Editor’s note: this is a guest post from Fred Mazzella, co-founder and executive chairman of European tech scale-up BlaBlaCar.
The digital revolution has brought significant societal benefits. By connecting the world like never before, it has brought unprecedented gains in productivity, diffusion of information and quality of life. But like other revolutions before it, it is also creating some real challenges – particularly for the portion of the workforce whose skills might become increasingly obsolete, as AI and automation take over their jobs.
The challenge this time around is that revolutions are operating on shorter cycles, with a duration of around 20 years, whereas those of the past often lasted many decades. Back then, individuals only had to adjust once in their lives, if at all.
The increase in the speed of innovation, resulting from a powerful communication infrastructure spreading new ideas at the speed of light and machines continuously becoming more powerful, means we’re now expected to make successive adjustments over the course of a lifetime.
Education is the best tool we have for addressing the challenge of innovation outpacing skills – but it too has a problem. If it is to succeed in providing inclusive innovation, education also needs to disrupt itself.
As the founder of a tech company, I’ve witnessed educational programmes grow increasingly out of sync with our recruitment and internal education needs. In today’s fast-paced environment, a lot of innovation occurs on the job, driven by creative and problem-solving minds. Knowledge then spreads across the ecosystem, as employees move from one company to the next. The current education offering is left behind and not well equipped to bridge the gap between companies’ needs and the workforce’s skill set.
Here are five changes that could improve education for the digital age, and help society emerge from it better off:
In today’s world, you can no longer rely on a higher education degree to serve you for an entire career, especially lifespans lengthen. Moreover, you are also more likely to change sectors throughout your career. Whatever your age or level of seniority, in the modern job market, where technology is fast-changing, and knowledge can quickly become obsolete, it’s crucial to continue learning to remain on top of your game.
Continuous education needs to become the norm. As the business world innovates and develops at pace, we need to identify ways to create and share educational content faster, so the educational system maps better against business cycles. If it doesn’t, it risks losing touch, unable to supply the new skills demanded by competitive businesses.
Knowledge from the source
As innovation accelerates, jobs evolve fast. Knowledge and skills often end up existing in companies before they have time to be integrated into school programmes. As a result, we need to start finding this knowledge at the source – more often than not, from innovation-led businesses – and sharing it with those who need it.
To incentivise such cooperation, knowledge-sharing partnerships between businesses and educators could involve government remuneration for companies who make their experts available to fill the knowledge gap for skills like product design, online marketing and data science.
Already, there are institutions paving the way in bridging this gap between business and education: General Assembly’s pioneering and fast-growing model, for instance, is a good example of how business and education can come together to help speed up the diffusion of specialist knowledge.
The ability to digitalise content means that teaching methods are changing, and becoming more efficient. Professors can shift their efforts away from repeating the same thing over and over again, and towards fostering the right soft skills needed to thrive in today’s fast-paced world; a formidable opportunity.
From Wikipedia, down to the Khan Academy and massive open online courses developed by schools and universities, knowledge and content are becoming universally available, helping to level out hierarchies previously based on knowledge, and focused instead on aptitude and intelligence. We need to see this continue to become more and more prevalent, and to see educators championing soft skills over rote learning.
Geared for learning
A person’s capacity to adapt to today’s fast-paced working environment is becoming increasingly dependent on the development of soft skills – like curiosity, an agile mindset, and a desire and aptitude to learn quickly.
The education system must therefore focus on distilling these soft skills from a young age right through senior education. This means stepping away from traditional learning models built to teach theoretical knowledge only, and shifting towards a more engaging teaching format which focuses instead on developing the right mindset.
This is already the model followed by business schools offering MBAs and Executive MBAs. Most of the value resulting from these programmes is from actively thinking of how to solve a problem and exchanging insights with peers with complementary experience. Ecole 42’s pioneering open curriculum for developers and computer scientists offers an innovative programme based on peer-to-peer learning and progress gamification.
To be of most value, education must first and foremost teach us how to learn and iterate rapidly, to work in teams pooling complementary skills to empower our curiosity and enhance our ability to tackle problems.
Creative and empathetic
As AI and automation begin to move in on many blue-collar jobs, the education of tomorrow must also strengthen our competitive advantage against machines.
Our power over machines rests in two human strengths that cannot easily be replicated – creativity and empathy – and this is where our educational system must focus.
Creativity is the source of all innovation, be it technological or social. It has enabled human beings to adapt throughout the ages, and to create art in all its forms – something machines cannot achieve. This makes it a value-add which cannot be matched by computers.
Empathy is the capacity to relate to another, to engineer solutions that take a wide spectrum of emotions into account, and create a context unique to the people involved to generate a constructive outcome. Again, this skill cannot be coded, and is key to a successful career.
There is a lot that the education system can do to encourage individuals to develop these skills, and improve them throughout their lives. At BlaBlaCar, creativity, agility, proactivity, problem-solving skills and being a team player are what we look for in the talents we recruit.
As the son and grandson of school teachers, and a student of leading engineering schools in France and the US, I’m a pure product of the educational system, and truly passionate about the opportunities it can create for all of us. Education spending represents around 11% of all public expenditure in Europe, so we need to think about how we invest these resources for maximum impact.
If the public education system could conceive programmes that span our entire lives and not only our first 25 years, that pull knowledge directly from businesses, that develop the right soft skills, and scale content through digitalisation, we would be taking a huge step towards future-proofing the next generation for the entirety of their working lives.
Featured image credit: Ermolaev Alexandr / Adobe Stock