Nord Anglia Education
St Andrews Bangkok
15 December, 2023

INSIGHTS | Life in the Skills Locker

INSIGHTS | Life in the Skills Locker - Life in the Skills Locker

“Great academics open doors, well-rounded individuals walk through them and thrive,” is a phrase that Principal Barrie Scrymgeour has been using a lot lately.


It sums up nicely what is becoming ever more obvious in a world where digital and AI technologies are transforming our lives. What we learn today might be out of date tomorrow, and good test scores are only part of the equation.


“I started teaching in 2000 and I remember having a presentation then about the jobs of the future and getting students ready for roles that hadn’t yet been created,” says Scrymgeour, the head of the British International School of Houston. “The need to future-proof young people is even more important now.”


INSIGHTS | Life in the Skills Locker - Life in the Skills Locker 


Soft skills are the new hard skills

Recent research by global management consultants
 McKinsey & Company looks at the nature of jobs that will be lost, as well as created, as automation, AI and robotics take hold. It suggests that as demand for manual, physical and basic cognitive skills declines, the value of technological, social and emotional, as well as higher cognitive skills grows.


On the back of this, the company has devised 56 “foundational skills and attitudes” that will “help citizens thrive in the future of work.”


While something of a wish list, it is illuminating. If we displayed all of these skills and characteristics all the time, we would be superhuman.


Under the four headings of cognitive, interpersonal, self-leadership and digital are attributes such as logical reasoning, time management, active listening, creativity and imagination, empathy, inspiring trust, resolving conflicts, integrity, self-motivation, and programming and data literacy.


Surveying 18,000 people in 15 countries, the researchers found that higher scores in these proficiencies equalled higher incomes and levels of job satisfaction.



INSIGHTS | Life in the Skills Locker - Life in the Skills Locker


Being "book smart" isn't enough


What the research points to is a growing imperative on schools to help children develop a locker of life skills to give them the solid foundations they need to thrive, both professionally and personally. It’s a thread that runs through teaching and learning at Nord Anglia Education’s schools. What companies used to casually refer to as ‘soft skills’ are now fundamental for children to develop so they are able to deal with everything life throws at them.


The British International School of Houston takes as its starting point the International Baccalaureate (IB) learner profile, which develops attributes that go beyond academic achievement. It aims to nurture students, and indeed staff, who are inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, reflective, and principled.


“These are key behaviours that we want students and staff to model,” says Scrymgeour. “Being principled, having the right core values, pride, unity, respect, thinking critically and reflecting on your own assessment of risk.”


The school’s house points system rewards these behaviours, building them into the fabric of the institution. Staff regularly check which learner profile characteristics are generating the most points, as well as those they need to boost through the curriculum, registration, assembly and other areas of school life. Coding is also taught from reception to give children a head start in the tech skills that the McKinsey research highlights as increasingly vital.



INSIGHTS | Life in the Skills Locker - Life in the Skills Locker



Why STEM became STEAM


At Regents International School Pattaya in Thailand, critical thinking and creativity are intertwined with technology through its STEAM initiative. The “A”, among the more familiar acronym for science, technology, engineering and maths, stands for “arts”.


“Arts isn’t just about students painting or making a piece of sculpture,” explains Nicole Sargeant, the school’s Head of Innovation, “It’s the application of creativity, which could be anything from performing arts to the art of combining maths, science and programming language to make a robot move.”


Part of this strategy is a Nord Anglia Education-wide collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, where professors from the top-ranking university set challenges for students across schools to solve real-world problems.


In a recent challenge, students at Regents were tasked with tackling the impact of extreme weather events caused by global warming.


“Because we’re in Thailand, students looked at flooding, which is a real problem here,” says Sargeant. “Year 8 students had to work in teams, do the research together and come up with a solution for surviving floods in Pattaya and Bangkok. They made prototypes, floating houses and floating cities. Some made digital prototypes, using iPads to create 3D images using CADs, displaying their results in virtual or augmented reality. Others preferred to make physical models in a variety of materials.”


Students were allocated to a group and had to work to a deadline and within a budget. They presented their work to a panel, which included the principal and the heads of science and geography. Part of the task was to reflect on the issues that would arise if their $10 solution was upscaled on a budget of, say, $10 million.


“It’s all about collaboration, teamwork, creativity and building confidence,” says Sargeant.


