Estonia takes the preparation for future work seriously

25 January 2022
by Eva Toome


Many of today’s schoolchildren will be working in professions that do not even yet exist. What to recommend to young people facing a career choice? Are there any “bulletproof” future work specialities that will never leave you in trouble?

Since automation will result in major job losses in many industries, what should students focus on in order to be ready for these changes? What has been done in Estonia to be better prepared for the future?

Skills will shape the future of work

“Looking to the future, we should be talking about the necessary skills rather than the necessary or unnecessary jobs,” says Aune Valk, Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs, University of Tartu. “The McKinsey’s report on changes in the Estonian labor market says that almost 10% of the jobs needed in 2030 don’t exist currently, and almost half of all the work we did a few years ago will be automated in Estonia by 2030. This percentage is lower for employees with higher education: what concerns positions with more complex skills, less than 25% of the tasks will be automated.

Whatever work we do, the most important is our willingness and ability to learn and retrain.

Although only 5-10% of jobs will be lost completely, many will change and this definitely creates uncertainty. This means that whatever work we do, the most important is our willingness and ability to learn and retrain.”

Engineers wanted

“In order to do smart work in the future that robots will not take away, it would be a good idea to study to be an engineer or a specialist in some other technical field,” also suggests Tiia Randma, a member of the board of the Estonian Qualifications Authority. “Digitization, automation, and the development of materials technology are increasing the need for industrial and product development engineers. And there is a need for workers in every walk of life who can deploy, develop and maintain the technology.”

As in many countries, in Estonia, there is a chronic lack of people with technological skills. This is one of the reasons why technology education is taken seriously in Estonia. In Estonia, it is believed that the acquisition of future skills must start from kindergarten. Many children have the opportunity to study programming already in kindergarten, and later on, digital competence is taught integrated into different subjects. The state and universities also work closely with employers to adapt education to the needs of the labour market and to ensure that students have the technological skills they need for the future.

The OSKA future skills report conducted by the Estonian Qualifications Authority helps Estonia to predict the work skills needed for the future. The study of labour needs is carried out in close collaboration with various educational and economic partners and helps to learn and teach the right skills. 

Occupations related to the care, treatment, counselling, upbringing, and teaching of people will certainly retain their importance,” states Tiia Randma. “Due to the ageing of the population and the increase in life expectancy, the need for social welfare and healthcare services is also growing. In the field of education, there is a growing need for educational support specialists (speech therapists, special educators, school psychologists), as students with special educational needs are increasingly studying in mainstream classes.”

Higher education pays off

“Various forward-looking reports (McKinsey, OSKA) say that there is a growing need for people with higher education, so we can confidently recommend higher education,” says Aune Valk. 

The Estonian OSKA Future Skills Report says that the number of jobs for specialists of more complex work is increasing and the number of jobs performing routine tasks is decreasing. Also, the need for more personalized services is increasing – also the number of positions requiring data analysis skills, as well as empathy and creativity, is growing. 

More specifically, there is still a strong demand in the world for advanced science and medicine curricula and teacher training, which provide a strong basis for learning the skills needed later.

Flexible solutions for lifelong learning

Universities are also adapting to change, says Aune Valk from the University of Tartu.

In terms of the latest trends, over the past year universities in Estonia have started to offer more flexible solutions for continuing education as one-year master’s programs and microdegrees – an excellent opportunity for those who graduated from university 10 or 20 years ago, be it educational technology or digital communication. 

We also add new curricula as needed if there is a demand for them in the labour market. For example, in the University of Tartu, it will be possible to study design thinking and digital marketing next academic year, something we never had before”

“However, instead of focusing on just one narrow discipline, it is critical for the future to acquire expertise in a number of areas. For example, the major in semiotics and the minor in information technology. It is also necessary to develop transferable competencies during university studies, i.e. the so-called future skills, which are the creation and use of technology, data analysis, communication and management skills in virtual and multicultural teams, critical thinking skills and creativity, etc”

But are there any “future-proof” degrees? This is difficult to answer as the world is changing. But it is obvious that areas requiring a high level of expertise and creativity are not so easily replaced by computers.


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