‘The modern generation will dramatically change a job at least twice in their lifetime’

Futurologist Aleksandr Chulok on jobs, skills and education in the 2020s. Part 2

“Such terms as flight shame began to appear in some Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway) now. In other words, entire classes of people who are ashamed of flying appeared there. Or people feel shame about buying a lot. For our person who experienced the period of Soviet deficit, this is probably nonsense, but in the West, it is the reality. This can spread like a virus and cover more and more areas,” notes futurologist Aleksandr Chulok. In the second part of the interview with Realnoe Vremya, he said where contemporary higher education was moving and how developed countries saw their future.

“It is necessary to think not so much about jobs as skills that people should acquire”

Mr Chulov, what should we expect in education in the 2020s?

I am often asked: “Where to study? What jobs will be demand?” Moreover, now the information space is full of such bright headlines such as “10 jobs that will disappear”, “15 jobs that will appear” that stir up the choice of an educational trajectory. I think that nowadays it is not very correct to think about jobs because the profession of constructor, doctor or teacher hasn’t changed for thousands of years. The same professions existed in Ancient Egypt or Greece. But requirements for skills that need to be demonstrated to become successful change. For instance, a surgeon will soon have to know how to work with robotic surgery, interpret the results of big data analysis.

There was a case in point when the human genome was decoded. Scientists received new data, the latest data, but there weren’t people who could comment them to the patient — to translate from one language to another. In other words, the genome was decoded, but what to do with it? It is a very characteristic feature of Russia — to purchase a new high-tech production line and close it in a couple of years because of the absence of staff that’s able to service it or alienation from the whole process. However, they “invested in innovation”. So firstly, it is necessary to think not as much about jobs as skills that people should acquire. It is necessary to constantly upgrade these skills, revise and inspect them.

For example, analysts of both the World Economic Forum and UNESCO admit that the modern generation will dramatically change a job at least twice in their lifetime. The latter even have such a programme — future literacy. At HSE, we plan to create a joint department with them. In other words, such a Soviet dogma like getting a degree once, graduating cum laude and the diploma will feed you for the whole life is already past history. Moreover, the first degree is important, undoubtedly. It is the environment where one starts to think, learn to think, acquire communication skills, set and perform tasks, that’s to say, it is soft skills. This, undoubtedly, crucial because specific knowledge — hard skills — will certainly upgrade in a modern person’s lifetime.

I think that in this respect we certainly have the upper hand compared to other countries because if we ask who works by trade, there will be interesting results. I have given a lot of lectures for different audiences — from public to MBA lectures. During these lectures, I ask the audience: “Those who are good at economics raise your arms.” Some people raise their arms. Then I ask: “Who holds a degree in economics?” Other people raise their arms now.

Photo: under35.me
It is important to choose the first starting point in education with a good environment, good teachers who will teach how to learn (it is an important skill in the future). But it doesn’t matter what a degree you got — in economics, law or engineering (a very popular trend now), there will anyway be new challenges and opportunities in 5-10 years and one will have to retrain

There are a lot of executives with diplomas in engineering, but then everybody received some additional degree, and this should be treated as a given. It is important to choose the first starting point in education with a good environment, good teachers who will teach how to learn (it is an important skill in the future). But it doesn’t matter what a degree you got — in economics, law or engineering (a very popular trend now), there will anyway be new challenges and opportunities in 5-10 years and one will have to retrain. This is why from a perspective of one’s personal portfolio of skills, one shouldn’t rush for just one job that will feed you in the future, one should reason differently.

One should ask: “What will trends of the future be like? How do markets and organisations transform?” We have already talked about many of them. These trends will appear both in Russia and around the world. We are at the forefront in some spheres, for instance, in programming and computer design, in some areas of new materials and nanotechnologies, energy. It is important to look at trends in science, business, education, art. And then it is necessary to evaluate which of your skills can fit these new opportunities. In my opinion, now it is not very productive to try to get a top job.

“Students in many universities don’t write term theses but do a project now

What does higher education in the 2020s have to be like not to fall behind trends and requests of the time?

In my opinion, higher education has several functions. Apart from education, it is, first of all, providing an environment, “nutritious broth” for leaders of the future. For instance, why does everyone aspire to enter top universities? Because it is not only specific subjects. Now it is possible to up and take necessary courses, almost all of which are free, at any point of the planet, in any Russian city with the Internet. If you don’t know English, you can translate any course via an online translator. But you won’t reproduce a university’s badly verbalised environment, ecosystem with communication, with hobbies, extracurricular classes, even with augmented reality glasses.

I think that education will transform, exams in some subjects, which can be studied remotely or that can be studied relatively quickly, will be done without attending lectures, but the eco-environment, the “spirit of education” will stay in universities. I come to our university on 20, Myasnitskaya Street where I had the best years in HSE’s economics faculty. And you know, as people say, East or West home is best to think and make a correct decision.

Students in many universities don’t write term theses but do a project now. In fact, it is “combat training” that is close to reality. In the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, we have a master’s degree in English, half of the foreigners, half of our students study science, technology and innovation management there. Three years ago our students did such a project on sandbox (experimental legal regimes for innovations). Nobody talked about it three years ago. We said: “Guys, go ahead if you want.” There had already been a trend in this area in the West. They tried, did a project on what experimental legal regimes would be effective with the support of innovations. Their presentation was good. A year after the presentation, many Russian visionaries, for instance, Herman Gref began to talk about this topic a lot, a year later the Ministry of Economic Development already developed a law on experimental legal regimes for digital technologies.

