How can today’s graduates prepare for future jobs?
The world has seen more changes in the last two years than in the previous two decades. The ongoing pandemic has taught us the hard way that everything we hold dear or take for granted is actually fragile and transient. It has drastically altered our plans, actions and worldviews, causing a paradigm shift on a global scale. We are facing a future we can't foresee. Under such circumstances, what kind of jobs will the industry offer new graduates in the coming years? And how can today's graduates prepare for the future jobs and challenges?
The World Economic Forum's (WEF) 2020 report, "Future of Jobs", has given an idea of what to expect within the next five years. Not surprisingly, it forecasts an increase in technology adoption involving cloud computing, big data, encryption, surveillance, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI). But more importantly, it has pointed to the increasing need for critical thinking and analytical skills, problem-solving attitude, self-learning ability, and flexibility. Almost 40 percent of today's workers will need to reskill themselves within the next six months. Employers' willingness to invest in staff training on new skills rose from 65 percent in 2018 to 95 percent in 2020. More employees than ever before are taking online self-learning courses to upskill themselves.
Other such studies have also reported similar observations. Last year, FutureLearn.com, a digital education platform co-founded by the British Open University, has conducted a global survey to determine the current trends in education. Its key findings are: 1) Self-education is getting popular, especially among younger generations; 2) Online learning can provide benefits similar to that of formal education; and 3) Technology and inclusivity are the future of education. Such studies offer crucial insights and help understand the related issues in a country like Bangladesh.
Policymakers in Bangladesh have been constantly debating how to prepare the graduates for the industry, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and—since the onset of the current pandemic—the post-Covid economy. Everyone realises that society's needs are changing at an exponential pace. Yet, there isn't any policy or programme to address this matter, although some universities have initiated a review of curricula and education dissemination mechanisms. However, any significant change in these areas can take a long time to formulate and implement. By then, the industry may ask for an altogether new set of skills. The result? Education is years behind industry needs, graduates find it hard to secure a job, and the industry grapples with a shortage of qualified resources.
Among educated youths, 33 percent are unemployed, as the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) reports. This figure doesn't include the Madrasa graduates, for whom this number is a whopping 75 percent. On the other hand, the president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) has highlighted the wide gap between graduates' present skills and industry needs. It's an untenable situation.
How can Bangladesh prepare its graduates for the industry and fill up this gap? BRAC University's Graduate School of Management (GSM) has recently organised a workshop to find an answer. The panellists' conclusions are: 1) Any curriculum review will take eight to 10 years to implement; 2) The method of teaching and the skills acquired are more important than the content of the subject; 3) Self-paced online learning is getting more relevant; and 4) Awareness and curiosity as regards technology trends and the business world in general are essential. Everyone on the panel has agreed that the most crucial skill for any graduate is critical thinking. The panellists have also added that teachers can help students acquire the skills required for self-learning and raise their curiosity and awareness of the relevant disciplines. Once a graduate demonstrates these attributes, they are on good ground to start a career that will involve lifelong learning and upskilling.
In the past, upskilling was an option and not a requirement. But recently, especially with the onset of the pandemic, it has become a necessity. With the large-scale change in the industry, every kind of existing work is going through incredible transformations. This process has eliminated the need for many manual jobs and several specialised professions. Every discipline is experiencing similar changes, and none will function in the way we know. Considering such rapid changes, continuous learning and upskilling is the only way for any graduate to remain in demand. It's a challenge but also an opportunity for those with a growth mindset.
In her book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success", Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor, describes two kinds of mindset—fixed and growth. She has defined growth mindset in an HBR article saying, "Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset." Graduates having such mindsets, combined with self-learning and critical thinking skills, will be better prepared for the constant changes in the industry. Apart from university resources, such students will also benefit from the internet, which has made information and knowledge almost readily accessible.
Online educational platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, FutureLearn, and Udacity have brought education straight to our homes. Besides, Wikipedia, Khan Academy, YouTube, and many other platforms provide free information on wide-ranging subjects. Learning opportunities are available regardless of where we live, and it has never been easier to acquire a new skill and prepare for a new role. What can the universities do in the meantime? Let's take a cue from the French philosopher Rousseau's remark: "We should not teach children the sciences, but give them a taste for them." Given our context, we may paraphrase it as—"We should give the students a taste of learning and let them do the rest."
Dr. Sayeed Ahmed is a consulting engineer and CEO of Bayside Analytix, a technology-focused strategy consulting organisation.