A recent article from the University of California’s Chief Innovation Officer, about the impact of disruptive technologies on jobs and skills, poses critical questions about how we connect learning to jobs—today, and in the future.

Udacity - Future of Work

Everyone from politicians to policy makers, utopianists to university professors, innovators to investors, is talking about the future of work, the fourth industrial revolution, and the automation age. It’s hard to avoid these topics, and if you’re between the ages of, say, 16 and 80, you probably shouldn’t avoid them.

Our work lives are changing, and depending on how we manage the transition, this could either be a new golden age, or a serious shock to the system.

At Udacity, we’re engaged in helping lifelong learners across the globe empower themselves through learning, in order to build rewarding lives and careers. As such, we’re acutely aware of the looming changes—the theories around how it’s going to happen, and what it’s all going to mean.

We engage every day with innovators, educators, students, and administrators, to better understand what education needs to do, be, and represent as we move forward. We work with recruiters, hiring managers, entrepreneurs, and executives, to better forecast what skills will be needed, where the demand will be, and what career advancement will look like in the days, years, and decades to come. We collaborate with individuals, startups, and global corporations, to better understand how and where the work of the future will happen. In short, we spend a vast amount of time learning from anyone and everyone about what the future holds, and how we can best prepare our students to succeed.

We listen, we talk, we watch, we ask, and we read.

One article that recently impressed us for its ambitious scope, rich degree of insight, and clear-eyed understanding of where the world is heading, is a post by Christine Gulbranson, the Chief Innovation Officer for the University of California System. The article is entitled The Future of Work: The Impact of Disruptive Technologies on Jobs and Skills. Here is a sample of the wisdom Gulbranson shares in this provocative and timely piece:

“It’s not difficult to make some basic calculations about what skill sets will be needed in the future: automate predictable manual labor jobs and the skills demanded for such jobs decreases. More automated factories will increase the demand for hard skills in mechanical engineering, software architecture, coding, algorithms, data structures, data analysis/data science, and machine architecture/design. Increasing gene editing and robotic surgery will increase the demand for software engineers and mechanical engineers who also have medical skills. Move to IoT cities and policy makers and lawyers will need to understand coding, software architecture, economics, and more, on top of what they’re expected to know today.

Clearly with a rise of connected devices and infrastructure, machines, AI, spatial computing, blockchain, and autonomous vehicles, there comes an increase in demand for STEAM skills. However, sitting on top of hard skills is a deep and strong layer for cognitive, analytical, and soft skills. Employers won’t be looking for a degree that signifies what a candidate knows: they will be looking for someone who can learn, combine and analyze, problem-solve, create, and adjust.”

It’s that last sentence that especially resonated with us, because this echoes exactly what we hear directly from employers every single day. The pace of modern business and the rapid advance of technology have significantly altered the hiring landscape in such a way that characteristics such as agility, growth mindset, adaptability, creativity, and grit have emerged as the most important factors in predicting a successful hire.

That’s not to say that acquired skills don’t matter—they do!—but the ability to learn new skills has become just as important as the skills you already possess.

This is also not to say that educational pedigree doesn’t have a place any longer—it does—but what constitutes credible pedigree is changing rapidly. As we’ve learned in the years since first launching our Nanodegree programs, a Nanodegree credential fulfills a dual role. In addition to affirming your skills acquisition, earning a Nanodegree credential stands as evidence that you are a self-motivated problem-solver who possesses grit and determination. Put another way, earning a Nanodegree credential is a literal enactment of your hireability—you effectively prove that you’re exactly the kind of lifelong learner modern industry wants to find and hire.

Gulbranson’s article concludes on a sobering note of caution:

“Finally, as we already know today, if education can’t keep up with changing industry, then the skills gap will hinder technological advancement and adoption.”

She goes on to ask some powerful questions, such as:

  • Are students learning how to learn, handle high complexity, and be flexible?
  • Are they learning how to make the invisible visible, and how to make good decisions using data and analysis?
  • Are there solutions that don’t cost an arm and a leg and last four years when the industry needs a software engineer who is also a psychologist to create a product that detects the mood of drivers and auto-shuts off the car appropriately?

We’re proud to be part of a new generation of education providers offering learning opportunities that represent a “yes” answer to all the above, and we’re grateful to innovators like Christine Gulbranson who are out there asking the hard questions, and providing the right answers.

Most of all, we’re excited on behalf of our students. Through your commitment to lifelong learning, you are building rewarding lives for yourselves and your loved ones. You are helping to ensure the vibrancy and dynamism of a new approach to learning. And you are helping to shape and define the future of work—not as passive actors, but as active leaders.

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