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Discover The Future of Work

The Center for the Future of Work partnered with Cognizant's graduate community in London to get their take on the most recent 21 jobs of the future. After all, they'll not only be doing these jobs, but they will be leaders in the future of work.

Our graduates write here about the role: 'Legacy Skills Agent'. They pose the question: Should we be in such a rush to give up our "outdated" skills?

Over to the grads...

Who do you know that can sew?

Whilst writing this article, the five of us have talked amongst ourselves and with a bunch of peers and friends and we haven't found a single person our age who can honestly say they confidently know how to sew. You probably can't either (we don't judge). In a world of cheaply made, disposable clothing, it's not a skill that's being passed on or sought out.

On the face of it, it's an odd question for a technology company to be asking. However, this single question shines a light on the wider landscape of emerging and eroding skills.

How about servicing or repairing your car? Some of us are pretty happy to get under the bonnet (hood, for the rest of the world) and at least have a look. Maybe we can even change the headlight bulb or get the spare wheel on ourselves, but there comes a point where we either take it to a garage to get it fixed or it ends up being sold at a suspiciously low price by somebody very happy to see a buyer. The point is, we're rapidly losing widespread proficiency in skills that our parents and grandparents both had and used.

In the wider world of work, with automation and other advances in technology changing the way jobs are done, we can see this happening too. Before the advent of the car, farriers (people who make and fit horse shoes) were pretty widespread. After the advent of automated trucking, qualified truck drivers will be quite rare too.

Why keep skills for jobs we don't need?

Picture the scene. An automated truck has dropped out of signal range, or its internal computer has had the automated truck equivalent of the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. A valuable load and an expensive machine are just sat on the road, causing traffic jams and looking like a good target of opportunity. Fortunately, the haulier in question has a few Legacy Agents on standby for just such an occasion. This Quick Reaction Force (QRF) of qualified truck drivers leaps into action, racing to the scene as fast as (legally) possible and get to work, overriding the automation and driving the truck to its destination.

Now, you may be wondering why they wouldn't have a driver in every truck like they do in air liners. Cost, would be our first answer. Secondly, the advent of automation will hit the news and people will then presume that jobs won't be available and therefore won't pick up the skills.

This could work in any automated job. Let's say a large manufacturing plant lays off its staff and hands the work over to robots, who then, at some point shortly after, stop working. (Robot uprising or catastrophic IT failure, you decide.) That same plant knows there's a workforce of people out there familiar with the jobs currently not being done and knows it may take time to negotiate new robot rights or fix the problem. So why not temporarily fill the gap with agency workers with legacy skills? Legacy Agents, if you will?

It could even relate to the food industry. Imagine in 20 years, fast food speed of service and food delivery, but in every type of restaurant, all thanks to robots. Picture it more like a bunch of high power smart vending machines giving you cooked food. Sounds amazing doesn't it? We think so... But a robotic error or malfunction could leave you with an overcooked steak and burnt chips, when you asked for a chicken Caesar salad. The customer dissatisfaction would be incredible, but having experienced Legacy Agent chefs on standby to step in and save the day could be the stopgap. Food orders can continue to run smoothly and restaurants can continue to make some profit. It would almost be business as usual until the specialist hardware has been restored.

Legacy agents would keep up with these "old" skills and be ready to deploy at any time at the Legacy Skills Academy. Any Legacy Agent could take the opportunity to broaden their repertoire of legacy skills at the academy. This would also be a good opportunity to add skills people may not think of to the training. Cooking, for example, or maybe even hobbyist skills. People with trades could spread their skills, meaning we have carpenters, plumbers, builders and the like earning a bit on the side as emergency train drivers and fill-in chefs.

Think of the Grannies

When we posed our initial question, 'who do we know that can sew?', the first people that came to mind were our wonderful grandmothers. The passing down of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next is a tradition as old as mankind. As information becomes increasingly accessible, increasingly easily, this age-old ritual is at risk of extinction. Not only should we look to create Legacy Agents for the reasons discussed above, but also to maintain this intrinsically human rite of passage, for Granny's sake.

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