Sunday, May 8, 2011

Be prepared

Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm Centrum / HU Ber by 96dpi, on FlickrIs higher education losing touch with the demands of the 21st century workplace? Traditional hierarchical management structures are giving way to virtual teams, global project groups and a higher degree of independence and entrepreneurial enterprise. Companies need employees who know how to network, can quickly find relevant information and are completely at home in the increasingly digital business environment. Are universities preparing students for this?

The answer would appear to be no according to a new article in Times Higher Education by Cathy N. Davidson, So last century.Universities still prepar students for linear careers in hierarchical organisations as was appropriate last century. Once you had gained the academic foundation at university you joined an organisation and then progressed your way through the ranks until you were pensioned off at 65. Today's students are however likely to change career at least four times. The main lesson to learn, therefore, is the ability to quickly adapt and learn new skills on the fly. In the writer's opinion most universities fail to recognize these 21st century skills that are most likely to dominate employers' future wishlists:

"Think about the skills this environment requires. This end-to-end principle requires new sorting and attentional skills, collaborative skills, judgement and logical skills, synthesising and analytical abilities, critical and creative skills, qualitative and quantitative skills, all together, with few lines between them. These are sometimes called "21st-century literacies", a range of new interpersonal, synthesising, organising and communication skills that companies insist today's graduates lack."

This is not simply about using more technology, it's about changing the way we approach higher education. Think of how much time is spent by students learning the art of writing academic dissertations and articles. Certainly it is a process that requires discipline, logical thought and excellent language skills but how often do you have to write like this at work? In business such complex writing would seldom even be read. Short and succinct summaries highlighting critical agruments are much more common tasks at work, usually based on a wide and complex amount of background information. The ability to find relevant information, filter it and present convincing arguments from it are essential skills for the future.

As the article states so nicely in conclusion:

"My students live an extracurricular digital life that is as rich, varied and ever-changing as is the world of work that lies ahead of them. Sadly, in between their digital personal lives and the digital work life ahead stands the institution of education as stern and unyielding as Taylor with his stopwatch, clocking how long it takes to move a wheelbarrow of bricks from Point A to Point B. This has to change. The time is right, now, to rethink education for the world of work of the present, not for the past. Let's get started."

Photo: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licenseby  96dpi 

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