Winemaker Hannes Nel of Lourensford
artisanal skills passed on via apprenticeships, employers sought a large pool of employees who could work in a manufacturing plant or do clerical work. What they needed was a standardised set of skills based on compliance and speed to master general actions, not specialist ones.
This production line model boosted productivity to unprecedented levels and, by having the education system mirror the value of compliance and accuracy, allowed large groups of students to be trained efficiently to be part of our new industrialised world.
When subsequent industrial changes created the information age, the model for traditional education began to diverge from the skills most required. Rather than begin to change basic education, we made tertiary education the new producer of skilled candidates for the growing professional class of worker that would provide services rather than products. It has worked, just.
Now though there is another shift underway. Some may refer to it as Industry 4.0, the
4th Industrial Revolution or simply the consequence of the advances in computing power. Machines using a special kind of program that allow it to solve a problem in a way similar to how humans do.
For tasks that are dangerous, dirty or just dull (the three ds), our ability to use machines to save humans having to do those tasks raises two challenges.
New forms of play for new jobs
A plan needs to be devised for those currently in careers with significant elements of the three ds mentioned. Firstly, security, frontline retail, mining and more layers of administrative work like banking or the civil service will be better served using digital options and automation. The second step is to adapt basic and tertiary education to produce the employee that will still be needed.
Those fields either require human interaction and care like nursing and teaching; or problem solving, negotiation and management skills.
Humans are more than capable of making the switch. To illustrate, in the 1800s as much as 90 per cent of human labour was engaged in agriculture, but today less than 10 per cent produces all the food needed for a global population that is seven times the size it was only 200 years ago.
But there is a catch – the change is happening faster than before. Rather than witnessing a century or even 50 years of incremental change, we have already seen more in the last 20 years than the previous 50.
The answer lies in how we respond. Play is the best answer. Golfers and runners will tell you that playing helps them focus and solve problems. You may get to see problems in a new light by getting away into the country, for a fresh perspective to give you new insight. We need to take that playtime and make it part of our never-ending personal education.
The World Economic Forum reckons you may be in a new career every five years from now on. Consider your own career. Odds are you are doing something quite different to what you studied and quite likely are generating value in a way that did not exist when you irst started working.
We need new ways to add to our skills through additional ways to play/learn and you should help your children to do the same. Encourage their curiosity in all things and let them focus on aspects they love (even if it initially looks like it is just playing computer games).
Ask about what is so fascinating, how would they make something better. Solving problems that don’t seemingly have answers may sound crazy, but unsolvable problems don’t exist for kids. Even though their solutions don’t work, the lesson is why it failed, not what the right answer was.
In time, the failures will be replaced by options that just may work, crazy though they may be. Those solutions are far more likely to be needed than learning a bunch of facts or correct answers that could be easier stored in a machine and retrieved when needed.
Athletes once again appear to be on the right track. Consider how a professional athlete trains by setting a goal and working on making adjustments and practising the skill to improve a score or lower a time. Athletes are effectively only ever playing. The best are not only good, they love it too. We all need to adopt that mindset, not to beat an opponent, but to improve on our own best time, doing something we both have an aptitude for and have a love for.
The future is not about a machine apocalypse. Humans have already overcome the toils of food production to create a society where travel and recreation is at an all-time high. Taking the next steps by adapting how we play might see us rescue humans from uninspiring work undertaken simply because it is a job.
But it will only succeed if, this Christmas, your choice of toys will see your child begin to play in a way to embrace their natural curiosity and help them to discover the job that may not exist yet that they are going to look forward to inventing over and over again.
We will all play in the future, our jobs will depend on it.
ABOVE: I just want to say one word to you. One word. Batteries. The future of toys is powered. They will not replace the traditional toy, but as our lives become more reliant on battery powered devices, so too will toys.