Times change. Growing up, I could not have imagined the internet, cashless transactions and other ideas that have become commonplace. Part of my job as a college leader is to give learners snapshots of what their life might look like in the future.
When Phil Oakey recorded ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ in 1984, I was a scuff-kneed 11-year-old living on a Sheffield council estate with my mum. We had no phone, no washing machine, and only a small black and white telly. The highlight of my week was watching Star Trek. If I was really lucky (or if we had enough money spare) I might be allowed to share a beef Vesta curry on a Friday night, or watch Return of the Jedi at the cinema.
You don’t need to get out the world’s smallest violin; I still watch Star Trek and I have the local Indian restaurant on speed dial! I even have my own Jedi costume and light saber. Back then, I could not have conceived of how technology would transform the very fabric of society. I couldn’t have imagined the internet, robotics, mobile phones, artificial intelligence (AI), cashless transactions and so many more revolutionary ideas that have become commonplace today.
Part of my job as a college leader is to give learners snapshots of what their life and work might look like in 10 or 20 years’ time - and to show them how best to prepare for changes so they don’t get left behind. Technology is key to those developments, just as it has been throughout history.
We know that technology is transformative and disruptive, we know that it effects how industries operate, and we know that adaptability and flexibility will be essential for students to thrive. In this fourth industrial revolution – and in the tech-enhanced vision of Education 4.0 that’s required to match it - anything that can be automated, will be automated.
Grimsby Institute primarily operates in deprived coastal areas and we work closely with employers regionally, nationally and internationally to develop future-focused programmes, initiatives and projects that give learners a taste of the world as it might be in the future.
Our business team works with cryptocurrency and blockchain experts, travel and tourism students are exploring the rise in dark tourism and virtual reality (VR), public service students are using thermal imaging drones for reconnaissance and rescue, the beauty department is exploring biotech for leisure and salon applications, and the arts team is pioneering projection mapping technology.
But we are also considering human skills that are harder to automate. Adaptability, creativity, innovation, leadership, empathy, communication, critical thinking and flexibility will always have value to an employer. These are the skills underpinning new and emergent technologies of the next decade.
By exploring these ideas, and the principles behind emerging technology, we are preparing learners not just for jobs that may not yet exist, but for a life that will look very different - and supporting them on that journey.
A lifelong approach
When young people move out of home, their parents or guardians normally keep a place for them at the table and expect them to stay over from time to time. At Grimsby, we operate on a similar basis. If at any point our former learners need to refresh their knowledge, upskill, or try something different, they can drop back in. That is what ‘family’ is for.
However, we have found that, all too often, the people who need training the most have the least access to it.
We’ve worked very hard with our community learning centres to focus on IT skills development. That’s no longer just about teaching people to use Word, Excel or how to access the internet – although these remain important starting points for some. We have considered how we can elevate and enhance tech skills to put people into sustainable work that will not be lost to automation. In many respects, our mission is cultural rather than technological.
Embrace not knowing
In our college, future-proofing is about making educated guesses using information from leading-edge industry. If we do nothing, we’ll see our learners hit by changes they don’t know how to cope with.
The best alternative for us is to carefully consider the future challenges our students may face and try to predict the skills they’ll need. Whether the specific knowledge we deliver is accurate or not, the ability to adapt, to be empathetic and flexible, to create and innovate with technology will stand the test of time. The specific details may not come to fruition – and I’m still waiting for a real light saber - but the underlying skills absolutely will.
On the journey through Education 4.0, I can safely say that Grimsby Institute and its learners will always be together…together in electric dreams.