Future Skills For Which Future?

17th September 2019

Blacksmith at workI spent much of my summer holidays in northern England and Scotland, exploring Hadrian’s Wall and discussing the rise and fall of the Roman Republic and Empire with my children. This led me to thinking about our own society and visions of the future. Many articles which seek to ‘future gaze’ have discussed automation as a key risk to jobs and have explored ways in which we can future proof ourselves, whether through developing the skills which robots and computers find hard to do or pursuing careers in STEM, which some exponents declare to be the way to economic success (although not everyone agrees with this view[i]).

“What if we should be developing survival skills?”

However, whilst reading articles covering how climate change and global warming may end human civilisation[ii] it makes me wonder if the skills we need for the future may be very different, if things don’t go the way we envision. If our society collapses due to singular or multiple factors, the skills we may require to survive may be very different to those envisioned for an automated society[iii]. We live in a world affected by many potential game changers such as climate change and the economic instability which may arise from the inherent mass migration of people from inhospitable areas, putting an unknowable strain on resources and the current socioeconomic system, through to the treats posed by superbugs, decline in effective antibiotics[iv], nuclear war[v]or asteroid strikes[vi]. What if the individual skills we should be developing to avoid long term catastrophe are survival skills?

Some individuals from the global community known as ‘preppers’[vii] feel that this is exactly what we should be doing. Preparing for the worst, whilst hoping for the best (depending on how pessimistic or optimistic you may feel about the future).

“It puts transferrable skills into perspective”

It certainly puts ‘transferrable skills’ into a different perspective!

One of my very good friends who now lives in Scotland is someone who has these particular life skills. From a young age he had a strong interest in the outdoors. He was raised within the admirable arena of scouting and then later farming. He carries an understanding of herbalism; knowing what plants have antibacterial properties (yarrow) through to which ones are good for bites and stings (plantain). He knows how to trap and catch game, turn hide into leather, fell trees, live outdoors and produce biodiesel as well as work leather. Currently he runs a haberdashery and shoe repair shop with his wife (who knows how to spin wool and quilts).

As a business they repair shoes and tack for horses, make bespoke leather goods [viii]and sell craft goods, such as fabrics, as well as offer a 3d printing service where their printer can be hired to produce bespoke goods (similar to the fabricators or “fabbing” found in the book Makers by Cory Doctorow). With their skills set, they are the people whom I know that are most likely to survive an ‘end to modern life as we know it’ scenario.

“Beat the the threat of automation”

Yet, interestingly they also have the skills to beat the potential threat of automation; through working in an arena that robots and automation is yet to master. Alongside this, they have also looked to the future and made friends with the robots and computers. They did this by investing in their 3D printing service on the Carlisle border; providing services to individuals in the north of England, south of Scotland and beyond. They are also both highly tech savvy with a background in digital photography. Through this diverse skills set they are ready for many different scenarios.

Ultimately, life is chaotic[ix] and no matter how hard we try and predict the future with labour market information, economic forecasts and predictions of which degrees may earn the most[x] or the different skills the future may need[xi], we can never know for sure what is round the corner. Like a good scout, perhaps we should all ‘be prepared’[xii] and invest in a broad skills set which we can call upon so as to be able to adapt to different scenarios in life and work.

Chris Targett, Area Manager Information, Advice & Guidance

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