Virtual Reality experiential education - a new window on the jobs of the future

In the last fifty years, new and emerging technology breakthroughs have led to new jobs, while advances in civil rights and equality have resulted in shifting work environments for the new generation. Computers used to take up huge amounts of space and suffered from small data storage capacity. It is now commonplace for every worker to have their own laptop, and due to coronavirus lockdowns, this has typically been the only point of contact with the workplace. Employers' attitudes towards their staff have also shifted. Rather than having employees focussed on their independent work, a more collaborative approach is encouraged with open plan offices and hot desking. This has led to a larger focus on creativity and transdisciplinary skills. In a study done by Deakin University it was found that the major drivers of future changes in the workplace will be technological ones. AI, robotics and big data will automate a lot of the tasks previously undertaken by people. This means that employees will need to adapt and work in smarter and more creative ways. There will be a lower need for labour and number crunching white-collar workers as these responsibilities become automated. A decrease in job security due to the gig-economy also means that less people are staying in a single role long term. On average an Australian employee will go through 12 different jobs, according to the 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Jobs are becoming increasingly competitive, with LinkedIn reporting a doubling in job competition since the start of 2020. While some of these statistics may appear grim it’s undecided and unknown whether these changes will result in net job loss or growth in the next few decades. Yet, futurists and industry leaders agree that the typical hard and soft skills required to be successful are changing. Overall, future jobs require hard skills in many STEM disciplines, good grasp of technology and soft ‘people’ skills in various combinations. In particular, technology and engineering skills will be valued highly. Human-computer interaction skills will also become more and more crucial as roles become augmented with supportive technology.

In short, the future of work is changing rapidly so we need to look at how we educate our students to prepare for this.

Automation, globalisation, and increased competition are all having massive influence over what the world of work will soon look like. This shift also changes the value employers place on technical skills and the more general soft skills that are used during work. Our school system still teaches kids to be prepared for the current job market, but because changes in the workplace are occurring so quickly this can leave students unprepared by the time they leave school. Therefore, a new way of preparing students for their future worklife is required, one that is able to give them the new skills needed and also expose them to emerging technologies and tools that will become commonplace by the time they begin their career. Here at Mindflight7 we believe virtual reality is one of the best tools for preparing students for this unknown future. It’s an easy, accessible and incredibly engaging way to expose students to any number of future careers, some that may not even exist yet. Virtual reality helps secondary school students develop personal insight and those crucial soft skills recommended by employers and futurologists that are so important to their careers. Additionally, VR will become commonplace in many workplaces, so it just makes sense to expose our students to this technology to prepare them for its use in their careers.

As new jobs emerge and innovative technologies are becoming more integrated into our current roles, the technical or hard skills required to be effective in these roles will also change. Which hard skills are important will depend on the industry, but all will be affected in their own ways. In a study done in 2019, researchers identified eleven sectors for future job growth and speculated on what emerging roles will appear in the next few years. The top four sectors were technology, people, business and law, and environmental.



Technology



It’s easy to understand why this would be a leading sector in emerging jobs. There have and will be huge advances in AI, processing power, computer graphics, and an increased accessibility to these technologies. This will not only affect the technology sector but have follow on effects into every industry as new technologies get integrated into other areas. As a result new jobs will emerge. An automation anomaly analyst will inspect AI algorithms when they produce strange or unethical outputs. Ethical hackers test the cyber security of many companies' digital systems. A gamification designer will integrate game logic and process to enhance user engagement. A common hard skill required in this sector will be knowledge of AI algorithms and general STEM skills relating to the discipline. Design and collaboration skills will also be crucial for these future transdisciplinary technology roles.



People



While robotics and AI will make some human roles redundant, many customer service and people facing roles will remain. New jobs will also emerge through integration of future technology into traditional people facing roles. A 100 year counsellor will support older people as the average age of death increases and more people enter a “third age” of their life. AI educators will teach people about how to best utilise artificial intelligence. A nostalgist will work with older people to create remembered experiences from their past. These human centred roles will all require skills in empathy, teaching and communication.



Business and Law



New technologies will bring about questions of privacy and ethics and roles will be created to deal with these challenges. Along with this, businesses are getting larger and will require positions dedicated to handling specific technological aspects of the business. An AI intellectual property negotiator will negotiate with clients about the ownership of outputs from AI algorithms. A fusionist will bring together professionals from different disciplines in order to create a truly transdisciplinary and innovative team in order to solve complex problems. A real-virtual transfer shop manager will help people transfer physically owned commodities into their virtual or augmented reality world and vice-versa. These roles all require high analytical skills as well as strategic skills. Again, knowledge of AI algorithms will also become extremely important.



Environment



Climate change has and is continuing to have a massive negative impact on our planet. The demand for roles to respond to this is increasing. Advances in meteorology, genetics and biology have allowed for innovative environmental science roles to emerge. A de-extinction geneticist will work with government bodies and conservationists in order to preserve species at risk of extinction. Weather control engineers will use carbon capture technology to appropriately cool the planet as well as deploying chemicals to deflect sunlight. An aged person climate solutions consultant will help the eldery cope with the more drastic storms and heat waves that tend to be more dangerous to the aging population. High analytical and STEM skills will be required as well as knowledge specific to climate and ecology. We would also hope that it is not too late for new emerging skills and knowledge to help to reverse negative climatic changes that are the result of human caused environmental impacts.

The question now becomes, how do we give today’s students experience in tomorrow’s job?

Mindflight7 has identified that one of the most effective ways to get this experience is through a virtual simulation of a role and its natural environment, specifically using virtual reality. Bespoke experiences can be relatively easily created to simulate both future and current roles in order to give young people experience in these jobs. Introducing Mindflight7’s virtual reality career experiences into high schools takes pressure off teachers to produce content and deliver insights related to a rapidly changing jobs market. This allows time for teachers to focus on teaching important STEAM skills that are so vital for their students' future. Mindflight7 offers a growing range of career experiences that can help a student understand their interests while emphasising the technical skills that have been shown to be so important for the jobs of tomorrow. Yet, having a successful career requires more than just hard skills and an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.

Just as important are the soft skills that one develops throughout their education, but the soft skills that are valued in the workplace of tomorrow are also shifting.

Soft skills are rarely taught explicitly in schools or universities but are extremely important to a successful career. Deakin University’s Dr Steel says: “...soft skills are taking those innate human qualities, such as communication, interaction, creativity, innovation and developing these so you can apply them effectively in the workplace”. Soft skills allow people to work in a team effectively, come up with creative solutions to problems and innovate. Futurologists have identified key soft skills across three categories that will be crucial in the future workforce.



Adaptability and transdisciplinary

These skills relate to one's ability to adapt to the ever-changing context of work and draw upon knowledge and expertise from multiple disciplines. The gig economy means that workers will need to continually adapt their experience and skills to work in new contexts across many different jobs. Mindflight7’s VR experience sessions are a perfect example of how we can develop adaptability and transdisciplinary skills in young people as they are constantly jumping in and out of new and exciting experiences. They might be fixing a breach in the ISS space station and five minutes later dissecting a frog to investigate its inner organs. The same steady hand skills and use of fine motor skills applies to both, but it’s not until the kids try both experiences, one after the other that they make the transdisciplinary connection. It helps students flex that muscle allowing them to make connections across subject matter which is vital to their understanding of the link between their subjects and careers. This is not an opportunity students usually get, as each subject they take is taught separately, at different time slots with no reference to one another.



Autonomy, self-direction and entrepreneurship



These skills all relate to a person's ability to think for themselves and work independently without micro management. This is often a skill that strong leaders have as they are able to take initiative and innovate. Future jobs are trending away from routine based work, which is becoming automated, and towards non-routine cognitive skill work. This means that there will be more thinking on your feet. Virtual reality experiences are fantastic for strengthening this skill in students as the experiences give students agency to approach challenges and problems in their style, without fear of catastrophic consequences. If a student wants to experiment with a unique approach to solving a problem, in VR there is no risk of failure as they can always start again with no harm done. This process of iterating and learning through failure is core to entrepreneurial ways of thinking and is heavily promoted through our VR programs. A lot of our career experiences also give students the ability to set up the way they want to work. Our musical experience Soundstage lets kids arrange their recording studio and instruments in a way that works for them, which they can easily change at any time.

Interpersonal skills



Interpersonal skills include your ability to communicate with others, deal with interpersonal conflict and manage yourself within a team. Future jobs will be much more collaborative and interconnected. Globalisation will mean that we are having meetings and business deals with others from around the globe. Students need to be prepared for dealing with that human element. While some VR experiences are individual, there are many in which you and your peers exist within the same virtual space. Problems can be solved collaboratively and can draw upon the different skills within your team. The skills developed through our collaborative VR experiences are especially poignant in our current COVID normal world. Many of us can’t meet in person and video calls sometimes lack the nuance and presence of a typical face to face interaction. Collaborative VR experiences hit that sweet spot of feeling present with your peers while still being apart. An art experience called Multibrush, allows multiple students to create 3D art within the same virtual environment. There are also current VR video games on the market that allow real time interaction between PC and VR headset users within the same environment. The potential to integrate this into training, meetings and classes is something we at Mindflight7 are extremely excited about. The workplace of tomorrow is approaching faster and faster each day. The skills that will be crucial for this future workplace need to be taught in schools now in order to have students prepared for the rapidly changing landscape of work. New technologies bring changes to old sectors and require new hard and soft skills. STEM skills and ability to learn and use new technology will be key hard skills required. Adaptability, autonomy and interpersonal skills will grow in importance as automation takes over many previous roles and employees move to more collaborative transdisciplinary teams. The VR career and educational experiences that Mindflight7 provides are a key tool that schools can leverage immediately to prepare each student for their tomorrow. Today, tomorrow and into the future, Mindflight7 is here to help all students be the best they can be and achieve success in both new enterprises and careers that we can only dream of.