Are We Preparing Students for the Workforce of the Future?
Articles • Central Innovation • 7 July 2017
With the rise of robotics and automation has come a growing awareness of the potential impact on our workforce. This has contributed to increased media coverage and debate around how the nature of work is set to change. So, what is the workforce of the future going to look like? How many existing jobs will be rendered redundant? And is our educational system up to the task of adequately skilling our children for the new work paradigms which lie ahead?
A commonly expressed concern is that schools and universities are not being sufficiently proactive in responding to this challenge – that rather than equipping students with the necessary skills for the future workforce, they remain focused on providing them with traditional qualifications for jobs which may no longer exist.
An ABC TV Four Corners report titled ‘Future Proof’ which aired this time last year put forward such arguments as ‘teenagers should be taught computer coding at school’. But with AI already learning how to write its own code and self-programming computers hyped as “the next phase of computer science” (according to no less a luminary than Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak), the established role of coder is set to be overturned by the workforce evolution.
Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, provided insightful context in the Four Corners report when she pointed out that the skillset underlying the coding – critical thinking and problem-solving algorithms – is what’s most important for our children to learn. It’s a valid point, but what this example underscores is the difficulty our educational institutions have in keeping pace with the exponential nature of technological change – let alone trying to stay ahead of the curve.
Surely the starting point of the process of better equipping our kids for the workforce of the future must be an awareness of what’s missing from the existing paradigm? Take for example the industries which we at Central Innovation number among our client base – architecture, engineering, construction and manufacturing. We believe it’s important to be equipping our children with a basic understanding of the software packages with which they will need to become proficient in order to secure future employment in these industries. But we know that generally speaking, Australian high schools provide students with only the most fundamental level of access to CAD software.
That’s not to say there is no interest from the schools in equipping their students with these skills. But aside from limitations imposed by the curriculum parameters, there are also the issues of budgetary constraints and lack of teacher expertise to tackle. Within that minority of schools where funding is less of an issue, you occasionally find fully equipped computer labs loaded up with relevant software. Those schools are across the employment opportunities that such knowledge opens up – but this is far more the exception than the rule.
In the tertiary sector, Australia is still lagging behind much of the western world, particularly Western Europe and the UK. In the AEC market, their governments have mandated the use of BIM in building design; consequently their universities make training in BIM and on BIM-compliant software a mandatory part of architectural degrees. Closer to home, universities and institutions in South East Asia, like Singapore and Hong Kong, are focused on imparting and equipping their students on the newest BIM compliant software tools and processes. Because of this focus it enables them to make rapid changes to the teaching curriculum to ensure students are at the forefront of emerging technology.
In Australia, the government is yet to mandate BIM and so there is an inconsistent approach by Australian universities to adopt BIM theory and application into the teaching curriculum.
BIM expertise also continues to remain highly inconsistent among engineers, architects and building sector professionals within Australia.
Although not widely promoted there has been activity in the education space to help address this “disconnect” with universities employing senior academic staff from the professional practice who bring the necessary skills and insights to assist universities adjust and respond to rapid change in industry trends. It is fair to say some universities are introducing new curriculum and units focused on BIM-compliant processes. As a result, universities will be able to produce graduates who are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills of the modern tools such as BIM before they enter into their professional career.
Extrapolating from this one snapshot of a specific sector across broader industry, it’s difficult not to draw the conclusion that our education sector needs to evolve much more rapidly to keep pace with the changing world and ensure it’s providing the next generation of workers with the skills they need to succeed.