Education and Jobs – Vision 2020

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I have always been dismayed as I look at the education system and realize that out of our 15 years or so of K-12 and higher education, we end up using a small fraction of what we have learned in our day to day lives. Ironically the early K years are the most well rounded education years, where students get to learn art, language, math, building things, experiments etc. – which countries around the world are trying to promote under the STEAM movement (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths)

As children move up the education system, they are then forced to take on more and more topics that divert further away from the practical day to day needs. Then they go to universities in the hope that these universities will skill them in disciplines that they could then work in. The students and their parents take on a huge financial burden only to realize, at graduation, that the workplace needs them to skill up – get more practical experience. These students then struggle to secure an unpaid internship just to be able to prove themselves. What a waste of all those years of learning and a waste of so much money!

When I confront some academics they point to the importance of that learning environment, learning approach – being put under pressure to study hard and so on. My response, is that all those are good, but why can’t they be done in conjunction with more practical and relevant education? Why can’t there be a more concerted effort in the education system to develop the great skills that can only be passed on while we have these students’ attention in schools – things like teamwork, leadership, communication skills, community projects, entrepreneurship and the like?

Now a lot of academic institutions are already shifting to a more effective and forward thinking model, but the vast majority of them are stuck in the past and oblivious to the need for change. The problem arises as these currently enrolled students come out of the education system to an even more challenging job market.

In we have been working on practical business development programs for over a decade and our engagement with both the corporates and the student community is giving us some insight into the changes happening at both end of the spectrum of the job market. As such I thought it would be a useful idea to document some of the changes we are seeing and imagine how they will pan out in the near future.

As the number of new growth markets worldwide dwindle, population growth slows, and growth all over the world slows down, most of the existing industries will need to focus on operational efficiency and on staying lean. One of the big cost centres in companies is employment and as such they will look for automating more and more jobs and outsourcing others.

In 2020, I believe these changes would have started to mature, and you will find that companies would be judged based on how efficiently they have been able to grow with a small team instead of looking at how many people they hire. Fast growth companies now boast about how they have increased their staff since the last investment. I believe that will change dramatically where startups will focus on developing a solid product line and will only keep core employees to manage that development, customer data and experience. Everything else can and should be outsourced.

The pressures on operational efficiency and focus on performance management will result, in my view, in a breaking up of the day-to-day job functions of a company into smaller job tasks that could be either done internally, outsourced to others or automated. Companies would need to be adept at decomposing any business output into a set of small tasks that they could then quantify and measure. We are already seeing some elements of this process come to life today in the agile computing methodology, and through the huge growth of freelancing sites that companies outsource non-core tasks to.

As such by 2020 education would need to change where project work is at the heart of everything and instead of measuring performance on a quiz basis, performance would need to be measured based on outputs. Students can then start working on various job tasks that companies put to them while they are still in high school – giving them a much more practical experience and giving corporates access to a low cost resource pool. Corporates and governments can also tap into the student body for continuous access to innovative ideas through open innovation programs.

For the vast majority of students, the main purpose of education is to be able to financially sustain themselves in the future. As such by 2020 educational institutions from schools to universities that are not totally aligned with industries around them would be at a huge disadvantage and will eventually loose out. On the other hand, entrepreneurship will need to be an essential educational topic from early on in school since it provides practical skills that are needed to succeed in the workplace. This would also help reduce the pressure on job creation from the governments and corporates, as the students have the means of starting their own companies or doing freelancing work.

Another very important area that should be a pre-requisite in academic institutions is social entrepreneurship – the turning of social challenges into opportunities. In doing so, the students need to bring together many disciplines such as history, geography, culture, psychology, etc – as they understand the social issues and identify sustainable development solutions.

On the other hand, lifelong learning in 2020 will be omnipresent as everyone will need to continuously update their skills to address the tasks at hand. People will not have the time to follow deep academic routes, but would rather need to get just as much learning as needed, just in time for them to complete the job they are working on. Learning will be mapped to various job tasks and functions instead of academic depth. All this would be seamless and delivered through their preferred companion, the mobile device. In we are already following this self service, bite sized, job focused, practical learning approach today and the feedback from learners is outstanding.

Over the coming 3 years, until 2020, artificial intelligence would come more into play in the learning process, as we would be able to intelligently challenge the learners based on their interactions, we would be able to suggest the best learning tracks for them to develop their career prospects. On the other hand, virtual reality is bound to come into play and take over many of the physical simulations that we could only be thought in classrooms. The flipped learning model would be applicable at all levels of the education curriculum, where student would learn at their own pace before coming to a physical environment, be it a school, hospital, oil field or call centre, to be mentored, challenged and tested in the real life environment.

With such developments taking place, I don’t see the need for students having to wait until they are 20 and above to get a taste of a real career, they could start while they are 15 working on an area that they are passionate about, engaging with corporates or building their own business. Many today still pursue the academic diploma for social recognition but by 2020, many would realize that it is not worth it and that companies don’t necessary care about it. If you can prove that you can do the job and can do it well, that is your best credential.

It’s insane that for centuries the education system hasn’t changed much despite the huge changes surrounding our day to day life, but I am confident that over the next couple of years, it will be disrupted and improved to deliver a better return on investment to our communities.