The tough choice of education

Jesper Bo Jensen, Ph.d., Futurist / 21. nov 2017

The answer isn’t that simple. We know a lot about work in the future, but less about the educations themselves.

Industry 4.0, robots and thinking machines with artificial intelligence will soon become an everyday thing on the Danish job market. At the same time, a lot of people go to work and do largely the same task as they did the day before. People are building, cleaning, producing machines and teaching all over the country. We’re taking care of children, the sick, the elderly and many others. We’re moving wares on the highways. But it’s an illusion. More and more help is coming from machines, robots and computers. Both on the expert side of things where it’s changing academic work and in the production side where it’s automating the repetitive, manual labor.

What they have in common is that the new technologies target the repetitive, routine work – both the academic and the manual. That’ll be the jobs that will disappear in a few years. On the other hand, it means we’ll be able to do a lot more of the work that isn’t based in routine and that we will have far better options to work with relations to other people. Architects can create rather than illustrate. The toolmaker can craft unique products with the help of programmable robots. The school teacher can focus on every student and leave cramming and exercises to digital teaching systems.

That’s also a little closer to a recommendation of educations for the future. It’s important to pick a direction that will give you the opportunity to work with the unique, the exceptions and the non-routine. The human relations will have a prominent role in many jobs in the future. It’s important not to choose educations in which there soon won’t be actual jobs with that content. That’s both in production and in the academic subjects. Choose an education that is aimed at a new type of jobs that already exists, or put yourself in a position where you can create your own job from your education.

Finally we know that there will be a shortage of skilled workers in the coming years. The skilled workers in certain groups even have quite a high salary. Just ask in the field of metalworking or in the parts of construction where there’s the highest shortage of workers. We also know that some of the academic educations are having large problems with post-graduation unemployment. So be sure to look at unemployment statistics and other circumstances before haphazardly choosing an education. This is for example the case in the Humanities, though not all subjects there are affected. We also know that even today, there’s a shortage of doctors and other healthcare workers.

The most important thing, though – choose something you like. It’s the passion that’ll keep you moving forward. If we’re passionate about something, we’ll do much better at it than if we’re not really interested. Optimally you pick a direction that will also give you the opportunity of learning how to interact with people, to develop and to think independently and critically. In the future, organizations will be populated by people who can think for themselves, deliver new solutions to old and new challenges and who are really good at cooperating.

The honest answer is that we don’t know the need for certain educational backgrounds in the future. So you young people absolutely have to choose something that interests you. For some of you, it’s far better to become a good skilled worker than a half-bad academic. These days, it’s better to be a good skilled worker than a good academic as well, but that’s because of the upturn in construction and that too many academics are being trained in many subjects.

A lot of medium-length educations have very good job prospects today, such as nurses, laboratory technicians, technicians, while both nursery teachers and teachers have gone from shortage to there being too many new graduates. Quite a few craftsmen had problems finding jobs during the crisis years, but now there’s a shortage of them in many parts of the country. Industrial technicians, blacksmiths and many other educations used in production companies and other businesses are in short supply and very often, it’s only possible to fill job positions by taking in foreign labor.

It’s important to understand that it’s not better or more prestigious to have as long an education as possible. It’s more important to have a good education, rather than a long one. We have to learn again that education is something that needs to adapt to us and what we as individuals are good at, and that it’s not a race to the longest possible education.

Changing directions later in your work life

Not too long ago, choosing an education meant choosing for life. Blacksmith, mechanic, nurse, doctor, teacher for the rest of your life. Since then, many have started changing directions later in life through continuing education or changing careers. It’s a trend we expect to only grow stronger in the future. More will start life as skilled workers and then later add new aspects to their education and have other jobs.

Many with medium-length educations will later in life educate themselves in new directions such as management, consulting or academic qualifications. Others will take the big leap and start all over in a new line of work as 40 or 50 year olds. It’s all due to our work life becoming longer and that changes in society are speeding up.

Published here 2017

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