Jobs of the future
Today's learners have to prepare themselves for jobs that may not even exist yet.
The biggest change that we're seeing in the IT industry at the moment is the emergence of role-based jobs, according to Ronald Meeske, CEO of CTU Training Solutions.
He clarifies: "A role-based job is one that's connected to a specific function, instead of a generic one. The IT industry in particular is becoming increasingly specialised and it's looking for very specific skills in very specific areas."
The challenge, says Meeske, is that the majority of the degrees and diplomas offered by traditional educational institutions are more generically focused. "When we talk about graduates being unable to find employment, this is often because they just don't have the necessary skills that the job market needs."
This trend is coming across very strongly from all of the different vendors, which are looking for graduates who have received more specific training to fulfil very specific job roles. Training providers are going to have to adjust the content of their programmes to meet these rapidly changing requirements from employers, to ensure the employability of their graduates.
Meeske continues: "It seems like a logical thing to do, to offer qualifications in the subjects that are in demand. But it's trickier than it appears. If you consider the rapid pace of change in the IT sector, there's currently demand for skills around artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science, but where will the demand lie in three or four years' time? That's difficult to predict."
While some of the vendors are offering role-specific courses, that trend hasn't permeated through to the formal academic sector yet. He believes there's a great need for renewal across the entire educational space, and that private providers will probably be more agile in being able to change their course material to meet market demand.
"The formal education sector can be very slow to implement new courses. Registering a new degree can take up to three years, with three or four more years required to establish it. By then, that particular skill may no longer be in demand by the IT industry. This is why degrees are often generic in nature, requiring further study in order to specialise."
One qualification that will always be relevant, according to Meeske, is project management. "In South Africa, one of our biggest challenges is the capacity to run successful projects that finish on time and within budget. Project management qualifications incorporate a lot of different methodologies, and when combined with an industry-specific professional certification, will render the graduate fairly valuable in terms of their ability to run projects across various industries."
When it comes to training methodologies and delivery, Meeske says there are two schools of thought. "Firstly, there's the approach of everything being online and all learning taking place in the cloud. I don't buy into this approach and firmly believe that online learning, especially when it comes to technology, is probably one of the leading examples of technology failing to deliver on expectations. Only a very small percentage of people can be successful studying entirely on their own.
"In general, the most successful training and development interventions are presented in a blended approach. I believe that one should deploy diagnostics to assess how individuals learn and then create a blended methodology based on the results."
This is especially relevant to the IT industry, where some complicated and practical concepts are still best conveyed directly, whether it be in a classroom or laboratory scenario, or by interacting online. Adoption of this blended approach to learning about technology, enabled by technology, is growing rapidly, while the traditional classroom-based approach to learning is disappearing as quickly.
"Companies prefer to avoid sending people offsite for face-to-face training as this is an expensive way to train. They don't want their staff members sitting in a room for long periods of time, as this impacts on productivity in the workplace. It's also been proven that sitting and watching someone present information is just not that effective when it comes to learning. Some form of interaction with the learning material is required to ensure an engaged audience, and this is where technology comes into its own."
Where art and science converge
"Adding to the challenge when it comes to deciding which qualification to complete, when we consider technologies such as robotics and drones, for example, it becomes clear that we're starting to see a convergence of art, design, engineering and technology."
Traditional educational programmes aren't sufficiently agile to meet this emerging dynamic," he says. "Engineering is an exact science, but we're finding more and more private institutions are incorporating elements of design and art, specifically in the fields of robotics and machine learning.
"In South Africa, our universities don't permit cross-faculty programmes. Yet we're seeing a pressing need for learners to be given the freedom to take different subjects in completely different fields because this will result in graduates who are able to think across more than one discipline. There is a huge shift towards this outside-the-box thinking around qualifications, and if we want to produce employable graduates, we have to keep pace. "
This equally applies to how people choose what to study after school. Meeske suggests diagnostics be used to determine how the individual interacts and how they learn, and then work out a learning path that will optimise that person's individual abilities.
He concludes: "We're now well into the fourth industrial revolution, but the fifth industrial revolution is on its way, and it will bring humanity back into technology."