The future of professions

Much work has happened over the last few years to try to get a handle on the school curriculum for computing, computer science and ICT. It is still amazing to me how hard it is to get a consensus on what the basic skills are that everyone should have and the specialist skills that are needed in various disciplines.

Each round of curriculum revisions seems to revisit past challenges. Watching the debate among the teaching professions is equally illuminating. As technology has become embedded in media, getting a handle around the boundaries of the discipline has become ever trickier.

However, for me there is a more pressing issue that we need to address: what about the professions?

This was prompted by a piece from Charles Kerrigan, a partner at the Law firm, Olswang, looking at the future of the legal firms.

Since the 1980s we have seen increasing automation which has fundamentally affected the blue collar workforce globally. Computing has changed much of white collar work, in that basic ICT skills have become an essential part of employability.

It seems to me that the big challenge now is that faced with slow growth at best we are facing serious disruption to professional disciplines.

There is a great difference between sustaining technologies, such as office software and disruptive technologies such as the WWW.

There are already sites for online divorce, for instance, that can reduce costs for uncontested and simple divorces, those without children or property disputes. With legal advice being cut back, could some of the services be delivered online at lower costs to ameliorate the problems of access to justice?

I’ve had numerous discussions in the last few months with people worrying over some professional qualifications in a variety of disciplines. A common complaint is that their curricula have not evolved to deal with the digital era.

There is a great difference between being able to do a spreadsheet or a slide deck and being able to strategically understand how to deal with the disruptive potential of next wave technologies.

So, what should the curricula for someone becoming a doctor, a marketer, a banker or in HR, for instance, to ensure that they have the skills to evolve to the digital world?

The debate within the teaching professions in lively and at times heated over both the content and ‘delivery’ of the new curriculum.

I must confess that I find the put a number after it school to make it sound sexy type of idea fatuous. However, whether you want to call it Professional 2.0, 3.0 or whatever, if we are to take greatest advantage of the potential of IT, I’m not confident that the current engagement between technologists and other professional bodies is mature enough to deliver the skills of the 21st century.

The change in professional practice is often slow, and slowed down by cultural and skills factors. Can we improve on this situation? I hope so.

I’d like to illustrate this in one area, recruitment. Working with one client it has become really evident how social media is impacting on the recruitment market place. The replacement of classified ads by Linked-in and similar profiles has occurred in five years. Recent experience has shown how important this can be for vocational students looking for internships and first jobs.

Yet one thing struck me personally as illuminating. With corporate life behind me and enjoying the portfolio life, I was fascinated to look at my endorsements on Linked-in. My top two are business transformation and change management, which is not what I would put. As Burns put it:

'O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!'

A few years ago, I was approached with what would for me have been a dream final role in corporate life. Eleven interviews taking three days and a day of psychometrics later, I was down to the last two. In the end the other person got it. He lasted less than six months (bitter moi?).

In my feedback, the suggestion was that a lack of change management experience was what tipped the balance. Yet people I’ve worked with over 30 years say it’s my strength. The psychometric tests confirmed my lack of suitability for change management roles.

So, will head-hunters put faith in social tagging and endorsements, or stick to psychometrics? Which should they do and what’s the evidence either way?

For me, the debate in education about the future of the teacher is very healthy, but challenging. I’m yet to see the same level of engagement with other professional roles. That surely cannot be good for society or the economy can it?

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About the author
Chris is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.

See all posts by Chris Yapp

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August 2017
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