In eight short years, the eighth-graders graduating this spring will be the newest hires joining our workplaces. Right now, we are facing the greatest talent struggle of our lifetime, but we are not taking the necessary measures to prevent a similar crisis down the road.
Technology infuses every business function, but it’s changing fast. Artificial intelligence might be the technology of the moment, but skills for emerging technologies still in their infancy today might be the most sought-after skills 10 or 20 years from now.
Today, every company has become a technology company; by the time the workforce of 2030 lands their first jobs, every employee will be a technology employee in some way. With the pace of technology, it’s inevitable that what schools teach today may not be relevant a decade out.
It’s important for today’s teens to become “T-shaped people.” The concept of a T-shaped person first came about in the 1990s and describes someone who has deep expertise in one area, plus capabilities to spread their arms out and collaborate across disciplines. It could not be more relevant to the skills required for tomorrow’s workplace.
For teens, it’s way too soon to go deep on any one skill. The pace of digital transformation makes it impossible to deliver technical skills now that will suit business needs in 2030. Skills students learn now may be automated in eight years’ time. We can’t predict the challenges and disruptions the future workplace will face.
What we do know: Professionals must have the ability to constantly adapt to new challenges. Instead of developing deep expertise in specific technologies, teens should master technical fundamentals and soft skills. When 2030 comes, they’ll have the foundations to “spread their arms” and master the technologies of the day.
Teens are digital natives. They use technology daily to learn and socialize but generally lack insight into how it works. And while technology advances rapidly, technology fundamentals evolve over time. So, without teaching what seems advanced now, let’s teach technology’s underlying principles:
Systems are only as good as the data they receive, process and produce. Data is at the foundation of most organizations, and you cannot make well-informed business decisions without it. Data literacy is understanding, analyzing and winning arguments using data. It includes skills to transform data into information and information into knowledge.
Making decisions for a future workplace relies on a foundational understanding of how shared or stored information can inform a business’s operations. Business logic is encoding the steps that create, read and change data. It includes skills to make decisions and set up conditional flows to automate processes.
Upskilling has become the latest buzzword for technologists and HR departments seeking to keep their employees savvy with technology to improve efficiencies and drive profitability. Rather than accepting that people will require upskilling, why don’t we encourage students to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement? Employers, educators and parents can instill a constant curiosity for learning among our youth by developing programs with local schools to build interpersonal and problem-solving skills, having middle-schoolers shadow technology professionals at work, and expanding formalized classroom training to include repeatable bite-sized lessons. The workforce of tomorrow may get their training through small TikTok-like bites.
We can’t predict what the 2030 workplace will look like, but cultivating the employees of 2030 could be as easy as exposing students to more possibilities and allowing them to see the relevance of real-life work skills in action. An investment in future talent is an investment in the future workforce.
This blog was originally a Forbes’ Technology Council post.