Much has been written about the impending job apocalypse – a future of robots and AI that not only displaces workers but also demands the kind of technological skills that many Americans do not possess.
A recent survey by ManpowerGroup found that 46% of US companies are already struggling to find workers with the technical skills needed to fill vacancies. It warned that even tomorrow’s entry-level jobs will require the skills that a large part of today’s workforce is untrained in.
There are many possible solutions to this problem, including more online learning, training programs for existing workers, and better access to college programs in science, technology, engineering, and math. Despite all of the ingenious solutions put up by think tanks and futurists, there is one that few have given serious thought to: playing with Legos.
At this week’s ANA Masters of Marketing conference, Legos evp and Global Chief Marketing Officer Julia Goldin suggested that creative play – especially with Lego blocks – is more important than one might think for developing basic analysis and reasoning skills.
“When [kids] Play and build with Lego, “said Goldin,” you develop and build 21st century skills [including] creative problem solving [and] critical thinking. The true creativity of tomorrow consists in not being able to imagine something but being able to build it. “
Citing statistics from the World Economic Forum, Goldin told viewers that 65% of children who are now in elementary school will take jobs in old age that do not currently exist. “So they have to be prepared in a different way,” she said. “Education won’t be enough.”
Of course, one would expect the primary marketer of a brand of building blocks to say that building blocks have educational value. But there is also evidence to support Goldin’s claims.
The Digital Marketing Institute reported that “soft skills” (including critical thinking and numeracy) are an essential part of preparing young people for advanced jobs, stating in particular that “complex problem solving will be the most important professional skill in 2020”.
Furthermore, “most of the predicted vital skills that are named are those developed through social and emotional inclination.” Research by MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab, cited on the Boston Children’s Museum website, suggests that “playing helps children solve problems”.
Goldin also cited an often-quoted observation by the late futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1970 bestseller Future Shock: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn . “The implication is that intellectual flexibility, as important as formalized education may be, is even more valuable.
Goldin stopped calling Lego a formalized educational tool, but the implication was there. And she’s hardly the first to make it. The anthropologist Gwen Dewar wrote for the journal Parenting Science and suggested that “construction toys”, including Lego, support cognitive development and “can promote skills such as motor skills, spatial skills, language skills and different problem solving”.
In discussing Lego’s recent pandemic marketing, Goldin failed to associate Lego’s educational merits with its creative endeavors, which it called Let’s Build Together.
But the campaign encouraging parents to play with their children during lockdown implied one. Since the marketing initiative wasn’t promoting a specific new set and asking consumers to simply use the Lego blocks they already had around the house, it inadvertently set the stage for lots of creative problem solving.