September 2019
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PREPARING TODAY'S LANGUAGE LEARNERS FOR THE FUTURE OF WORK

Sara Davila, Pearson, Chicago, USA

The future of learning will determine the future of the workforce. Changes will continue in the field of education, and these changes will transform how we think about and develop English language learning programs. Fortunately, recent research illuminates what the workforce of the near future will look like, helping educators anticipate and adjust our current practices to align to future needs. Better understanding this shifting landscape will allow us to better support the development of critical language skills that will be of high value in the next 10, 20, 30 years, and beyond.

The Future of Learning

Research has indicated that the ways students learn English and the ways they wish to learn English have begun to change and will continue to change. Educators must develop awareness of these changes in order to support our learners and their growth.

Students are becoming increasingly more interested in targeted courses with flexible attendance, flexible timelines for completion, and technological integration, as in digital and online classes (British Council, 2018). Technology, in some ways, will offer us a wider range of learning solutions and allow us to expand our overall reach with learners. Now is the time to strategize integration of technology into our program offerings and how to better support learners’ future success with technology-facilitated communication.

To achieve these changes, programs must consider how communicative technology is currently integrated into their programs, allowing educators advance time to develop skills in the appropriate platforms. Current technology that supports spoken communication (VOIP platforms and web meeting platforms) and interactive writing (SMS, and various chat platforms) have gained in importance in industry. Developing new ways to incorporate these types of communication platforms into existing programs and strategies for successful English language learning through technology should be at the forefront of future planning for language courses.

The Future of Work

What does work look like in the future? For 21st-century learners, there are unique challenges in preparing for the future workforce, key among them invention. Some of our students are currently preparing to work in fields with technology that is still in development or has not yet been invented. Machine learning experts and artificial intelligence managers, for example, are entirely new positions with rapidly evolving skill sets. Though technology complicates the future of the workforce, it will also help educators understand how to prepare for tomorrow today—and there is a great deal of work we can do to help prepare our students for success in our increasingly technological future.

Communication skills should be an important focus in preparing learners for the future workplace. Employers continue to indicate a need for learners with high levels of English skills, especially fluency in describing and explaining work-specific tasks, ability to negotiate, logistical problem-solving, and the ability to outline and communicate solutions (British Council, 2018). In each area of communication development, employers are looking for improved focus on industry-specific English, emphasizing highly specialized, sector-specific English language skills. From the perspective of an educator, English skills extremely focused on specific uses may be seen as a limitation in students’ ability to achieve future employment and mobility goals. However, this emphasis on specific skills should be seen as an opportunity to incorporate skills into our English courses directly aligned with employment.

In our programs, we can certainly use tools like English language career and job profiles (Gordon, Hayes, Mayor, & Buckland, 2018) to understand the specific communication needs of a variety of career sectors. In order to serve the greatest number of students and diversify our classroom work, we should consider ways to support learners in developing appropriate language skills for a variety of sectors of future employment. Depending on the institution and market, courses on English for specific purposes could be key to learner success. However, we also have the option of taking a higher level view of future skills to diversify the impact of our language classes and ensure that regardless of the specific career of interest, our learners are armed with the communication necessary for success.

The Future of Skills

A better view of the factors shaping various industries and their labor needs by 2030 is possible through examination of the drivers of these coming changes. A recent comprehensive analysis of a variety of occupations, their key tasks, and growth patterns illuminates ways the workforce will grow and change, providing insight into the top skills of the coming decade (Bakhshi, Downing, Osborne, & Schneider, 2017). This analysis highlighted the future of skills in 2030, seeking across sectors for areas of growth, areas of contraction, and ways for those currently part of a shrinking or contracting labor markets to best prepare for future careers. Within this analysis there are a number of key findings of interest to educators; however, the primary takeaway is the importance of awareness of future skills beyond the four Cs of 21st-century learning (communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity). Through the research (Bakhshi, Downing, Osborne, & Schneider, 2017) it is possible to identify key skills for future success , including the following top 20 skills:

1. Judgement and Decision Making

2. Fluency of Ideas

3. Active Learning

4. Learning Strategies

5. Originality

6. Systems Evaluation

7. Deductive Reasoning

8. Complex Problem Solving

9. Systems Analysis

10. Monitoring

11. Critical Thinking

12. Instructing

13. Education and Training

14. Management of Personnel Resources

15. Coordination

16. Inductive Reasoning

17. Problem Sensitivity

18. Information Ordering

19. Active Listening

20. Administration and Management

Armed with information about future workforce skills, language educators possess the tools and resources necessary to improve current programs and develop future programs designed to help our learners achieve their lifelong career and personal goals. By looking more holistically at ways to strategically incorporate these skills into our learning programs, we can support the largest field of career interests with a fair amount of freedom and flexibility.

The Future of Learning

As the needs of employers become more focused on a broad knowledge base with strong English communication skills, we as educators must ensure improved attention to deeper skill development. Incorporating communication technology into our classes, along with the aforementioned top 20 future skills, will improve the overall value of our classes to our learners. When necessary, targeted and custom courses focused on specific English purposes can be incorporated into our programs. Our effective and skillful response to learner needs, informed by insight on the changing landscape of future careers, will allow us to better prepare students and ensure English language learning is a solid bridge for future success.

These changes raise challenges for our industry; today, technology and workforce skill integration are no longer optional, but are imperative for our students’ future success. As language educators, we must improve our programs, courses, and lesson plans so that they optimally incorporate high-value future skills supporting the development of long-term achievements.

References

Bakhshi, H., Downing, J., Osborne, M., & Schneider, P. (2017). The future of skills: Employment in 2030. London, England: Pearson.

British Council. (2018). The future demand for English in Europe: 20205 and beyond. London, England: British Council.

Gordon, M., Hayes, C., Mayor, M., & Buckland, S. (2018). Developing GSE job profiles: Interim report and initial validation study. London, England: Pearson.


Sara Davila is a teacher and educator who has spent more than a decade immersed in communicative language pedagogy and learner-centered teaching. She is currently informing the next generation of curriculum as a learning expert with Pearson English. Her personal contributions to the field can be found at www.saradavila.com.
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