OPINION: The robots are coming: How the changing face of technology will affect our children

A humanoid robot, manufactured by SoftBank Group Corp, at the Viva Technology conference in Paris, France.
BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS

A humanoid robot, manufactured by SoftBank Group Corp, at the Viva Technology conference in Paris, France.

OPINION: The robots are coming. OK, that's not entirely true. Really, if we look around, the robots aren't coming, they're already here.

Automation is everywhere; driverless cars really are a thing, there's the self-service check-outs that we don't even think about anymore, the self-service check-ins before we board, and the range and scale of automation in our businesses is incredible.  

I watched the recent 'What Next' series on television, hosted by John Campbell, Nigel Latta and their crew of 'futurists'.  Although the format wasn't for everyone, I watched and was both intrigued and inspired. I was inspired because something close to my heart (in my work, but also as a parent) is playing out in Marlborough that has implications not only for our children's future prospects, but also for our region's.

A 'RoboThespian' humanoid robot, manufactured by Engineered Arts, on display at the Viva Technology conference.
BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS

A 'RoboThespian' humanoid robot, manufactured by Engineered Arts, on display at the Viva Technology conference.

I have three daughters all under 7.  We've all heard, and it's becoming increasingly clearer, that the majority of jobs that will be available to them when it's time for them to leave school, probably don't even exist yet. Technology advances are changing our industries and employment markets rapidly.  The challenge for our teachers and schools is to teach our children the skills they need for jobs that we can't even imagine.

The key skill sets of the workforce of the future are different. To achieve results, it will be less important for my children to be able to recite a lot of factual knowledge. Much more important will be the ability to bring the right people with the right ideas together to complete a project or achieve a common goal. Our kids will need to work together with others who have diverse ideas and backgrounds, they'll need to collaborate and share their knowledge. Key social skills such as the ability to build rapport, develop trust and show respect, are the skills that our children need to learn today to be successful in the workforce of the future.  

Not only that, but our children will go through several jobs and potentially several careers as technology quickly develops new industries and others fall to the side. Workers of the future need to have the resilience to push through these changes and take the ups with the downs and bounce back.

So, why am I inspired by these prospects for the future?

Simply because I have been involved with developing the Kiwi Can values programme in Marlborough primary schools over recent years – and the changes that I've outlined reinforce how entirely relevant and important programmes like this are. Our weekly Kiwi Can lessons (the four key themes are positive relationships, respect, integrity and resilience) match the key skill sets needed for our workforce of the future.

What is really encouraging, is that Marlborough has the biggest percentage uptake of Kiwi Can of any other region in the country. Currently 40 per cent of the region's primary school children are learning these key skills for the future in Kiwi Can, with more schools interested for 2018. Kiwi Can reinforces to our children that, learning strategies to resolve conflict, the importance of taking on challenges, building resilience to bounce back when things don't go as planned, are key skills to develop and not just add-ons to the three Rs. This can only be a positive for the prospects of our children, and the prospects of our region's workforce (and community).  

I recall a conversation four years ago with a new entrant teacher, just one term in from the introduction of Kiwi Can at her school. "Look at the changes in the kids already," she said. "Just imagine once they are leaving here after having these positive messages reinforced every week through their entire schooling – think of the incredible culture that will result in the future." That future isn't far away and Marlborough is on track.

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'What Next… the Future of Marlborough' is a function being held on Wednesday, July 5 by the Graeme Dingle Foundation. If you would like to be part of the conversation about the skills our children need for the Marlborough of tomorrow contact kelvin.watt@dinglefoundation.org.nz for more information. A range of guest speakers will talk at the event, including Sir Graeme Dingle.

* Kelvin Watt is the Marlborough regional manager of the Graeme Dingle Foundation.

 - The Marlborough Express

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