An increased focus on coding and computer literacy is spreading around the world, as educators and ministers strive to prepare pupils for the jobs of tomorrow. But a return to a more hands-on, play-based approach to education is needed to meet the huge demand for more traditional manual skills in the years to come, a new study suggests.
Come 2022, according to thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), care, health and social work will provide more jobs than any other sector, and experts have called for students to be given increased exposure to the practical skills that will be required to sustain the economy.
David Harbourne, director of policy and research at vocational education charity the Edge Foundation, which commissioned the study, called for a greater focus on traditional professions.
"Because we're so excited by the jobs of the future, we forget that the jobs of yesterday are still here and we really need them," he said. "We do need more people with coding skills, there are no two ways about it, but those seemingly old-fashioned skills of how to make things still really do matter."
Mr Harbourne cited the example of the Canadian province of British Columbia, which this month launched a strategy to realign its education system more closely with the jobs market.
"Because they're thinking long term, they've really got to introduce hands-on learning in primary and carry that through into secondary," Mr Harbourne said. "We've got to make sure there's this balance between what children know about things and what children can do.
"Yes, we want children to know a lot of stuff: we want them to be good with numeracy and literacy and we want them to communicate effectively. But we've drifted away from the ability to make and do things because that's been seen as less important."
The IPPR has predicted that there will be 2.75 million more health and care worker roles in UK hospitals, care homes and the community over the next decade, as well as nearly half a million new jobs in skilled construction trades.
However, the labour market has been skewed by the increase in the number of young people going to university, the report says. "A fifth of all workers in low-skilled occupations have a higher education qualification," it adds.
The imbalance has been exacerbated by young people's lack of knowledge about the full range of jobs available to them, Mr Harbourne believes.
But Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, warned against encouraging students to specialise in practical skills too young. "Giving young people information about what work opportunities are available is one thing," he said. "Making sure the curriculum is broad and balanced with both practical skills and academic knowledge is another."
Mr Harbourne said: "It's about ensuring that, when people make choices, they have been exposed to a range of opportunities. That should start in primary schools with visits to workplaces, and [careers talks by] people from different walks of life."