Much has been made of the coming job apocalypse—a future rich in robots and AI that will not only supplant workers but demand the sorts of technological skills that many Americans do not possess.
A recent survey from the firm ManpowerGroup found that 46% of U.S. companies already have trouble finding workers with the tech skills necessary to fill open jobs. It warned that even entry-level jobs of tomorrow will require the sorts of skills that much of today’s workforce has no training in.
There are many possible remedies to this problem, including expanded online learning, training programs for existing workers and better access to collegiate programs in science, technology, engineering and math. Yet amid all of the sophisticated solutions posited by think tanks and futurists, there’s one that few have thought seriously about: Playing with Legos.
Speaking at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference this week, Lego’s evp and global chief marketing officer Julia Goldin suggested that creative play—with Lego blocks, in particular—is more important to developing essential analytical and reasoning skills than people might assume.
“When [kids] play and build with Lego,” Goldin said, “they develop and build 21st-century skills [including] creative problem solving [and] critical thinking. The true creativity of tomorrow is not being able to imagine something but being able to build it.”
Citing a statistic from the World Economic Forum, Goldin told viewers that 65% of the children now entering primary school will, when they get older, take jobs that presently do not exist. “So they need to be prepared in a different way,” she said. “Education is not going to be enough.”
Of course, you’d expect the chief marketer for a brand of building blocks to say that building blocks have educational merit. But there’s also evidence to support Goldin’s contentions.
The Digital Marketing Institute reported that “soft skills” (including critical thinking and numeracy) are an integral part of preparing young people for the advanced jobs, stating specifically that “complex problem solving is set to be the most important job skill in 2020.”
What’s more, “most of the predicted crucial skills cited are those developed through social and emotional leaning.” And research from MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab, cited on the Boston Children’s Museum website, suggests that “play is what helps children learn about solving problems.”
Goldin also quoted an oft-cited observation made by the late futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1970 bestseller Future Shock, that “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, for as essential as formalized education might be, intellectual flexibility is even more valuable.
Goldin stopped short of calling Lego a formalized educational tool, but the implication was there. And she’s hardly the first to make it. Writing for the peer reviewed journal Parenting Science, anthropologist Gwen Dewar has suggested that “construction toys,” including Lego, help with cognitive development and “may help foster abilities including motor skills, spatial skills, language skills and divergent problem solving.”
In discussing the recent pandemic period marketing that Lego has done, Goldin did not connect the educational merits of Lego to its creative effort, which it called Let’s Build Together.
But the campaign—which encouraged parents to play with their children during lockdown—implied one regardless. Since the marketing initiative wasn’t promoting a specific new set and told consumers to simply use whatever Lego bricks they already had lying around the house, it inadvertently set the stage for plenty of creative problem solving.