Preparing Students For A World Of Work That Doesn't Yet Exist


“Everything changes and nothing stands still”, Heraclitus 

There is a frequently quoted statistic that claims that 65% of future jobs have not yet been created.  Although this claim has been roundly debunked, most recently by my favourite maths podcast, More or Less, (BBC, 2017), it is still worth reflecting upon why it remains so pervasive.   

There has been a shift in the nature of work over the last few decades but, according to Daisy Christodoulou (BBC, 2017), this isn’t as important as you might think.  This is because the skills that students are learning in schools are much more foundational than those required in the workplace. 

It seems, therefore, that trying to second guess what the jobs of the future might entail, is less fruitful than using our understanding of the changing nature of employment and, perhaps more importantly, our global societies, to recognise the skills that will be required in the workplace and the world of the future.  

The big challenges 

Taking a few moments to reflect upon the greatest challenges we currently face as a society, which seem especially poignant in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we might easily identify those highlighted by the international community, such as those at the centre of the OECD Learning Framework 2030 (OECD, 2018). There is consensus that education needs to respond to three important challenges: 

  • Environmental – not only that of climate change but also the threats posed by the depletion of natural resources. 
  • Economic – responding to the impact of globalisation at a local and national level as well as to the influence of new technologies on our current employment models. 
  • Social challenges – looking at the effect of migration on societies and cultures and the subsequent impact on wealth disparity. 

So, what can we conclude from this?  That rather than predicting the jobs of 2030 we might be better placing the focus on the skills required for the workplace of 2030, based on our understanding of the significant challenges currently faced.  

All-important skills 

The need to shift focus from career-specific content to future-ready skills comes as little surprise to educators, whose classroom experiences have long confirmed that student attitudes towards learning provide a much better insight into future success.  Importantly, this intuition is supported by academic research that confirms the benefits of effectively learning skills, such as notetaking, on academic success (IBO, 2015b). This is echoed through the approaches to learning or ‘learning to learn skills’ that have become embedded in current educational practice.   In the words of Alec Peterson, the first Director General of the International Baccalaureate (IB), “What is of paramount importance in the pre-university stage is not what is learned but learning how to learn…” (Peterson, 1972) 

Whilst the fostering of these attributes is often an implicit part of educational practice, the approaches to learning are an explicit tool at the core of the IB curriculum.  The development of these attributes can range from a soft-approach, such as having students reflect upon learning strategies (e.g. note-taking, mind-mapping, etc) that work best for them, to the formal assessment of critical thinking skills as part of a unit of study.  Furthermore, the IB Career-related Programme (IBCP) extends the explicit focus on these learning skills, by connecting them to work-ready skills through the Personal and Professional skills (PPS) course, which is at the core of the programme.   

Though not exhaustive, the intended outcomes of the course (IBO, 2015a) are for students to be able to: 

  • Identify  strengths and areas for growth. 
  • Demonstrate the application of thinking processes in both personal and professional situations. 
  • Demonstrate effective communication and collaboration skills. 
  • Recognise and articulate the value of cultural understanding and diversity of perspectives. 
  • Recognise and consider ethical choices and actions. 

The first three outcomes support the development of approaches to learning, whilst the final two are geared towards fostering international mindedness.  As such, these outcomes can be seen to bridge both the demands created by the most pressing challenges of our times by creating the global skills needed to respond to these challenges, and in complement, creating the attributes needed for life-long learning of discipline-specific knowledge.   

The aims and outcomes at the core of the IBCP resonate strongly with the Dulwich College International mission statement to create students who Graduate Worldwise.  By asking students to reflect upon their ethical choices, and to extend this understanding to potential career choices of the future, they are able to recognise that ethical issues are complex.  Furthermore, by exploring these in the context of intercultural understanding they develop an understanding of different perspectives that are of equal value to the stakeholders involved. 

Development of skills 

Although there is an explicit focus on approaches to learning, the most important feature of the IBCP is that these skills are not built-in isolation.  This recognises some of the more recent research on learning skills, which suggests that “the impact is likely to be higher if they are taught within each content domain, as some of the skills (such as highlighting, notetaking and summarising) may require specific ideas germane to the content being studied” (Hattie and Donoghue, 2016). Whilst these skills have demonstrable outcomes on students’ attainment, there is also emergent evidence that suggests there is an impact on student agency and motivation, although further research is needed in this area (Hattie, Biggs and Purdie, 1996) 

Through the PPS course, students will address each of these skills areas explicitly, both through direct exploration of elements such as self-organisation and communication skills, but more importantly, by framing these within the context of their chosen career pathways and their academic diploma courses.  The core of the IBCP provides opportunities to reflect upon and to consolidate these valuable skills.  As such the IBCP is much broader than preparation for a career specific pathway; this is reinforced by the proportion of IBCP graduates (71%) who agreed that the course had helped them to develop general employment skills compared to career specific occupational skills (Behle, Kremakova and Lyonette, 2016). 

As demonstrated by the research, a focus on learning skills has a clear impact on student attainment, and the potential to improve student agency.  Irrespective of the curriculum framework within schools, these skills cannot be left to chance and a structured plan should be in place to integrate them into classroom practice. Furthermore, the impact can be seen to be most effective when developed in concert with subject-specific skills.  Providing students both with opportunities to build these skills, and with opportunities to reflect on their progress in these domains, fosters the meta-cognition, critical thinking about one’s thinking, that is at the heart of good learning. 


BBC, More or Less, 2017. 30 May 2017 [Podcast]. Available at 

Behle, H., Kremakova, M., and Lyonette, C., 2016.  The International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (CP): Students’ experiences, postsecondary destinations and outcomes.  Besthesda, MD, USA. International Baccalaureate Organization. 

Hattie, J, Biggs, J and Purdie, N. 1996. “Effects of learning skills interventions on student learning: a metaanalysis”. Review of Educational Research. Vol 66, number 2. Pp 99–136. 

Hattie, J. and Donoghue, G., 2016.  Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model. npj Science Learn 1, 16013 (2016). 

Heraclitus in Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. 

International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), 2015a. Career-related Programme: Personal and Professional skills guide. The Hague, IB Publishing Ltd. 

International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), 2015b.  Approaches to teaching and learning in the Diploma Programme.  The Hague, IB Publishing Ltd. 

OECD, 2018. The future of education and skills: Education 2030. OECD Publishing, Paris.  Available from: [Accessed 10 November 2020] 

Peterson, A. 1972. The International Baccalaureate: An experiment in International Education. London. George Harrap.