The Big Skills Rethink: Change drivers that are reshaping the world of work

By Sharon Snell
No industry in South Africa has been immune to disruptive forces. From new technologies that are adopted in the workplace to startup companies invading market gaps, these changes are disrupting the traditional way of doing business and are reshaping the world of work as we know it.

In the next series of articles we will be exploring these unprecedented changes and the aggressive demands it places on the skills development and education and training sectors. Along the way, we will tap into the brilliant minds of some of our brightest industry leaders, academics, SETA CEO’s and other thought leaders. Join us on ‘The big skills rethink’ as we explore the latest skills trends.

The big skills rethink: Change drivers that are reshaping the world of work

Professor Hoosen Rasool tells us that the speed of technological innovation is destabilising the labour market and changing occupational profiles. The current qualifications on offer in South Africa are not keeping pace with these changes. There is a need to make qualifications development more flexible, responsive to socio-economic needs and faster to transform.

He says that the difficulty the education sector faces is how to train people for jobs that don’t exist at the moment. In the absence of a crystal ball, the focus should be on providing a generic set of skills that will be needed for the jobs of the future by equipping learners with very strong conceptual, computer, team, anaytical, communication and numerical skills. This base set of skills will be needed for whatever new jobs emerge. Rasool is a director of FR Research which is a labour market research, training and advisory consultancy.

Dr Felicity Coughlan, concurs with Rasool and believes that although provision is made for the periodic review of the content of the curriculum to ensure currency and relevance, this process is insufficient to equip graduates to manage change.

The change that we are currently experiencing is being driven by the same change drivers of the past couple of decades, which are:
changes in technology and how this impacts on the space in which humans work;
reshuffling of social and political configurations; and
issues related to human well-being, which these days includes issues of sustainability and environmental impact.

Dr Felicity Coughlan is the director of the Independent Institute of Education ‘IIE’ and her philosophy is simple: Workplace change is a constant, it needs to be managed. The IIE focuses on the skills and capacities that are needed to manage change – skills such as self-management; collaboration; ability to assess, organise and present information and digital literacy as examples. By ensuring that these skills are embedded in their curricula and assessments, the IIE ensures that students are able to adapt to change as it will keep presenting itself to them throughout their lives.

It is hard not to agree with Dr Coughlan that change is in fact a constant for any workplace. What is unprecedented though, is that the actual pace of change itself has been accelerating with the onset of advanced technologies which build on and augment each other like artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, 3D printing and virtual reality. As a result, no-one can predict with certainty the outcome of the changes. We are on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution according to The Future of Jobs Report published by the World Economic Forum. To be able to successfully navigate and innovate in this space will require an advanced skills set. Let us take a closer look at what is driving the unprecedented change. A report suggests that there are six key drivers of change and we will look at one of them in this article.

Change driver: A new media ecology
There are many new communication tools which require employees to have new media literacies beyond text. Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon or Google are setting the standard for visual communication that begun to pervade our schools and workplaces. People expect similar technologies from their service providers, employers and in their learning environment forcing workplaces to adapt.

Coughlan believes that now more than ever, students and graduates have to be able to combine all literacies – they need to understand how to ascertain which sources are ethical and reliable and they also need to be able to use appropriate communication tools to ensure that they are able to present their own information and opinions credibly. Students need strong discernment skills and good ability to reason and analyse if they are to make sense of the abuse of information that characterises most communication sources at the moment and if they are then able to extract useful and reliable information to support decision making going forward.

Gamification as a new delivery mode for education in the future

As new visual communication media places new demands on our learner’s attention and cognition, gamification must be considered as a powerful complementary medium to support learning delivery. The gamification of learning is defined as an educational approach to motivate students to learn by using video game design and game elements in learning environments. The goal is to maximize enjoyment and engagement through capturing the interest of learners and inspiring them to continue learning. Billions of people of all ages across the globe with a fair gender balance are already gamers.

Although gamification adds another powerful layer and will be disruptive, Dr Coughlan advises that the IIE does not generally support a singular strategy for the development of the flexibility that they want to see in their graduates. She adds that gamification has huge potential as it allows one to help students work through complex scenarios and develop higher order thinking skills. It is however not necessarily the most efficient way to deal with the volume of concepts and knowledge and process in all disciplines at the moment. She adds that it must also be recognised that developers of games for education are structuring them in terms of particular world views and theoretical approaches. Thus while gamification has huge potential for developing problem solving abilities, the game mind-set cannot really replace education based on multiple sources and strategies.

In an article game theorist, teacher and author Vicky Davis says that “game mechanics are part of game theory. The problem with most attempts at gaming in education is that educators mistakenly think that if you give out a badge or slap points on it, you've gamified. This is wrong. Game theorists have uncovered 24 ways for truly motivating gamers to participate and engage. If you're going to engage your students using any form of gaming, you should understand game mechanics.’’

Bill Gates is also a staunch believer in the fact that the humble video game can build proficiency in subjects that many learners struggle with like math, reading, and science and has donated millions towards advancing this cause in the classroom. The view is that gaming can be integrated into a number of other curricular activities and are particularly useful to address learning pain points (areas that learners find difficult to grasp).

Gamers are well known to be very persistent in finding solutions and some games deal with complex global issues like hunger and poverty. They learn strategy, productivity and collaborative skills within the realm of the game. The learner of the future will not have the time to sit for three years in a classroom to obtain a qualification. They will demand flexibility and the incorporation of new technologies to enhance their learning experience. Are workplaces ready to explore gamification and other technologies in their workplace skills programmes? Training providers should start exploring this technology with an open frame of mind or find themselves disrupted by tech startups.

Please look out for the other articles in this series as we explore ‘The big skills rethink’ as we explore the latest skills trends.