Higher education is in the difficult position of preparing students for an unknown world; for lives and jobs that do not yet exist (Gleason, 2018). Writers agree that the future will be characterised predominantly by its uncertainty and rapid change (Ehlers & Kellermann, 2019). These uncertainties arise not purely from technological advancement but also from concurrent trends of: globalization, demographics, political uncertainties and environmental concerns (Salmon, 2019).
Writers refer to the shortened shelf life of knowledge (Salmon, 2019). The consequential importance of lifelong learning is a common theme, expressed explicitly by some (Gleason, 2018) and implied by others who refer to the rapidity with which change will take place and the need for innovation and knowledge creation. The OECD report Education 2030 (Howells, 2018) notes that people will need to develop new ways of thinking, new ways of doing business and new ways of working; collaboratively innovating in response to new social, economic and environmental problems.
Xing and Marwala (2017) suggest graduates will need to be critical thinkers, emotionally intelligent, have good judgement, cognitive flexibility and the ability to create and manage knowledge. Ehlers and Kellerman (2019) offer a future skills framework comprising 16 capabilities: autonomy, self-initiative, self-management, motivation to achieve, agility and flexibility, learning skills, self-efficacy, tolerance for ambiguity, ability to reflect, systems agility, creativity, digital literacy, sense-making, future mindset, cooperation and communication. The implications are that graduates will need to discover their purpose, forge their way and manage their futures and multiple careers (Hirschi, 2018). Penprase (2018) adds the need for students to be ethical and culturally aware.
While the wording may be different, the substance of these ‘future-ready’ capabilities have much in common (Bakhshi, Downing, Osborne, & Schneider, 2017; Bates, Rixon, Carbone, & Pilgrim, 2019; Gleason, 2018) . They are generic, extensive and importantly, although sometimes called ‘skills’, they are a mixture of skills, attitudes and dispositions. They reflect not just what students should be able to know and do but extend to who students are. There is a clear move from a vision of education which assumes the acquisition of technical or disciplinary knowledge will equip students for their futures to calls for education that is transformational, stimulating students’ personal growth and the development of generic emotional, cognitive, social and behavioral attributes.
If you would like to explore these issues further in your context then check out this 1-hour workshop on ‘identifying employability capabilities’ that you can run with your colleagues or with your students.