Vol. V No. 2 - Saturday January 7 - January 13, 2006
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ACADEMIA NUTS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Preparing for Work in the Future

Preparing for Work in the Future

Jon Hartmann, College Counselor, CMIS

Predicting what will be needed in the future is a dangerous occupation. Most predictions in the past have been totally wrong! Today we can make well informed educated guesses about where the future jobs will be but there is always an element of risk involved. We could be wrong! This becomes a very serious situation if for example you have just finished a four year computers degree and all of a sudden there are no jobs in this area. Meeting the job market however with a set of suitable skills can ensure you have good employment potential at all times. How can you secure yourself these skills in such a changing world ?

The modern situation.

No matter whom you are, where you are or what you do, rapid technology changes will be impacting on you. In a global world if you try to avoid these changes (e.g. Myanmar) it will impoverish you or your citizens.

Knowledge is still power, life long learning gives the knowledge. Only the lowest paid jobs today do not require continual upgrading of skills such as computer skills and communication skills. Whatever job you are doing now, in five years time you will be doing it different and smarter. A friend who started working as a bank teller 20 years ago is now the manager of a team that services all the financial needs of clients like insurance, loans, investment and retirement. The skills he uses are totally different to the skills he needed to count out money. Everything in the banking industry has changed! He has had to continually upgrade his skills. The first way to ensure you are employable is to continually upgrade your knowledge and skills through Lifelong learning.

Schools and students

How should schools and students adjust to this new world where massive amounts of knowledge are available at the press of a button? Perhaps the worst way to prepare students is to teach them massive amounts of rote learned content or to teach them skills that will soon be obsolete. I met a student recently who proudly told me they knew all about Windows 1.2 after studying it at University a few years ago. “Well that is useful”, I sarcastically answered but I don’t think he got it. Preparing students for life in the 1980’s or 1990’s might make for good students but is this giving them the kind of help they need? Some things never change but the job situation is not one of them. It changes! How do you prepare yourself and students for the future then?

Clearly, it is impossible to be totally informed on any one field of knowledge. Human knowledge is doubling every three years or less. What should students learn then? The answer is I believe good basic summary knowledge and processes. By processes I refer to the means of gaining information they need in every subject they do. Schools can give students much practice in this but the teacher’s role has to change to be a facilitator of knowledge rather than a repository of it. To process information( make sense of it), one must first access it (research, take notes, view, listen, record) and then having made sense of it (processing through discussion, critical thinking) one must present it in an intelligible fashion (reports, projects, essays, talks). There is still a role for some rote learning but much less than ever before.

Socrates said 2000 years ago that a civilized man is one who can answer a rational question with a rational answer. Today a civilized person is one who can present a rational summary from a multitude of facts and sources. Just learning facts is as obsolete as copying from a board. The world no longer needs human photocopiers. They were obsolete after the middle ages. It doesn’t need human memory banks. 80 gig of hard drive is better and more reliable.

What the world needs are communicative people who, working in a team, can process information, make sense of it and act with initiative to use it. Education today is then the extremely exciting and challenging task of preparing students for this. I would argue that good education has always prepared students with the above skills. Students who develop the above skills will be keenly sought after by any organization.

Creative thinking

An old friend of mine dropped out of a Math degree at University and worked for a time packing delivery trucks for a National courier mail and parcel company. He was a creative thinker. He saw the cylinders and boxes different
to the “drones” he worked with. He experimented with different combinations to loading a truck and after a while came up with a solution to packing a truck that saved 20 percent of floor space. It saved the company over 1 million dollars a year. He had not rote leaned his job like the people he worked with. He processed the information and presented a rational analysis of the many bits of information he received. People like this are valuable to every business and at every level of the business not just a CEO’s. Show creativity and you will be employable.

No time

No one has time anymore. Education today must not only give students the necessary knowledge for a specific job, it must also give them experience in that job. Once upon a time only a few degrees required Internships, now most of them do. This is because middle management has largely disappeared and few bosses have the time to train staff. Work Experience becomes therefore not just desirable but essential!

Graduates must hit the job floor running. Even with a Masters Degree, if you sit around waiting to be told what to do you are not much use to anybody. Businesses and organizations want people who can take the initiative and know what to do without having a long and expensive training session. The lesson for students in this is don’t just get yourself knowledge, get yourself skills. For the rest of us it is a lifelong process of constantly re-skilling.

What area should I get skilled in?

Careers counselors are often asked to pick the next booming industry that will take off and nake millions. Students want to be all ready qualified and ready to go when it takes off. Should you study fiber optics or computers? Who can really tell? My best advice is to follow your pathway of choice, one that you love, are good at and that fits in with your values. Within that pathway develop the skills that will make you a top employee. Learn flexibility, learn team work, learn creative thinking, learn communication skills, learn to use modern technology very well and above all learn to work long and hard.

Whatever you study, these skills will make you employable in the future. You may be lucky and strike a booming area just at the right time and make millions, you might not! The bottom line is that you will always have a job.



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