing people to work remotely from any location, on any device and at any time?

Technology has removed distance as a barrier to connectivity. Looking again at the LinkedIn top 15 emerging jobs for the UK, nearly all of those opportunities do not require the specialist to be based in any set location.

They don’t need a conventional office, conventional working pattern or conventional thinking. Content designers, user experience analysts, dev ops engineers and so on, can and do work remotely from anywhere and at any time. 

Do your learners have the digital skills and characteristics to be able to work in this way and to ensure they remain healthy doing so?

For College leaders in particular who may say they are not servicing this type of sector, that is the exact point. For any College leader seeking to enlist political or commercial support for their organisation a compelling case demonstrating alignment to high growth high value life chances is a prerequisite and the ability to work in a way that aligns to how those businesses, not the College works, equally so.

The classroom will learn from the student

Colleges and universities that make use of and apply effective technologies combining AI, analytics and wider solutions to data driven insights will make the conventional student survey redundant because they will know in real time what differentiation is needed and provide highly personalised interventions immediately.

Get this right and Colleges and Universities can both reduce workloads for busy educators at the same time as augmenting their capabilities in transforming learning outcomes. The solutions to enable this are available now, although I won’t name them here as it may appear like a product endorsement which I am keen to avoid.

Irrespective of what happens to specific roles in the future, the following themes apply.


The digital age demands a new set of evolving skills. The ability to use online platforms to connect with others who share a common purpose that adds value matters more than ever. The fine art teacher now has students who will need to combine e-commerce skills with their artistic ones to enable commercial success.

The agricultural teacher will need to know about agritech as old Macdonald may now have an underground shelter where he now grows produce using hydroponics rather than a conventional farm. Digital needs to be embedded in everything education does.

It will require radical new thinking about ways of working and where we work. Would Elon Musk schedule exams or courses around room availability and existing staffing availability or skills? Not likely.

Tools such as LinkedIn are now a key solution in supporting learners to secure high growth employment opportunities. There are currently more than 20 million companies listed on LinkedIn and more than 14 million job vacancies.

Additionally research has suggested that more than 90% of recruiters regularly use LinkedIn, so the ability of young people to use digital platforms to connect to people who are relevant to their aspirations is clear.

Is this part of the advantage 16-18 or adult learners get when investing in your College?


Whether students have a specific job in mind or not entrepreneurial capability is now an essential component in world readiness. Many of the top 15 high growth professions today were not the same just ten years ago and this change will continue.

The ability to identify new opportunities and to connect with and collaborate with people who can harness these opportunities with impact will be a key success factor for future learners. The reason for this is simply because whilst machines may have memory, they have no imagination.

It’s people who will identify new market opportunities for products and services that create new growth. It’s people who will be the driving force behind the creation and application of new technologies to solve problems and create new opportunities.

Value, not roles

Not many of the top emerging jobs today even existed fifteen years ago and even those that have existed for a long time such as a Marketing Manager are seeing role descriptions evolve, in this example to include skills like digital storyteller amongst others. In the digital age the conventional role boundaries are blurring and therefore it will be more important to consider how an individual adds value across a wider portfolio of skills rather than a tightly defined set.

A Smarter World

Students today are living and working in an ever smarter world and forecasts by the likes of Juniper Research have predicted that by 2023 more than 8 billion digital assistants will be in use.

What this means for students is that the need to have a baseline level of digital literacy is a prerequisite for operating efficiently in the digital age as learning becomes increasingly augmented by technology.

Ultimately whether you believe that most of the jobs that students will be doing 15 years from now exist today or not doesn’t matter.

The future doesn’t belong to those who can predict it, it belongs to those with agile thinking who can create it.

Jamie E Smith, Executive Chairman, C-Learning

Jamie Smith Newsroom Strap

Related Articles