How to future-proof your English teaching career in the digital age

Nick Robinson

Nick Robinson has worked in ELT publishing since 2004, as an author, marketer, trainer and conference speaker. His particular area of content expertise is ESP. In 2012, he founded the world’s first ELT author representation agency. He is the Co-founder of the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG). Today he looks at how you can future-proof your career!

Education is intended to prepare students for the world of work, but as we enter the fourth industrial revolution, the world is changing so rapidly that many of today’s teenagers will end up doing jobs that don’t yet exist. In the face of such uncertainty, how can you future-proof your career? And how can you equip students with the tools they’ll need for their futures? Could focusing on life competencies, as opposed to academic success, be the answer?

The future job market

There’s no way of knowing what the job market will look like in a decade. Especially taking into account the fact that a staggering 50% of the work that people are paid to do globally could theoretically be automated using technologies that already exist. Very few careers or areas in life are unaffected by technology. An example of this is the hiring process for short-term construction workers. A few years ago, people would stand around on street corners waiting to be picked up by a construction crew. Now there’s an app that connects construction workers to construction projects that need help.

There are some things that we can predict, based on current trends. Manual industries were the first to be automated. Car factories, for example, are staffed by robots with human overseers. And more recently there’s been a clear shift towards automation of white-collar or clerical jobs. The McKinsey Global Institute Report predicts that between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by automation and will need to find new careers by 2030. Anything that’s algorithmic and involves calculations or building statistical models, is at risk. When it comes to careers in accounting or finance, a computer will always be faster and more accurate than humans.

AI or IA: Flexibility and adaptability

However, that’s not something to fear. Often people think of artificial intelligence as a threat, but a lot of technology can be categorised not as AI but as IA – intelligence augmentation. The goal of this technology is not to replace humans, but to enhance our capabilities. For example, with interactive whiteboards in the classroom, the goal is not to have the whiteboard teaching the class. Rather, it is used to augment the capabilities of the teacher by allowing them to bring in different resources, like videos and interactive games. When you frame technological advances in this way, it doesn’t sound as scary. What is crucial here is that the teacher can learn to use the whiteboard and adapt their lessons and teaching techniques to make full use of the tool.

According to a World Economic Forum report, all industries expect at least 50% of their workforce will require reskilling in some way. This means that flexibility and adaptability are important attributes to cultivate in students in order to use new technology to its fullest potential. English language learners are at an advantage. The linguistic flexibility of bilingual students helps their brains to adapt easily to change, so new challenges aren’t as daunting as they otherwise might be.

Thriving in a changing world

Having a good command of English will obviously help when your students are looking for work in a globalised world. However, as an educator, you should be going beyond simply teaching them grammar and vocabulary. The skills that will stand today’s teenagers in good stead are human in nature, like creativity and curiosity: skills that robots can’t replicate. The World Economic Forum’s report, The Future of Jobs, found “human skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion, and negotiation will retain or increase their value” in the workplace of the future. Thus, these skills are the most important to try and implement into your classes.

One way you can start doing this is by offering learners more agency and autonomy:

  • Let them have a say in the direction their learning takes.
  • Give them choices, get them working together to achieve a common goal.
  • Follow up with time spent reflecting on their success.
  • Focus on what students are good at. What they want to learn, and what they think will actually be helpful in their later lives.


We need to instil a learning mindset in our students, and a desire to upskill and experience new things. This will encourage them to view the future as an exciting challenge rather than something scary. Humans are hardwired to fear change. If you can help them overcome that, they will find a career they love and a way to thrive in our rapidly evolving world.


1 The McKinsey Global Institute Report

2 The World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs


For more on the modern classroom, check out Ben Goldstein’s article Keeping the screenagers happy in which he explores using video to engage students in those tricky teenage years.

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