Skilled for the future

I remember while growing up in Sri Lanka, my father used to tell me that unless I studied hard to become a Doctor, Engineer or a Lawyer, I would end up in the teaching profession just like my mother.  I never could figure out why he felt that to become a Teacher would be detrimental to my future well-being.  Perhaps his logic had something to do with the gap in the associated monetary income being generated.  What he used to call the Three “R’s” – (Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic) was deemed vital for the assurance of my prosperity.

A number of years have gone by since, and now I being a father of four, at times wonder if he was right.  On occasion I still encounter parents who worry that their children will not fare well unless they pursue a Science-Technology-Engineering-Math based education plan.  As a result, my second daughter was placed under considerable influence by us to pursue ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) instead of the VET (Vocational Education and Training) programme that she desired to follow.

However, I have now come to realise that in fact, times have changed and continues to do so progressively and rapidly.  Unless one is prepared to evolve, one cannot possibly hope to survive in the future.

Interestingly, Greg Whitby an innovative educator says that “STEM-driven educational agenda….. seems to be short-sighted“.  Indeed, I agree! My daughter at age 17,  since thankfully being allowed to follow her dream within the VET pathway, has gained the Diploma in Business Management and is already better prepared and motivated for the demands of the future than I ever have been.  “The ability to use technology critically and creatively (i.e. soft skills) will be more vital than hard skills” Greg further adds.  I believe that he is right.

This would perhaps be advise some managers need to consider and be aware of when preparing themselves and their teams for the future – particularly in the field of Technology.

The current push by governments around the world towards a STEM-driven educational agenda and the creation of STEM-focused schools seems to be short-sighted.  It reflects a popular view that innovation is not only central to future economic growth but that it is largely driven by advances in science and technology.  The danger is that we run the risk of reducing education to a training capacity.

With the rapid development of quantum computing and its potential to power artificial intelligence we are entering uncharted territory. Even today’s complicated programming and coding will increasingly be done by machines that can learn. It is simplistic to assume that current programming and coding skills will remain the same into the future. Before the agrarian revolution the prime skill set was agricultural expertise. The industrial revolution changed that. As the knowledge age expands the same will happen to current skill sets.  The ability to use technology critically and creatively (i.e. soft skills) will be more vital than hard skills.

Universities are having a similar debate over the utility of educating students for the short-term job market when we live in such a rapidly changing world. Kate Carnell, former chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry told the Universities Australia conference in March that we had more to gain by focussing on the skills needed in existing jobs rather than focussing on future jobs.  According to Ms Carnell, ‘innovation is as much about people and process as STEM invention’.

We have always known that a good education is the balance of soft and hard skills; non-academic and academic paths; science and the humanities. Innovation will be defined by how well teach all students to apply critical and creative thinking across all disciplines.

(ref. Article and image via: