It’s a question that is often contemplated: what will the future workplace look like by the time today’s primary school students get there? I’m a passionate believer and advocate for broadening our learning pathways and creating opportunities for all of us as “lifelong learners”.

We’ve just seen a completely unexpected seismic shift in employment operations, so we’re more aware than ever that nothing is guaranteed. What is certain though is that technology will play a large part. In the absence of a crystal ball however, schools are preparing their students with a solid digital skills base by using a range of technologies and developing their creative and problem-solving abilities as they progress through their education.

Students’ tech experience

For today’s students, technology has always been a part of their lives. It’s not something new; it’s just something that’s part of their world. Many homes have a range of devices in daily use, from smartphones and tablets, smart TVs and doorbells, to internet-connected fridges, app-connected power washers and more. Young people are growing up absorbing the technological knowledge from those around them that they will eventually put into practice themselves. Schools are supporting this by teaching the core competencies that will prepare students for every area of their future life and work: communication, information handling, transacting, problem solving and staying safe and legal online.

Any exposure to technology is beneficial, even though it will all be different by the time today’s students become employees. Far from the pandemic being a time of ‘lost’ learning, many students have become more independent users of technology over recent months – using it to keep in touch with friends and family, for entertainment, to learn how to do things that interest them from YouTube videos and – most significantly – to learn online from home. This autonomy and their new-found proficiencies stand them in good stead for their future employment, whether that will be adapting to changing technologies or coping with the more flexible, hybrid working between home and the office that is now becoming a reality.

Working together now, for the future

Employers can certainly benefit from engaging more closely with the tech-savvy cohort of young people currently progressing through the education system. By investing in students’ futures by hosting them for work experience placements, employers give them their first taste of the world of work and how technology is applied. And they can go further than this. Apprentices bring a myriad of benefits to companies as often, as part of their qualification requirements, they will need to learn and explore a range of technical, interpersonal and problem-solving skills that reach right across the business, which gives them experience and expertise that other employees don’t have.

Importantly, apprentices can help companies address any digital skills gaps by bringing knowledge from the various solutions they’ve used at school or college and working on their development, application and use together with existing staff – sharing information with others to create stronger and more proficient teams.

Balancing needs

In return however, companies will need to recognise the importance of technology to their latest employees. These new recruits are not only tech-savvy but have also been taught to be creative problem solvers throughout their education. Businesses should be aware that increasingly, if they continue to use legacy technology without good reason or have inflexible digital practices, the talented new recruits they attract may find it frustrating to work with, especially if they know how to do things faster or more efficiently with different tools. Then it becomes a question of balancing the needs of the talent you have specifically recruited (and want to retain!) with the requirements of the business and its willingness to adapt and change with the times.

Human skills still rule

Of course, technology won’t be the answer to everything in the workplace of the future. The world of businesses is based on human interaction, so we’ll still need those problem solving, face-to-face communication, empathy and social abilities. However, the combination of these with thoroughly embedded tech knowledge and digital skills – plus greater employer engagement with schools and colleges over the years to come − will make for an increasingly capable and productive workforce.

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