Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been struck by discussions about the nature of work.
All of them concerned what happens after school. This question is one that we ask from almost the moment a child starts their education. We ask them “what do you want to be?” Or “when you grow up what would you like to do?” It was usual to hear “professional sports player” or “actor”, now more often than not it is an Instagram influencer (YouTuber being passé and oh so last decade). Times and ambitions change. I remember that when working at another school I told a Year 3 pupil that I thought that she was undoubtedly going to be Prime Minister (such were her skills for oratory and her habit of bossing me about) only to be told that I shouldn’t be so silly as she was going to be a hairdresser. As is so often the case I was left to consider how little I actually know.
In schools we regularly say that we are preparing young people for jobs that have yet to be invented. How we do this is a very good question. We, like many other schools, believe that a thorough grounding in a wide range of core subjects followed by an opportunity to pursue enthusiasms and academic interests is a suitable path of preparation for the wide world. If opportunities are taken through the co-curricular programme, then a rounded education is achieved and a wide range of employment opportunities beckon. This is probably a good thing as one of the articles I read predicted that this decade will be one in which research into AI will plateau. It looks like teachers are not going to be phased out in favour of robot replacements, lawyers have escaped the technological chop and accountants live to consider another spreadsheet. “Old skills” will remain in demand.
For those who aren’t quite sure about what it is they fancy doing once they have left school then the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor Dominic Cummings gave some interesting advice about what skills and characteristics are required by the new breed of civil servants. The new breed of Whitehall whizz kids will be “data scientists, project managers, policy experts and assorted weirdos”. The first three I suspect we can help with, not so sure about the last one. In exchange he offers zero job security, no free time and threats that you could be “binned” at any point. Sounds lovely…
According to a discussion on BBC Radio 4s Start the Week, work is the social capital that makes adults value their existence. Economist Daniel Susskind spoke about how we as communities classify people by what they do and without this society will have to rethink how it approaches using its time. Clearly, I do not know what pupils will have as a job title, but there is a significant part of me that would like to think that we could be mature enough to judge people not by what they do but by the good that they do.
It would be remiss of me to ignore the story that dominated the news last week. The surprise announcement from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they wish to take a step back from a life of royal service. Is this the first and only time that someone has stepped back from their family to spend more time working? Times continue to surprise.