29 April, 2016
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion where both academic and business representatives were discussing the future of higher education for ICT related programs. Due to the extreme speed of technology evolution and the need for an increasing number of programmers and IT related skills, the business world already lacks professionals in this particular field: there are thousands of open positions just in our small country. In order to relieve such labor shortages companies are attracting students from the university way before they even finish their studies. Deans responsible for technology related education in Hungary say that more than half of the students will start working during their BSc studies and most of them won’t finish their studies at all. Not to mention the percentage of students who are proceeding to an MSc level, which is even less. There is already a huge shortage for code developers and if we think about expertise related to Big Data, there are thousands of open positions for Business Analytics, Data Scientists or Chief Data Officers, but there is no suitable curriculum in the academic world yet, that matches the skill requirements of those positions.
The enterprise world more or less bypasses the academic world – several big (and even many mid-sized) companies already have their own internal education departments building up in-house ‘Enterprise Academies’ where newcomers are further educated in areas which can immediately be applied in their everyday job.
Until recently, students knew that what they learned in higher education could be useful in their future careers for decades; something that is not true anymore. Most of the Z generation – young people who are still learning in undergraduate education – will be working in jobs which do not even exist today. Personally, I believe that students cannot be blamed for their decision to step forward and in several cases leave the education behind. This is also the risk young people are taking, as later on it will be very difficult for them to go back to school when they realize the need for new skills or the thirst for knowledge raises. Actually, we can state that academic degrees have lost their value they had some decades ago, but how do we know that this will stay as it is nowadays, or will its regard change again in the near future? Are we ready to take the risk of a bad decision today that can influence our whole future?
We are just in the beginning of a new era, the cognitive era. We cannot be sure about the skills and knowledge that will be needed, norabout areas that will be obsolete or outdated. One thing is sure: technology will reshape every type of business. The impact of technology evolution is now transforming not only the business but also the way how people work. As László Mérő, a Hungarian research psychologist and popular science author, says we are reshaping ourselves to Homo Informaticus. We are sacrificing the individual in order to become more effective in teamwork and collaboration. If somebody falls out, they can easily be replaced. We build teams mixing different expertise into something that makes a team more efficient than the individuals separately. We excel in information gathering and processing, we are much better in pattern recognition, we recall situations where we can immediately apply something that worked well earlier and drop another thing that did not. We are becoming problem solving engines: when we resolve one problem we instantly/rapidly look for the next one, and we feel uncomfortable when we do not have problems to solve up to a point where we even invent new ones by solving problems that nobody asked us to solve. So business is changing, and these are the skills that enterprises are looking for, but traditional education is still focusing on individual old-fashioned education and incubates conceptual and critical thinking… Is this really bad? I am really skeptical about this because today companies are looking for highly educated humanrobots focusing on specific job roles, but what will happen when technology evolution – primarily because of the cognitive systems – will reach a level where basic jobs could easily be replaced by cognitive bots?
So why should we invest in knowledge?
In one of his recent talks Rainer Strack, global leader of the human resources topic at The Boston Consulting Group said that “Technology will replace a lot of regular jobs. Not only in the production industry, but also in offices where workers might as well be replaced by robots, artificial intelligence, big data, or automation.” Thomas Frey, Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, and Google’s top rated Futurist Speaker goes even beyond saying that “over 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030.” On the other hand, according to Sir Ken Robinson English author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education and arts bodies) and the Unesco “In the next 30 years, more people will be graduating through education worldwide than since the beginning of history”. So there is no doubt that we need to invest in knowledge but it is very difficult to estimate what kind of knowledge will be required for future jobs. Just think about ten years ago when we did not have App developers, Data miners, Social media managers or User Experience designers yet, nobody would have guessed that these are valuable skills in the near future.
Our investment in knowledge should be lasting for more than 1-2 years, something we cannot gain from online trainings. On the job education cannot give us permanent and reusable skills: we can learn how to apply patterns to specific problems but we will not learn how to reinvent ourselves when new types of problems and challenges arise. All of these are good supplements to a deep learning course. Recognizing the situation, Academics need to speed up and fill the gap, which is continuously growing. At CEU Business School we put a lot of effort into reshaping our programs or developing new ones like our the newest MSc in Business Analytics, which is the best answer to the Big Data challenges and the cognitive era requirements.
According to a recent IBM Global Student Study “when it comes to their own education, students still prefer traditional classrooms over online or on-the-job education. Online education provides an alternative channel for those students that cannot access face-to-face classroom education, for any reason but it definitely cannot replace the traditional ones”. A good education can give you structure, and help you understand the big picture not just parts of it. You can learn how to put the whole puzzle together and not just a few elements of it. You learn about things that you didn’t even know that you needed. You can develop a framework and construct a compass which can help you get through challenges in the future by adapting skills to specific situations. Online education and on-the-job trainings can be good complementary to your diploma ensuring a life long learning journey. A well thought program can open your mind; you can see behind the stage and understand the colorations of the puzzle pieces and not just what is seen on the surface. You are becoming a member of a community and a network which may give you extra benefits in the long term. During professional education you can learn from both academics and industry experts but you also learn from your classmates. All of these players can bring more and more ingredients to your soup by moving the whole field forward, and in some cases you can even influence the future. By being part of a wider ecosystem, you can learn how to connect the dots and not just learn about them…
This article was first published on HVG Online.