Analysis: “Future of Skills: Employment in 2030”


Kids entering formal education this year will enter the workforce in 2030. But the pace of change in our society is accelerating, creating new challenges for educators tasked with preparing students for life beyond formal education. It’s important for educators to understand what skills will be necessary for future employment—especially since a number of jobs today won’t exist in 2030—and to adequately prepare students for a workforce in which many positions will require skills we can’t even imagine.

To address the changes in the workforce, Pearson partnered with researchers from Nesta and machine learning expert Michael Osborne of the Oxford Martin School. The research effort included both human experts and machine algorithms to create predictions about future in-demand jobs and skills. Pearson published the results in a report titled “The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030.”

The report highlights many of the topics the 9 Billion Schools movement is grappling with: the ways automation is changing the workforce and how educators can meet the changing needs of businesses and help prepare the next generation of workers. Lifelong learning is a key takeaway; the report even includes ways for educational institutions, employers and individuals to apply the information, recognizing that the need for education and training is life-long, life-wide and life-deep. Most importantly, Pearson shares the same hope for the future that we have here at 9 Billion Schools—our future is bright if we can rethink what skills are necessary for employment.

Most jobs that will exist in 2030 will require different skills

Contrary to the fearmongering surrounding automation, Pearson’s study predicts that only one in five workers are in positions that will shrink by 2030. Bottom line? Everyone can stop panicking about machines replacing the majority of jobs. However, that isn’t to say that automation won’t impact jobs that continue to exist. Automation can increase efficiency, and people will need to learn how to work alongside machines. This may mean that the same job in 2030 requires different skills than it does today.

This point highlights the need for lifelong learning and retraining. With so much change, people will need to continue learning new skills long after they’ve left formal education, in order to thrive in the workforce.

It’s not all about automation

Automation isn’t the only trend impacting the future of the workforce, although it’s almost certainly the most talked-about. Pearson zoned in on seven megatrends that will have an impact on employment and skills in 2030, including increasing inequality, political uncertainty, technological change, demographic change, globalization, environmental sustainability and urbanization.

But megatrends like globalization and technological change don’t exist in a vacuum—they interact and impact one another. The experts and machine algorithms involved in Pearson’s research took this into consideration and looked not only at the ways these trends will impact the workforce individually, but how they will interact to create changes. For example, the report points out that while “an aging society could lead to increased health care spending, it’s possible that technology could deliver productivity advances that would alleviate these spending pressures.” This demonstrates why the experts involved in the study looked at the trends in connection with one another… because if the trends were viewed strictly individually, they may have developed different and potentially less-likely predictions.

We can prepare for the future

According to Pearson’s report, seven in 10 workers are in jobs with greater uncertainty about the future compared to occupations projected to either grow (one in 10 workers) or shrink (two in 10 workers). Many of these occupations are expected to exist in 2030, potentially with the need for different skills. But we want to emphasize that we can prepare people for these shifts in the workforce to prevent widespread negative effects of megatrends like automation.

To accurately prepare students and current workers for the future workforce, educational institutions and retraining programs must be willing to adapt to meet the shifting needs of businesses so they can teach workers in-demand skills as they arise. For instance, I recently outlined the critical role community colleges and technical schools can play in retraining the workforce. It’s this kind of big thinking that is necessary to reskilling the future workforce.

Jobs with the most growth require uniquely human skills

Futurist Brian David Johnson wrote on the 9 Billion Schools blog about the importance of honing uniquely human skills… because if there’s one thing machines don’t do well, it’s being human. Johnson says working in fields requiring these human skills is the best way to protect one’s career from automation, and the Pearson report echoes that sentiment.

“Future of Skills: Employment in 2030” emphasizes social perceptiveness, fluency of ideas and active listening—part of a list of 21st century skills that will be highly valued in 2030. The report also includes a list of 10 occupations most likely to increase in demand by 2030 including teachers, animal care workers, personal appearance workers, social scientists, counselors and social workers, and entertainers, performers and athletes. All of these fields require skills that cannot be replaced, or even duplicated with great success, by machines.

Education systems, employers and individuals must adjust

The burden of change does not fall on one group alone. To prepare for the future of employment and skills, educational institutions, employers and individuals must be prepared for shifts in the workforce. Pearson’s report outlines ideas for all three groups to prepare for the future.

For educational systems, the report focuses on many issues we’ve discussed here at 9 Billion Schools. Educational institutions must focus on building 21st century skills and support teachers in their efforts by better defining which skills are important and how to teach them. They should also consider developing more flexible pathways, like badging and credentials, to allow for more retraining and to more quickly adapt to the needs of the business community.

For employers, the focus is on lifelong learning. At 9 Billion Schools, we believe that learning is life-long, life-wide and life-deep. With changes happening so rapidly, businesses must help retrain employees throughout their careers; employees must embrace their role as lifelong learners. Employers must also look at jobs and redesign positions that are at risk.

Lastly, individuals can take steps as well to prepare for the future workforce. We’ve already hit on the best ways to do this—develop skills that are unique human and embrace lifelong learning.

The future of employment and skills

The future isn’t set in stone—we can help create the future we want, and avoid the future we don’t want, by figuring out what steps it’ll take for us to get there. A thriving workforce in 2030 will require steps by education systems, employers and individuals to ensure that businesses and educational instruction are aligned, and students and workers are prepared to enter the labor force with employable skills. And that future is well within our reach if we begin preparing today.

Are there any other steps you, your school or your business are taking to prepare for employment in the future? Tell us about it in the comments or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Lauren Della BellaComment