There has never been a better time to be a worker with special skills and the right education, because these people can use the technology to create and capture value. However, there has never been a worse time to be a worker with only “ordinary” skills and ability to offer, because computers, robots and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.

Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfeeThe second machine age, New York, Norton and Company, 2014, p.11

In almost all the most economically advanced countries, the widespread perception regarding the demand for new skills for the work of the future is that they can be acquired exclusively through an in-depth study of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) disciplines, the only ones thought to be able to guarantee today’s students and tomorrow’s future workers a brilliant professional career. According to this vision, in the coming decades studying these disciplines will not only give access to a high rate of economic satisfaction, but it will also be the only responsible factor for success in working environment. In spite of this belief, which is very deeply rooted in public opinion in our country too, the situation is actually different. This is confirmed by the OECD document entitled: Framework Learning 2030: the future of education and skills, made public in April 2018, which reiterates that in the near future, alongside hard skills, the quantifiable technical skills specific to a particular field of work, the so-called soft skills or non-cognitive skills, fundamental according to the international organization to adapt to a constantly changing world of work, will become increasingly central. In particular, the OECD document reads as in the decades to come:

students will need to apply their knowledge in unknown and evolving circumstances. For this, they will need a broad range of skills, including cognitive and meta-cognitive skills (e.g. critical thinking, creative thinking, learning to learn […]); social and emotional skills (e.g. empathy, self-efficacy and collaboration); and practical and physical skills (e.g. using new information and communication technology devices).

OECDLearning Framework 2030, 2018, p. 5

A new concept of competence

It is precisely from this definition of soft skills that a new concept of competence for the future of work emerges from the report, which qualifies more as knowledge in action than as a static possession of knowledge, and which above all emphasises the need for continuous hybridization between different disciplinary areas.

The concept of competency implies more than just the acquisition of knowledge and skills; it involves the mobilisation of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to meet complex demands. Future-ready students will need both broad and specialised knowledge. Disciplinary knowledge will continue to be important, as the raw material from which new knowledge is developed, together with the capacity to think across the boundaries of disciplines and “connect the dots”.

OECDLearning Framework 2030, 2018, p. 5

Today, 2018

  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Creativity originality and initiative
  • Attention to detail, trustworthiness
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Reasoning problem-solving and ideation
  • Leadership and social influence
  • Co-ordination and time management

Trending, 2022

  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Creativity, originality and initiative
  • Technology design and programming
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Leadership and social influence
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation
  • Systems analysis and
    evaluation

Moreover, the centrality of soft skills and disciplinary hybridization for building the skills of the future has recently emerged from a source that is surprising to say the least: a high-tech giant such as Google, often identified as a standard bearer of the exclusive exaltation of STEM skills. An internal study lasting more than ten years conducted by the Mountain View company since 2008 has in fact revealed that of the eight most relevant skills and harbingers of professional success within the famous Californian company, the first seven fall perfectly within soft skills. Specifically, the most important features of Google’s top managers include motivational and emotional support skills, communication and listening skills, empathy, critical thinking and problem-solving.

In light of all this, the suggestion coming from the current rector of Dartmouth College, Philip Hanlon, who for some years has been fighting for the importance of “soft” skills for the professional future of 21st century students to be definitively recognized, seems more than pertinent, to the point of proposing for these skills the new name of “power skills“. But while the strategic importance of soft skills in the workplace for the near future is more than evident, the most effective ways currently available to students and workers to acquire and develop them are much less clear.

Saadia Zahidi introduces the “Reskilling Revolution” project promoted by the World Economic Forum to raise public awareness about the radical change in skills required in the near future and to provide concrete help to institutions to cope with it

Soft skills and where to find them

The August 2019 report of the EU Science Hub, the dissemination platform of the Joint European Research Centre (JRC), attempts to answer this complex question. The report, entitled The changing nature of work is along the same lines as the aforementioned OECD document with reference to the centrality of soft skills for the professions of the future, but it stresses with greater punctuality the crucial importance of a radical reform of the education system for the effective development of these same skills by students in European countries. According to the EU Science Hub, in fact, it is necessary to provide as soon as possible a renewal of the teaching methodologies used as well as of the contents transmitted by the educational institutions of the Union at all levels of the educational path, in the direction of a more active and participatory teaching, focused on techniques such as problem-based learning, and that puts the value of interdisciplinary contamination back at the centre. In fact, it can be read in the report:

Interactive teaching practices require students to work in groups and use non-cognitive skills in their discussions […]. Problem-based learning […] together with interdisciplinary learning, can facilitate the acquisition of non-cognitive skills by emphasasing the importance of flexibility and innovation.

EU Science HubThe changing nature of work and skills in the digital age, 2019, p. 45

The report of the EU Science Hub, therefore, is interesting precisely because of the desire to focus attention on the educational and training paths most suitable to ensure the acquisition of soft skills. From this point of view, the report suggests that the achievement of such an objective requires not so much a strengthening of STEM knowledge, but rather the reasoned conception of hybrid training curricula, within which technical-specialist skills (hard skills) can be grafted on a solid basis of humanistic and political-social knowledge. It is no mystery, in fact, that in geographical contexts such as the anglo-saxon one, where the transformation of the economic and productive system is taking place more rapidly, some educational institutions are slowly trying to reform themselves by creating learning paths based on these general directives, as evidenced by the new paradigm of STEAM, which integrates technical-scientific disciplines with a solid base provided by humanities. In fact, it is evident how power skills such as critical and creative thinking, empathic skills, communication skills and persuasive argumentation can be more than others acquired and cultivated through an in-depth study of the humanities, constituting in some ways their true distinctive heritage.

Conclusions

However, pending such a demanding and comprehensive reform of the education system in Europe and beyond, there are already functioning channels that can be used by businesses and workers to acquire and exercise the new strategic skills for the work of the future. Among them there is certainly the professional field of so-called philosophical counselling, which shows how philosophy can represent a useful practice and knowledge for the business world, able to offer a different and more complete approach to the training of the worker and the resolution of the most important problems of contemporary organisations.

Although such a statement may surprise the reader, as it profoundly subverts the classical image associated with philosophical-humanistic knowledge, considered purely abstract and contemplative, there are now a number of company organizations that decide to rely on professional figures in this field to develop in their employees precisely those transversal and general skills that we have defined as central to work 4.0. But what are the concrete ways in which all this can happen, and what exactly does a philosophical consultant do? You will find the answer to these questions in the next article, along with many other insights on the subject.

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