Education and business must adapt to the new normal of the coronavirus pandemic

Gianfranco Casati
Gianfranco Casati
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The coronavirus pandemic has underlined the importance of investing in and updating education. In turn, businesses must also adapt in line with the new norms of the coronavirus era and other global transitions.

At a time of growing global uncertainty, it is now more crucial than ever to spearhead strategic pivots and implement educated changes to embrace our future and thrive. Given the shifts taking place in every aspect of our lives – the way we move, work, socialize, learn – the key to fully capture the opportunities ahead of us starts with sensible investments in education.

The pandemic has accelerated the arrival of the “Human-Machine era” – or simply to reskill or enable people to collaborate with machines to solve complex problems using cutting-edge technology. Moreover, economic crises often fast-track investments and progress in technology. With many cities and countries imposing new lockdowns amid a second wave of the virus, it remains necessary to prepare for and adapt to new work styles and environments.

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In the field of education, it is imperative to solve the trade-off between traditional curriculums and one’s tailored to address the implications of a post-virus setting. The world’s education and training systems arguably still need to adapt to the world today, let alone tomorrow’s evolving challenges. According to recent research by Accenture, trillions of global GDP growth promised by intelligent techs are at risk due to the increasing skill mismatch especially between current pupil skillsets and the future market needs, which puts pressure on learning systems. As outlined in our report, ‘It's learning. Just not as we know it’ – 51 percent of current work hours are “augmentable”, and 38 percent can be automated at various degrees.

While businesses and institutions grapple with choices to transform education, how the workforce performs depends not just on pay and skills development, but also on meeting people’s broader human aspirations at work. Emotions, relations, and purpose are emerging as the biggest drivers for performance. Recent research defined a framework called ‘Net Better Off’ that includes six dimensions: relational, financial, purposeful, physical, employable, and emotional & mental. The research found that most employers focus mostly on the financials, while 78 percent of employees surveyed say employers are responsible for making people ‘Net Better Off’ at work.

As workplaces’ dynamics continue to change rapidly, companies need to step up efforts to prepare existing and future employees for this inevitable ‘work evolution’. Luckily, we are learning a great deal about the skills required for future workplaces and the best ways to acquire and teach them. Continuous investment in the future of our work and education ecosystems is critical, primarily across three target areas.

The first is retraining and support for worker transition. The aim should not be just to recover from the current crisis, but to adapt in line with evolving job market. We have to invest in upskilling and education to benefit from the advanced technologies driving these changes – especially enhancing critical thinking, innovation, creativity, ability to deal with complexity and communication skills.

The second is prioritizing sectors that will be relevant in future global transitions. Climate change, massive demographic shifts, and incredible advances in science and technology are also shaping our world. Education systems and firms need to orient their workforces towards these productive and sustainable sectors, like the Green Economy, the Care Economy, and Intelligent Systems. This is a perfect moment to incentivize these shifts.

The third is boosting equality and inclusion. Change always leaves some behind, and when change is rapid, this can be dangerous. During COVID-19 lockdowns, we realized the incredible value of digital access. However, it also brought to light the considerable disadvantage of those without affordable access to digital forms of work or digital education could find themselves in. As the world continues relentlessly on its digital journey, we need to address this gap urgently.

However, a significant challenge is that youth unemployment remains high in most countries. The same research has identified that 35.5 million people between the age of 15 and 24 were seeking jobs unsuccessfully in 2019. Even for young people who are employed, personal income levels continue to decline. Many young people find themselves living a precarious existence, and their prospects have only worsened following the outbreak of COVID-19. There will be more demand for new employment and income-generating alternatives for young people in this context.

Policymakers, educational institutions, and their partners are already adopting new approaches to alleviating youth unemployment. A focus area is to improve the ICT knowledge of this segment of the population, to help them find employment and participate more productively in their societies.

Armed with the right skills, the younger segment of the population has the potential to fuel a new age of micro-entrepreneurs. This digitally savvy generation will seek new income channels powered by affordable tech. Using technical skills, the younger generation will pick up new and more flexible types of jobs, such as digital content specialists, augmented reality filter creators, eLearning video producers, and other still-evolving roles.

The world is at a tipping point, and businesses need to adapt and educate fast to stay relevant. We need to understand the change, embrace it, and leverage our human resources and tangible assets to look beyond the hurdles and seize the opportunities. The moment is now.

Read more:

Over 5 million Saudis attended online classes daily amid COVID-19: Education Minister

Education is main catalyst for sustainable development: G20 chair

UNESCO seeks ‘renewed commitment’ by US for science, education, culture

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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