So what to do? To begin, countries need to be able to better anticipate the evolution of the demand for skills: We need to know what skills will be needed to fuel economies and move up in global value chains. That is particularly important for Southeast Asia, where the next production revolution will hit particularly hard.
The coexistence of unemployed graduates on the street, while employers say they cannot find the people with the skills they need, shows clearly that more education alone does not automatically translate into better jobs and better lives. The dilemma for educators here is that the kind of skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test are also the kinds of skills that are easiest to digitize, automate, and outsource.
The world no longer rewards students just for what they know—Google knows everything—but for what they can do with what they know. Algorithms behind social media are sorting people into groups of like-minded individuals. They create virtual bubbles that amplify our views and leave us insulated from divergent perspectives; they homogenize opinions while polarizing our societies. Tomorrow’s learners will need to think for themselves and join others, with empathy, in work, and citizenship. The growing complexity of modern living, for individuals, communities, and societies, suggests that the solutions to our problems will also be complex: in a structurally imbalanced world, the imperative of reconciling diverse perspectives and interests, in local settings with often global implications, will require people to become adept in handling tensions, dilemmas, and trade-offs. Striking a balance between competing demands—equity and freedom, autonomy and community, innovation and continuity, efficiency, and democratic process—will rarely lead to an either/or choice or even a single solution. Individuals will need to think in a more integrated way that recognizes interconnections and transcends the boundaries of school subjects. At work, at home, and in the community, people will need a deep understanding of how others live, in different cultures and traditions, and how others think, whether as scientists or artists.Footnote 7
But perhaps most importantly, the future is about pairing the artificial intelligence of computers effectively with the cognitive, social, and emotional skills and values of human beings. It will be our imagination, our awareness, and our sense of responsibility that will enable us to harness technology to shape the world for the better. Learning needs to enable students to create new value, which involves processes of creating, making, bringing into being, and formulating, and to generate outcomes that are innovative, fresh, and original, contributing something of intrinsic positive worth. It suggests entrepreneurialism in the broadest sense—of being ready to try, without being afraid of failing. Creativity in problem-solving also requires the capacity to consider the future consequences of one’s actions, evaluate risk and reward, and assume accountability for the products of one’s work.
Second, countries need to put a greater premium on skills-oriented learning throughout life instead of onSeeAlsoSeeAlsoqualifications framework qualifications-focused education, which ends when the working life begins. Skills development is far more effective if the world of learning and the world of work are integrated. It is not difficult to understand why: Compared with purely government-designed curricula taught exclusively in schools, learning in the workplace allows young people to develop both “hard” skills on modern equipment and “soft” skills, such as teamwork, communication, and negotiation, through real-world experience. Hands-on workplace training can also help to motivate disengaged youth to stay in or re-engage with the education system. But that is only working when employers are truly engaged. In our experience, this requires that work-based learning be systematically integrated into all vocational programs in a way that is mandatory, credit-bearing, and quality assured. This is something with which many Southeast Asian countries still struggle.
Employers are often in a good position to assess whether the content of curricula and qualifications meet current labor market needs; they can guide their adaptation to emerging requirements; and they can help develop qualifications and workplace training arrangements. In our work at OECD, we also learned how important it is that vocational teachers have the good technical expertise and labor market experience and that trainers in the workplace have adequate pedagogical skills. There is also a lot that we can do much earlier on in educational pathways by given children during their schooling much better information on potential careers.
Building skills is the relatively easy part of the plan; far tougher is providing opportunities for young people to use their skills. Employers might need to offer greater flexibility in the workplace. Labor unions may need to reconsider their stance on rebalancing employment protection for permanent and temporary workers. Enterprises need reasonably long trial periods to enable employers to give those youth who lack work experience a chance to prove themselves and facilitate a transition to regular employment.Footnote 8
Developing skills and making them available to the labor market will not translate into better social and economic outcomes if those skills are not used effectively on the job. The way in which people use their skills at work is important in explaining differences in labor productivity.