No future for non-learners

January 28, 2000

In 2020 there will be more graduates globally than the world population 100 years ago, says the author of a report on the future published this week.

The report, Engines of Change, from the Chatham House Forum, is written by strategic thinkers from public and private organisations. It says increased education and human capability will be one of the driving forces that will shape our society in the coming decades.

However, although a great deal has been said about the knowledge economy, trade in knowledge-based products is not yet as important as other parts of the economy, such as foreign direct investment.

Oliver Sparrow, director of the forum and author of the report, says: "Today the really important things are capabilities and organisation, as well as learning to do all sorts of things across boundaries. These present immense management challenges."

But with traditional low or no-skill tasks being eliminated, those who choose not to learn, or are for some reason prevented from doing so, "will find almost any conceivable future a relatively difficult one".

He warns: "We have the institutions and habits of 100 years ago, but we live in a society where the entire output of 1899 could be done in two working weeks today."

Working in networks means there is no single chain of command, he says, persuasion is needed to make things happen.

The report also says the world and the people in it are becoming much more complicated. After the second world war researchers could describe most of the variance in British people with just four dimensions - age, class, gender and education. In the 1970s, 100 dimensions were needed.

"People are becoming unboxed. They no longer sit in a box called medallion man. Today they flip between environmental activist and consumer," says Mr Sparrow. One of the outcomes is that people do not fit into convenient pigeonholes for politicians, and there is consequently less acceptance of authority.

The report is the fifth in a series looking at the next ten to 15 years.

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