As a workforce, we face unprecedented change. The combined forces of technology and capitalism have arguably led to the most rapid improvements in quality of life, prosperity and education for more people than at any other period in history.
At the same time, there is a lot of uncertainty. The nature of work is changing for many, and change surrounds us in every sphere of life. In particular the rapid progress in machine learning and the potential for automation means there isn’t a great deal of time to reshape education to meet the needs of a workforce in transformation.
Many graduates are already taking up work in areas for which they didn’t study, perhaps because their studies turned out to be less relevant once they entered the job market. This heralds a return to the idea of education for training the mind – studying classics or history has always been about how to create, position and develop an argument.
So while strong technical foundations matter, an implicit, parallel set of abilities is also required. These are less obvious, but include self-awareness, resilience, empathy and adaptability.
We need to make sure generalised university courses address vital workplace skills in emotional intelligence.
As automation progresses, it will affect all fields to a greater or lesser extent. Already there is a website – willrobotstakemyjob.com – that offers an estimate of your likelihood of being replaced by technology. Of course its tone is tongue in cheek and it’s run by an algorithm, but it highlights how technologies are emerging in all disciplines. The hope is that augmenting human capabilities will result in more humans gaining more opportunities to do more of what humans do well – making inductive leaps, spotting unlikely connections, and being less process bound and thus free to be more creative.
However, for all this promise, students entering university now to graduate in three-to-five years’ time need different skills, different courses and different teaching now if they are to make suitable choices and be prepared for a whole new kind of career. The challenge for universities is to respond quickly enough to ensure relevance.
Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne is proactively seeking to equip students with best-in-class Adobe tools used in industry through the new Graduate Certificate of Digital Marketing Technologies. This is the first time Adobe courseware has been accredited to a university post-graduate course, allowing Swinburne to embed both theory and practice to make students more attractive to potential employers. Swinburne has taken this path with speed and certainty, knowing it will deliver the right outcomes for students. This agility is a direct mirror of corporate best practice, where transparency and inclusiveness have been found to be a catalyst for progress than longer phase approaches.
Education has traditionally taken longer term views of management and delivery of knowledge, in order to safeguard its quality and accuracy. With the rise of the internet and its unlimited connectivity, knowledge is changing to be more contemporary. Therefore, courses must be reviewed and improved much more rapidly. Most universities recognise the need and have started down this path, but more needs to be done – and quickly, if their offerings are to remain useful.
It’s obvious too that lifelong learning matters – adults need skills and stimulation too. But employers have an opportunity to provide time and space for staff to extend their knowledge. Perhaps freeing up time to learn could be one of the dividends of automation.
Closer partnerships between education and industry make sense. Decoupling education from location to enable certification through work experience, and combining course material with in-house training from employers helps everyone.
It’s an exciting time to be in education – more knowledge and more specialisation is available than ever before. And despite the challenges, the potential for students to have the most engaging, creative and diverse careers has never been better.