Preparing Our Universities and Students for 2025

What does the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) mean for those hard skills that universities and colleges have been working so hard to prepare students with? And what do these and other macro-level changes mean for the future of higher education? 

Steve Prentice, writer, speaker, Fortune 500 consultant, and futurist, Enrollment Growth University joined the podcast to talk about the advent of artificial intelligence, the future of work, and how universities need to think about designing future-facing degree programs.

What Does the Future of Work Really Look Like?

Let’s start with AI.

AI will make an excellent complement to human beings.

“This is your intelligent robot,” Steve said, “your sidekick, helping people with hard skills learn and develop and progress in a way that is far more fluid than the formalized training we may have been used to in past years.” 

For example, look at augmented reality and virtual reality, which is a component of AI, being able to learn on the job. With AI, you can learn and stay up to date through a virtual environment.

“So this is your opportunity to continue to be the best you possibly can,” Steve said, “to add to your hard skills with the fluid nature of data and growth that is required in this economy.”

With AI adding to hard skills, the value of soft skills in people is growing, too. In fact, the key factors for people with hard skills will be the demonstrable soft skills such as critical thinking, prioritizing, and working with and understanding the diverse workforce.

What Does this Future Mean for Higher Education?

“You’re not only seeing an evolving workforce in terms of the technological comfort,” Steve said, “but also in the demographics of where people work and the whole notion of the gig economy.”

A couple of decades ago, being a freelancer or a job hopper carried a bit of a stigma. But now the statistics are showing that most professionals only expect to stay working in their current employer for about three years before moving on. 

“There’s a legitimacy to having a gig economy mindset as well as breaking into a work-life balance structure,” Steve said, “so that the whole 9-5 face time at the desk is being replaced by productivity, but productivity on a much more fluid and dynamic term.”

Skill Set Requirements for Employees of the Future

Employees of the future will combine a specific hard-skill set with the capacity for lifelong learning and dynamic communication. They’ll need less formalized approaches to education such as set class times, fewer formal meetings, and and much more of a dynamic, fluid, collaborative, communicative, multichannel environment that we’re used to in social media.

Workers of the future will not only need hard skills and dynamic skills but also person skills, understanding how to relate to people  — speaking to them and listening — along with critical thinking. For example, many data breaches come from overworked and pressured people who click on a link by accident. So the capacity to stop and think something through not only enhances a person’s career and productivity but can also serve as a major safeguard to their employer.

How Higher Ed Leaders Can Align Themselves with the Future

Established universities take pride in their past, but you also need to have pride in your future.

“The jobs of the future (are) not being written yet,” Steve said, “(and you) need to have a curriculum that is able to adapt and develop students who can go out and almost invent these jobs as they are required.”

You’ve also got to look at the structure of education itself. For example, undertaking a PhD requires huge amounts of time away from the workforce. To develop people beyond the bachelor’s degree level, schools will have to look at breaking up the curriculum into a work-life balance structure.

Not everybody is a classroom attender. Not everybody can listen to a lecturer for two hours. One of the most wonderful things about this economy right now is the “audience of one” factor. You may learn different from me. The artificial intelligence we mentioned at the beginning of this meeting is able to construct and revise a curriculum to fit each person’s individual learning style.

“That’s a major advantage for any educational institution to grab onto,” Steve said. “(Students) learn by maximizing their own individual and internal learning styles. That’s what I would want to see in a greater forward-looking educational institution.”


This post is based on a podcast interview with futurist Steve Prentice. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.