OPINION

The reskilling revolution is knocking at Greece’s door

the-reskilling-revolution-is-knocking-at-greece-s-door

It is no secret that as our economy changes, so do the demands of the workforce. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said colleges “are not for learning,” but rather a place to have fun, during a conversation at the Satellite 2020 conference. Musk tells us we can learn anything online for free. Now, prominent companies such as Google and Apple are hiring employees who have the skills required to get jobs done, with or without a degree. Google, Apple and IBM do not require a college degree to land a job. Google launched a new selection of courses for the Google Career Certificate, a six-month program that prepares participants for in-demand jobs. Those with a four-year degree do get about 20% more in salary than their non-degree counterparts once hired by Google. However, without the in-demand skills needed to land jobs that are sprouting globally because of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, those with only a four-year or even a 12-month course of study leading to a regular master’s degree are excluded from these opportunities.

It is more important than ever to use new evidence-based innovations in post-secondary education to prepare our young adults for the new skilled jobs now taking root in the global economy of the post-pandemic world. Whether a student remains in their community, country or region, or decides to find their fortune on a faraway continent, without the skills needed to take them to most jobs available today, they will languish in lower-pay service work or unemployment – even with a four-year university degree. In the United States, new legislation has been introduced, and with lawmakers from both parties agreeing (a rarity in American politics), that will pump federal funding into education and skills training to transform the four-year university degree. These programs are college-based learning programs, helping to provide students with more opportunities to further their education and the support they need to succeed. Several colleges around the US have initiated degree programs that include both workforce training and post-secondary education.

What about the young adults in Greece now coming out of their secondary education from the lyceum system and preparing for their upcoming Panhellenic university entrance exams? What is waiting for them in tomorrow’s world of work with a university degree? We certainly have a long way to go to preparing our youth for a future of sustainable employment. Our most significant stumbling block may probably be overcoming the cultural beliefs that a young adult is not much more than a second-class citizen without a traditional four-year degree.

Those university graduates with family businesses or political connections within the work world will land certain positions within the white-collar economy. Those university graduates that do not have the required finances or professional network connections will take on low-wage service jobs. It’s not unusual in Greece to hear your taxi driver, waiter, delivery person, or babysitter has a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree, but there are no jobs to be found for them. These same low-wage service workers will tell you that at least their families are happy they are university graduates. A certain percentage of our university graduates will enter into the great brain drain that began in Greece in 2009 and seek their fortunes in other lands – when all they want is a respectable livelihood within their own country.

For higher education providers to recapture the “skills” provider role from in-house corporate programs will take more than adjusting to automation, remote working, and artificial intelligence. Stalled responses to a disruptive threat are often blamed on a lack of understanding, poor leadership or insufficient financial funding. Reskilling and upskilling programs in post-secondary education require a three-step process that incorporates (i) identification of which skills are needed for coping with the new business reality of the organization, (ii) clear recognition of the gap between the skills of today’s workforce versus the new business model, and (iii) a selection of providers that will support an academic institution’s reskilling and upskilling effort as a lifelong learning journey.

Reskilling and upskilling of employable job candidates require effective partnerships between education providers and industry. Project management, business process, communication data and digital design are business enablers’ skills that turn theoretical knowledge and skills into practice. Promising partnerships that support the education-industry cooperative business model with common goals have started to emerge. The City University of New York and IBM partnership supports students in data science and analytics, and urban sustainability; the partnership between Washington University in St Louis and Boeing provides alternative engineering models for nontraditional students. The new education-industry model pivots over five support beams: It is omnichannel, it is co-developed by educators and corporate clients, it includes educational platforms as part of the delivery, it differs between the low-cost online and high-end in-person option, and it focuses on skills building and credentialing rather than just knowledge transfer.

The pace at which the business world is changing requires an urgent and constant updating of human talent, and learning has to be agile and to align with changing business needs. Today, learners should not expect to receive learning just when in class but whenever needed in an accurate “just in time” way. Companies of all sizes must embrace a consumer attitude when planning their learning opportunities for their people. As one of the world’s leading telecom companies, the Etisalat Group has embarked on a mission of deploying intelligent learning solutions for tomorrow’s job opportunities. Through a combination of internal training, an on-demand social learning platform, a specialist learning academy, and collaborative innovation formats, the Etisalat Group is forging a “learner-centric” culture that aligns with an agile, digital world. With this offering from one’s employer, why should anyone return to school for the classic MBA?

To prepare our youth for the jobs of tomorrow, educators need to develop a new curriculum as part of a multidisciplinary, geographically dispersed team of academic and industry experts. Optimal team-based blended instructional design, like optimal blended education, can find the right balance between team members’ ability to create context, introduce themselves to others, and be encouraged in doing so. Solutions to the new employment crisis facing today’s and tomorrow’s young adults in Greece are already functioning in several countries. What can we learn from these education-industry partnerships? Is this the work of the public sector or the private sector? Our post-secondary learning system overhaul is a monumental task fraught with cultural, political and economic challenges.

So where do we begin? By starting a national conversation that includes all stakeholders, academia, industry and the students themselves. Academia needs to be prepared to surrender its monopoly on having all the answers about education. Today, a world in which people expect a constant change of jobs coincides with a mismatch between employees’ skills and those that employers seek. This blurred context between work and skills can be bridged by generating an amplified new ecosystem of educational alternatives, including degrees, credits, certificates, boot camps, skill-building programs, internal training and external partnerships.

We have to begin somewhere.


Dr Daphne Halkias is a fellow at the Institute of Coaching at McLean, Harvard Medical School Affiliate, and author of “The Innovative Business School: Training Today’s Leaders for Tomorrow’s Global Challenges” (Routledge).