The COVID pandemic changed our world in many ways. Some shifts, already apparent, influence our daily lives. Others are still emerging and may not be clear for some time. Some of the changes are specific to how we live our lives. Others are more general and may have an impact on how we work and relate to others. Many of these trends also have implications for how we prepare our students for the lives and work that lie ahead for them.
Among these shifts are several post-COVID trends in the business world that deserve our attention as we contemplate the experiences we offer to our students and the preparation they will need to compete in a rapidly changing work environment. Here are four key trends increasingly shaping strategies adopted by leading businesses and providing implications for us to consider.
Trend #1. Business strategy is increasingly driven by three “A’s” (artificial intelligence, automation, and analytics).
While the pandemic slowed or stopped activity in many areas of life, leading businesses, for key tasks, used the interruption to invest resources to automate their work, thus decreasing their dependence on human performance. They also moved toward greater reliance on artificial intelligence to design processes, solve problems, and create opportunities. Meanwhile, sophisticated analytics increasingly monitor these shifts and provide real time information regarding what’s working, what needs adjusting, and what problems need addressing.
Future workers need the ability to support technology that will perform key organizational functions and operations. Familiarity with emerging applications and implications of artificial intelligence will give our students an advantage in our rapidly evolving work environment. Understanding statistics and other mathematical concepts will be crucial to success in new roles. To what extent are we exposing our students to new developments in and applications of technology? How well are our students prepared to use mathematical thinking and skills to contribute in this new world?
Trend #2. Worker success measures have shifted from IQ to EQ to AQ.
Not long ago our society valued the intellectual intelligence, or IQ, of learners and workers as the key driving factor for education and career success. Then the focus shifted and broadened to include emotional intelligence, or EQ. Now, employers increasingly want workers with a high adaptability quotient, or AQ. The rapid pace of change in the workplace increasingly demands that workers are flexible, adaptable, capable of performing new roles, capable of adopting new practices, and capable of building new behaviors in short time spans.
Intellectual capacity remains important, as does emotional intelligence. However, constant change, new challenges, and shifting expectations demand that we nurture in students the skills necessary to adjust to their environment quickly and smoothly. What experiences are we designing and presenting to students to prepare them to successfully respond to changes in the work roles they’ll fill, respond to expectations presented to them, and respond to skills demanded of them?
Trend #3. Employers are placing less emphasis on degrees and more on skills and potential.
Formal degrees will remain important, but they’ll be given less weight on their own. Employers progressively want to know what skills potential employees bring and how motivated they are to continue learning. Rapid changes in work environments, expectations, and skill needs will make it increasingly imperative that workers not only have strong, relevant work skills, but they’ll need equally strong learning skills and motivation to continue learning.
While academic learning will remain important, the ability to apply what is learned, develop new ideas, and design innovative approaches will become increasingly valued by employers. The ability to be taught will increasingly be considered only one way of learning. Orientation toward curiosity, inquiry, and discovery will be priority characteristics of sought-after workers. How are we encouraging, nurturing, and valuing these characteristics among our students?
Trend #4. Businesses are placing increasing priority on agile organizational positioning.
Agility from the perspective of organizations and employers speaks to their ability to change quickly without loss of focus or momentum. One of the key strategies employers now adopt to create agility is hiring free-lance and contract workers. These workers bring existing skills to assist organizations to shift quickly. They offer flexibility to enter and exit projects and initiatives as their skills are needed and work is completed. Employers do not have to be as concerned with issues, such as retirement, sick leave, vacations, and other benefits typically given to full-time, permanent employees.
Free-lance and contract workers need to take responsibility for staying current in their areas of skill and expertise. They need to be sensitive to new skill and learning needs and quickly secure the expertise they need to remain competitive and attractive to employers. They also must assume responsibility for providing consistent quality in the work they do to assure consideration for future work. How are our students learning to take responsibility for their learning, initiating learning efforts, and ensuring the quality of their work without constantly deferring to adults to judge their work and direct their learning?
Of course, not every one of our students will enter a work environment influenced by these trends. However, skills, characteristics, and dispositions prioritized by these trends will give our students important advantages regardless of the careers they choose or environment within which they choose to work.