We need now to go on learning throughout our lives. When somebody stops learning, now it’s like they’ve stopped thinking, or at least being creative.
Article originally published in the Wall Street Journal written by Catherine Bolgar
In the last century, you got an education, then you got a job. But the future isn’t going to be so clear-cut.
Jobs appear in new sectors while other sectors shrivel away as markets change and technology evolves.
“In that kind of situation, knowledge and vocational skills could be more likely to get outdated more quickly than in the past,” says Hiro Izushi, senior lecturer in innovation at Aston Business School in Birmingham, U.K., and director of the Centre for International Competitiveness, devoted to research on competitiveness. “If you move from one sector to another, there’s a good chance that what you learned might not be applicable to the sector you’re moving to.”
That means workers at all levels need to keep learning, whether to keep up with the changes or to move to emerging opportunities as new sectors develop.
“As we move to a knowledge economy, the number of jobs where people can simply turn up and be told how to do the job and be well paid for it is diminishing rapidly,” says John Howkins, author of the book, “The Creative Economy,” and chairman of BOP Consulting in London. “We need now to go on learning throughout our lives,” he adds. “When somebody stops learning, now it’s like they’ve stopped thinking, or at least being creative.”
The basics like math and reading continue to be important, but the ubiquity of technology means we no longer need to memorize data—encyclopedic information is but a click away. Instead, what we need is the ability to sort through mountains of information and decide which bits are important. What we need is exposure to several disciplines in order to have not just the creativity to come up with new ideas but also the ability to see how to translate something from the drawing board into an actual product or service. What we need are the interpersonal skills to work with collaborators or to lead teams.
1. Analyze This
Even if we no longer really need to memorize vast amounts of information, we are faced in our professional lives with ever greater amounts of information. What we need to learn is how to sort it out—discern the good from the bad, prioritize, synthesize, analyze.
One thing universities are good at is helping students “foster a critical eye about knowledge, and that is transferable across any sector,” says the Aston Business School ‘s Dr. Izushi. “In any sector you are likely to be in a situation where you have to make a quick decision with a limited amount of knowledge, or else you are overloaded with information and have to decide what is important. Then it is important that you have the ability to judge the knowledge.”
Dr. Izushi sees tension among MBA students who say education is not meeting their needs. They want ready-made knowledge applicable to their specific situations. But in MBA programs—and education in general—the process of learning is more important than memorizing specific pieces of knowledge, he says.
“We have to build the ability to learn in the first instance,” says Robert Huggins, professor of management and policy at the Cardiff School of Management at the University of Wales and director of the Centre for International Competitiveness.
Skills that are gaining importance include enterprise development, leadership, management, and knowing how to access information, he says, adding, “In the end, it’s going to become just a prerequisite to have this high-level work force with these high-level, adaptable skills.”
2. Soft skills
Companies count on innovation more than ever to maintain a competitive advantage. Innovation requires three ingredients: intellectual capital that can be converted into something valuable; financial capital to fund the process; and human capital to sustain the entrepreneurial process, says John Kao, author of the book “Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters and What We Can Do to Get It Back,” and chairman of the Institute for Large-Scale Innovation, a San Francisco-based nongovernmental organization that promotes societal cooperation for innovation.
That raises the profile for “soft” people skills. “Mentoring and collaboration are much more important in a creative economy than in one based on fixed goods, output and repetition,” says Mr. Howkins, the author.
Another soft skill rising in stature is entrepreneurship. It’s not just for people who want to create their own companies. Established corporations are seeking more people who bring an entrepreneurial spirit, says Prof. Huggins of Cardiff, and universities are stepping up their offerings. He points to the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada, which established a center for business, entrepreneurship and technology within its engineering faculty.
And FedEx runs a program in Asia where the spirit of entrepreneurship is nurtured in the younger generation of potential business leaders.
“One of our focus areas is to connect education with the real world by inspiring participation in global trade,” says David L. Cunningham Jr., president, Asia Pacific, FedEx Express.
“Based on a mentoring and coaching model, we have been running this program with Junior Achievement successfully for five years now. By simulating the marketing of products or services in a global environment, the program reinforces critical thinking, leadership among other life-long skills that will equip participants for the challenges and opportunities throughout their lives.”
3. Hybrid education
Indeed, the education of the future is likely to be a hybrid of specific technical expertise complemented by a grounding in entrepreneurship or management.
Besides the University of Waterloo, the U.K. National Council for Graduate Education has invested in programs to match mainstream science and engineering skills with entrepreneurial education to create a more creative work force of the future, Prof. Huggins says.
“If we want innovation, it’s no longer just about training scientists, it’s about understanding the whole value chain,” says Dr. Kao of the Institute for Large-Scale Innovation. “There’s almost an integrated set of skills that needs to be represented in the process. In the past, we segmented innovation. But there are lots of ‘hyphenated’ people now who can see across traditional boundaries.”
As more developing countries pour resources into improving their educational systems, the developed world has to count on these special hybrids to stay a step ahead.
“Not only is innovation becoming more important, but it’s becoming more global,” says John Boudreau, professor of management and organization at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and author of the book, “Beyond HR: the New Science of Human Capital.” “It poses interesting questions for developed countries, which [believed] they were where innovation takes place.”
Dr. Kao notes three very different national success stories. Finland decided to invest in science and technology education and went from being good to being one of the best in the world. Singapore leverages a Confucian value system for instilling high academic performance. And China has doubled the number of higher-education institutions.
“Countries that are concerned about innovation are also concerned about education,” he says.
National governments aren’t the only ones to invest in education. The role of business in education is growing. In part, that’s because of the need for lifelong learning—businesses need to keep their workers up to date with technological advances. Business also is finding an interest in educational investment in the developing world.
Education can be seen as a human capital supply-chain problem, says Dr. Boudreau. “Organizations that work in developing countries are finding that things you take for granted in developed countries—like qualified drivers—you can’t find on short notice. So, organizations must make investments, like basic education, at earlier stages of the human capital supply chain.”
For example, Coca-Cola Co.’s University on Wheels program sent 20-seat buses around India to deliver courses to some 30,000 rural retailers about how to display products and better manage inventory. Coke also has educational programs in other countries.
Companies find the payoffs high from investments to improve literacy or train drivers, and, even when they decide not to enter a country where they’ve invested in education, the amount spent is small, he says.
“Business always has been involved in education, but we probably will see it become more prominent and occur much earlier,” he says.
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