The futures of work: what education can and can’t do

It is commonly assumed today that education is crucial for meeting the challenges concerning the futures of work. But education cannot make up for inadequacies in other policy domains that have caused and continue to cause declining job quality as well as mass unemployment and under-employment. We suggest that preoccupation with aspirational curriculum reforms like ‘21st century skills’ and ‘micro-credentials’ promoted to achieve employment growth can be a distraction from what successful education systems can achieve. At their worst, they compromise the capacity for education to play what constructive role it can play in meeting the challenges surrounding the futures of work. We present the argument in four parts: • Section One considers the context in which education will be operating for the foreseeable future. Climate change will be fundamental. The other key issues will be changing life courses (especially changing gender relations); technological change (especially automation and data-ification) and inequality. • Section Two highlights the significance of two currently neglected but crucial guiding concepts: labour demand and education as a distinctive domain. These concepts enable us to understand what education can and cannot do concerning the futures of work. • Section Three argues that at its best, education helps people master bodies of conceptual knowledge as well as relationships between bodies of knowledge, nurtures learning dispositions, and equips people with skills and capacities that support the common good. These qualities enable people to handle changing life courses and challenges arising from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a world drowning in information. Education can also support new configurations of expertise made possible by new technologies and new configurations of power. Section Four considers policy implications. It highlights the importance of building effective institutions: agile stability in education systems and new organisational forms for occupational citizenship in labour markets. Finally, in the conclusion we argue that while education cannot solve most problems concerning the futures of work, there can be no solution to these problems without quality, enduring institutions supporting education and occupational coherence in the labour market.
Education, Futures of work, Under-employment, Changing gender relations
Buchanan J., Allais S., Anderson M., Calvo R. A., Peter S. and Pietsch T. 2020. The futures of education for participation in 2050: educating for managing uncertainty and ambiguity. Paper commissioned for the UNESCO Futures of Education report (forthcoming, 2021)