The future of work – challenges for the education system

Forecasts about the working world in the near future are often gloomy. According to a study on workforce transitions in a time of automation published by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2017, up to 50 per cent of all work activities across the globe could in theory be automated by the year 2030.

Other studies also agree with this trend, for example the much discussed publication on the future of work from 2013 by the economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne. The predominance of algorithms at the workplace no longer appears to be merely the stuff of science fiction.

The German Federal Minister of Education and Research relativised these views in 2018. In a press release entitled “Work is changing – but not running out”, acting minister Johanna Wanka justified this view. In her opinion, people can shape the changes in the working world themselves, and education and research are the key.

Focusing on digitalisation in education

Digitalisation has already changed our lives and our works at a rapid rate. And this looks to increase in the future. Opinions differ only as to how fast and extensive these changes will be. The social upheavals resulting from technological change also remain uncertain.

On the initiative of the pro-trade union Hans Böckler Foundation, the Commission on the Work of the Future addressed these issues. The resulting recommendations and proposals are summarised in the  brochure Let’s Transform Work!, which emphasises that ensuring that “people take centre stage” in the world of work makes a key contribution towards promoting social cohesion and strengthening democracy.

Humanity as a core competence

The platform Zukunft der Arbeit run by the German Bertelsmann Foundation also deals with these aspects. One of the questions it asks concerns the types of activity that will actually be regarded as work in the future and how they will be remunerated. The platform also calls on everyone whose area of work is affected by digitalisation to specialise in their core competence as a human being in future. This appears to contradict a study published by Bitkom, Germany’s digital association, in late 2017, which claims that digital competence is already widely seen as a basic new skill alongside social skills and specialist expertise.

Nevertheless, it is uncontested that the education system is not only responsible for preparing all groups of the population for the digital future of work, if possible, but that it will be equally important to retain the ability to act as a human individual and social being.

Digitalisation in university education – in the business sector’s interests too

“It appears that we all need to learn to program in order not to be left helpless in the face of algorithms.” This is one of the conclusions drawn by the study 2050: The Future of Work by the Millenium Project. The Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, a joint initiative promoting science and the humanities in Germany, also calls for more digitalisation in university education. The mid-term review of the Hochschul-Bildungs-Report 2020 on university education jointly published by Stifterverband and the management consulting firm McKinsey gives eight recommendations on the direction education policy should take. The first two have a specific link to digital change:

  • Train more computer science teachers
  • Ensure data analysis skills in all disciplines: develop data science at universities.

The most important skills required in order to be successful in the fourth industrial revolution are also summarised by the World Economic Forum in a report presented in 2016. The first three skills in the list are:

  • Solving complex problems
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity (only 10th place in 2015)

It is not only the universities that face enormous challenges to create suitable conditions for the work of the future. Ongoing training for employees will also be a key factor. In an interview by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB), the research institute of the Federal Employment Agency, Thorben Albrecht, former State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, explains that this is particularly important for people with few professional qualifications. As a member of the Global Commission on the Future of Work of the International Labour Organization (ILO), he addresses the issues connected with the changing world of work and emphasises that the demands made of middle-level jobs will increase considerably.

The education system must review its objectives

The mid-term review of the Hochschul-Bildungs-Report 2020 draws the following conclusion about Germany’s university education system: “There is still a long way to go before it becomes a digital, flexible and job-oriented system.”

Similarly, the authors of the report by the Commission on the Future of Work note that the education system needs to examine its objectives and services to establish whether they do justice to the new working and living conditions. Responsible citizens ought to be able to play an active role in shaping a democratic society. To do so, however, everyone needs to have the relevant skills or be empowered to obtain them, ideally before they leave school. The report concludes that Germany's education system is still lagging behind here.

Prepared for the future?

Have you been to university in Germany? Do you think that German universities teach the right skills and abilities for the digital world of work? And how well prepared is your country’s education system for the future of work? Share your views in the community group on Study, Research and Education!

To the Community

Author: Lutz Cleeves/cleevesmedia

July 2018

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Prof. dr. Melakeberhan dagnew
23 July 2018

Too much information given through electronic learning it creates problem of skill development which is critical in getting work opportunity.Need to focus more on development of skill lab in countries with poor resource there is a tendency to spend too much scarce resource on e learning
With digitization in developing with with millions of young people without job digitization may create unrest and instability as jobs are being automatized how is this critical problem to be addressed digitization and job creation in low income countries

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