Photo: kpfu.ru
I think that education will transform, exams in some subjects, which can be studied remotely or that can be studied relatively quickly, will be done without attending lectures, but the ecoenvironment, the “spirit of education” will stay in universities

This is a prime example of how good education allows studying and elaborating such breakthroughs, look ahead and, most importantly, not to be afraid of making mistakes. But for this purpose, teachers have to take another training. Today we still often can meet a teacher who works like walking book, goes and reads his monography written by him 30 years ago. If you want to pass an exam in his subject, learn the manual. Such teachers are already passé. A teacher must become a mentor, helper, partner, friend, mastermind, sometimes even a coach. He must know how to give a tip, show reasonable options, not simply make one learn something by heart without thinking. Now human memory has already shifted to the cyberspace in many ways — nobody keeps dates of revolutions, who and when was born in mind, all the memory shifted to the Internet. I am not saying this is absolutely good. Perhaps an educated person also should remember a lot of details. Another case is that there is so much information now…

We talked about the skill of critical thinking, that one should train oneself and children to tell the truth from the myth because now fake is just a scourge. Today artificial intelligence allows writing such texts that scientists can’t brush off as invented. Just a few years ago an article written by artificial intelligence got to a serious scientific magazine, in other words, it went through all human reviewers. By the way, the magazine itself was about AI.

So teachers should direct, inspire, instruct more. It is a big challenge for Russian colleagues, but they also should change. We have top teachers and entire good scientific schools, but we need more of such leading mentors. It is an important trend. In the end, I think that this decade will become an era to realise opportunities. In other words, people will able to do what they really want themselves.

And a big question arises here: do we know how to want? It is a separate talk about the economy. Do our people know how to want and dream because I have a feeling that some generations’ this desire was discouraged. I mean the main goal was to survive, no time to dream. And it is important for the collective and the companies, people should have such freedom of desires inside. And we start to have it, but echoes of Perestroika remain.

Photo: kpfu.ru
We have top teachers and entire good scientific schools, but we need more of such leading mentors. It is an important trend

“China is displacing dirty production outside the country

You talked about the programme Society 5.0. How do foreign countries see their future?

First of all, both economists and politicians are very concerned about inequality issues. Though, from my point of view, there is more concern than real actions. Secondly, of course, it is environmental issues. Do you remember Greta Thunberg’s buzz last year? Here it is the same story. It has been talked about the environment for decades already, but there are few real actions, though the environmental topic will be raised without doubt.

For instance, such terms as flight shame began to appear in some Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway) now. In other words, entire classes of people who are ashamed of flying appeared there. Or people feel shame about buying a lot. For our person who experienced the period of Soviet deficit, this is probably nonsense, but in the West, it is the reality. This can go viral as a virus and cover more and more areas. According to marketing surveys in same America, about 80% of the respondents were ready to refuse to purchase a product or service if the company making them behaved unethically. But what is ethical and what’s not? It is a separate big talk. But people even in Russia became to think about it, last year a forum about ethic and business was held in Skolkovo.

This is why the trend will be aimed at providing relative equality and improving the quality of life. Look at same China. They grew very actively, invested in the economy, in fact, sacrificing their citizens’ health, which meant nothing once. And now, on the contrary, they announce the programme Clear Sky. China is displacing dirty production outside the country. They are heavily investing in other countries to make theirs more environmentally friendly. And, yes, it is China we considered so low-tech. It is a thing of the past. It remained such in our heads.

Aren’t there any big revolutionary changes forecasted in the West?

There can be different forecasts, and revolutionary scenarios are also a part of the big picture of the future. Among the brightest jokers I would single out human immortality (some futurologists expect it in 2045-2050), a transition to nano-factories (when whatever can be made at home) by 2030-2035, maybe solution of energy issues, though the history of big promises is already measured in decades.

There was recently the news that Paris stopped issuing licences to circuses with animals. India recognised dolphins personalities with special rights and prohibited dolphinariums. Is there a trend for a more humane attitude to animals?

Not only to animals, the environment in general. One just shouldn’t forget that these trends closely correlate with the level of economic well-being — nobody hasn’t cancelled survival instincts yet. But thanks to new technologies, I think that humankind has a chance and develop itself and care about others.

Photo: kiozk.ru
It has been talked about environment for decades already, but there are few real actions, though the environmental topic will be raised without doubt

Could you recommend a few books that will help to see the near future and allow acquiring the skill that is important for managers?

Among books on management, I like Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I also recommend Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. It is classic. They also have some restrictions because these books were written in the era of previous economic cycles, but still.

As for the future, I like our Russian document Forecast of Scientific and Technological Development of the Russian Federation through 2030. About 2,000 experts, including a lot of academicians, participated in creating it. That’s to say, it is a very solid document — it was in the top 5 most influential world forecasts by the OECD in 2018. Now the Chinese want to reproduce it in their country, which is also an indicator.

Speaking about “more futurological” but interesting forecasts, I would recommend Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku. Though we are already witnessing a lot of this “future”.

By Matvey Antropov