In the end-of-project evaluations students are asked what aspects of the project they found the most challenging. The same three things come up every time; pupils want a bigger budget, more time, and to work with their friends.


"I never change these aspects of the project as these are challenges the students will have to deal with in any future career - they need to be able to think on their feet, think critically and know how to be creative with the resources they have available to them,” says Sargeant. “The more exposure to these kinds of projects, the more prepared students are for the future.”



"Lean into the future"


This practical approach to developing capabilities, mindsets and skills is one that employers want to see more of, according to Aishat Ola-Said, Global Early Careers Manager at digital infrastructure giant Colt Technology Services, which works across the US, UK, Europe and Asia.


“So much of our work revolves around ‘this is the problem, how do you solve it, and can you present your solution to me so I can understand it?’” she explains. “It involves critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, confidence, an eagerness to learn and the ability to engage, persuade and motivate.”


For Ola-Said, it is the soft skills - “the human skills” - that become more important in a continually automating future.


“If I think about when we hire for potential, what we are looking for are people who, as the world evolves, see it as an opportunity rather than something to be scared of,” she says. “How are we helping young people to develop those capabilities in the first 18 years of their lives, so that when they leave school they’re not starting from ground zero?”


It’s a question that can be posed to parents as well as to schools. Are we helping our children develop the right mindsets in an era when doom-laden predictions about the catastrophic impact of AI are splashed all over the front pages?


According to Dale Gall, the founder of AdaEdTech and former CEO of MullenLowe Group UK, we need to encourage our children to lean into these technologies.


“It’s hard being a parent but it’s as important to encourage these mindsets as it is to worry about exam results; in fact, it’s even more important,” he says. “It is very easy, and I’ve done it myself, to generate anxiety around AI: ‘What jobs are going to be out there? What is going to be done by robots?’ We’ve all heard the statistics that 65 per cent of roles will no longer be there. But what we need to do is encourage our children to see these technologies as opportunities. If we generate fears around them, people will lean out rather than in.”


Embracing technologies to make our working lives easier is the way forward, Gall insists. Tech enables us to look for shortcuts and efficiencies. Rather than think of these things as dangerous, we should use them. And despite the hype around AI and machine learning, there are still so many things tech can’t do that human beings can - as anyone who has had to communicate with a customer service chatbot will know.


For Gall, keeping pace with the tech requires agility, lifelong learning, the ability to prioritise, recognise what matters and know when to compromise, a mindset of “balanced optimism” and leaning into your strengths.


At IMG Academy, a unique boarding school for young athletes in Florida, in the US, this kind of personal development is on the timetable. IMG Academy is also Nord Anglia Education’s global sports and wellbeing partner, providing its expertise to the group’s schools and students around the world.


As part of their mental performance development, students are assessed in five key areas - coachability, confidence, focus, resilience, and handling pressure. These skills are vital for high-level sports but are equally bankable in pretty well all other walks of life.


“These are all trainable and transferable skills,” says Dr Taryn Morgan, VP of Athletic and Personal Development. “We can build students’ confidence and resilience and teach them how to handle pressure, whether through breathing, imagery or self-talk. Time management is another vital skill - balancing academics, sports training and competition - and being independent enough to cope with conflicting demands on your time. We’re teaching students ways of working that help them across the whole of their lives - from school to college and into their jobs and professions.”


With student athletes from all over the world, sociability - another one of McKinsey’s 56 foundational skills - is also part of the mix at the academy, and at international schools more generally.


“The ability to interact with different people is such an obvious factor that I think gets overlooked,” adds Morgan.


But what do Gen Z themselves regard as the most vital skills for success, both in the world of work and in their personal lives?


Top of the list for 18-25 year olds in the USA, UK and India is confidence, according to independent research commissioned by Nord Anglia Education. Young people want schools to focus specifically on helping them to build the confidence to take risks and seize opportunities.


Related to this is resilience - cited by 45 per cent of respondents as being the ability to bounce back if those risks and opportunities fail to pay off. Up there too, are problem solving, critical thinking and wellbeing.


It seems, then, that Gen Z, parents, schools and employers are more or less on the same page when it comes to the most important components of the life-skills locker - a consensus that bodes well for the future.


“The pace of change in the modern world is so rapid and we all have to respond to that reality,” says Aishat Ola-Said, from Colt Tech. “What companies are looking for are recruits who are pulling you into the future, not people who you have to push there.”