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Education for the jobs of tomorrow

Magnitude and pace of change require constant learning and adaptation

By Brian Kreissl

I recently read an interesting news story on a study by LinkedIn that found one in three parents doesn’t understand their children’s jobs. That got me thinking about my own job and just how many people don’t really get it.

Part of that relates to misconceptions around the HR profession. But I believe a bigger problem is people not understanding many of the roles that are common in the online world today.

I’m pretty confident my father, who is pretty savvy technically (being a retired programmer), could probably explain what I do for a living. And I’m sure my mother, who was a payroll supervisor and worked pretty closely with HR (and was no slouch technically either) would have understood my job if she were alive today.

But I know my in-laws don’t really get what I do. Some of that relates to not really understanding HR, but I think a bigger part of it is they literally don’t know how to turn on a computer (although they’re finally starting to consider getting a home computer).

With the pace of technological advancement being so rapid, people like my in-laws are a dying breed. However, that’s not to say once everyone is finally online we won’t have any issues in misunderstanding other people’s jobs or be better able to advise our children in their careers.

There are obviously thousands of jobs out there. Because some of them are very technical and some are quite obscure, I don’t really understand some of them myself.

But many people don’t get certain jobs because new jobs are being created all the time. And old jobs are disappearing – particularly in dying industries and functions being rendered obsolete by technology.

 I recently watched a very interesting video (below) for a course I’m currently taking on change management. The video really highlights the pace of change in the world today.

One piece of trivia quoted in the video is the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004. If that is true, it’s an incredible fact with some serious implications for the education and training of tomorrow’s workforce.

The video also mentions how we’re currently preparing children for jobs that don’t exist so they can solve problems we don’t know are even problems yet. While that has probably been true for a while — at least for the last 30 years or so — I’m not sure we’ve truly stopped to think through the implications of such massive change.

University education still has value

Back in March, I wrote a post on the debate about the value of a university education versus the need for job-ready graduates in skilled trades and technical jobs. Given the pace of technological change and the upheaval in the job market in recent years, one might automatically think apprenticeships and technical training would be the way forward.

However, in some ways I would tend to argue the opposite. While it is important to provide practical instruction in the latest tools, technologies and best practices, the pace and sheer magnitude of change dictate that what we teach our young people today won’t necessarily cut it tomorrow.

It is important to have a workforce that is adaptive, resilient and able to tackle new challenges and opportunities as they arise. For that reason, we need workers who are able to learn independently and continually adapt and grow.

While there’s no doubt university is not for everyone – and we need more young people to go into skilled trades – that isn’t a panacea either. That’s partially because we have no guarantees the jobs we’re training people for will even exist in 20 years’ time.

Some of the advantages of a well-rounded university education are that it teaches critical thinking skills, the ability to construct logical arguments, effective communication skills, time management skills, and, above all, the ability to learn.

Now I’m not saying the only people who have those skills are university graduates. And most people should prepare to engage in lifelong learning – regardless of their educational backgrounds.

But we should be careful not to throw away the baby with the bathwater by only encouraging young people to enter into trades and downsizing humanities and social science programs at universities.

We also need to be careful not to dismiss the teaching of theory as somehow being “elitist.” Practice changes frequently, but theory not as much.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information on Carswell's HR products visit www.carswell.com.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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