Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden - 17/07/2017

Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden -

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The future is not (only) digital

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution” is upon us—the exponential rise in technology that is set to disrupt every aspect of our lives. To adapt to and thrive in this changing environment we can’t just rely on boosting our digital expertise, we must boost our creative and social skills too. This starts in our schools.

Echoing international research, New Zealand Institute for Economic Research (NZIER) found that almost half of our current jobs are at “high risk” of disappearing over the next few decades.

“almost half of our current jobs are at ‘high risk’ of disappearing over the next few decades.”

Economists call this “creative destruction,” where innovation improves upon and displaces old ways of doing things. As most of the current and predicted displacement will focus on repetitive manual work, there’s legitimate concerns around what this will mean for our low-skilled workers. But destruction is only one part of the equation. The creation part holds exciting potential—we can Number 8 Wire this thing if we plan well.

One response to our techno-future is to level up our children’s digital skills. This is the Government’s plan, with Education Minister Nikki Kaye recently launching the Digital Technologies-Hangarau Matihiki curriculum. According to the Minister: “young people need to keep ahead of this change, understand the theory and science behind the technologies they use, and be able to participate in the digital world as the creators – not just users – of innovations and inventions.”

The focus on innovation and invention is important, for if it were just about using technology, I suspect the digitally-native students would likely run rings around their teachers. It is also important because creativity, alongside social intelligence—cooperation, conflict resolution, and self control to name a few—is what can give us the edge over machines for high-value tasks.

So, a much-needed response is to level up our social and emotional skills—maxing out what makes us distinctly human is critical for our future workplaces. “The truth is,” predicts commentator Livia Gershon, “only a tiny percentage of people in the post-industrial world will ever end up working in software engineering, biotechnology, or advanced manufacturing.”

“Just as the behemoth machines of the industrial revolution made physical strength less necessary for humans,” she continues, “the information revolution frees us to complement, rather than compete with, the technical competence of computers.”

“the information revolution frees us to complement, rather than compete with, the technical competence of computers.”

Not everyone will be working in Rocket Labs and Weta Workshops of the future, but regardless, a complementary, twin focus on both tech and human skills will serve us well. Empirical evidence is already showing that together these skills are predictive of future success. Jobs requiring both technical skills and so-called “soft” skills have contributed to most of the job growth over the past three decades and are already in high demand from and rewarded well by employers, surveys say. This is only set to rise.

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Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden -

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