The changing face of work: what skills development framework will be needed?

By the 6 April 2018

As explained in my previous blog post, most jobs will be dramatically impacted by both technological and sociological upheavals in our environment. In addition to technical skills, professionals now need to have good general knowledge, social skills, and learning-to-learn skills. Cooperation, creativity, communication and critical thinking are already universally acknowledged to be crucial.
Developing these skills involves taking a critical look at our training resources. What skills are we actually teaching? What changes are needed to prepare as many employees as possible for this new world?

Business people sitting at office desk, putting puzzle pieces together, finding solution, high angle view.

1- Decompartmentalising approaches: towards cross-cutting adult learning

According to Pasi Silander – Helsinki’s development manager – in an article published in The Independent newspaper (“Finland schools: subjects scrapped and replaced with ‘topics’”), “We […] have to make changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”
Pasi Silander explains that traditional “Subject-specific lessons […] are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.” He adds that “there will be a more collaborative approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.”

This approach relates directly to the writings of Edgar Morin. In his paper for the International Congress “Which University for Tomorrow? Towards a Transdisciplinary Evolution of the University”, he states:

“We know that fragmented, compartmentalized, monodisciplinary, quantitative methods of thinking or knowledge culminate in blind intelligence because the normal human ability to connect pieces of knowledge is sacrificed to the no less natural ability to separate them. Knowledge, in a continuous loop, involves separating elements for analysis and making connections to synthesize or add complexity. The prevailing trend for disciplines and separation diminishes our ability to make connections and our contextualizing capability, i.e. the ability to situate a piece of information or knowledge in its natural context. We are losing our ability to think globally, by which I mean to integrate knowledge into a whole which is organized to a greater or lesser degree. However, the preconditions for all relevant knowledge are precisely contextualization and globalization.”

We should bear this analysis in mind when short “learning pills” are flourishing, offering pieces of information or professional practice available on-the-go. They can be helpful to give an easier access to information and to reduce complexity, as long as we also learn how to cope with complexity and to connect these pieces of information when solving real problems.

Group of Business People Working on an Office Desk

2- Collective problem-solving: towards cooperative adult learning

Project-based teaching methods stimulate the major skills we need in the world of today: cooperation, creativity, and tough interpersonal skills.

This is equally applicable to professional training and formal education. Let’s take a look at the collaborative project led by Chief Education Officer Jean Monteil involving over a hundred high schools. This initiative “is based on a robust research corpus in the cognitive science field relating to training” according to the report “Industrie du futur: du système technique 4.0 au système social” (The industry of the future: from the Industry 4.0 technical system to the social system, December 2017).

“The main objective of the experiment is to provide students with new skills which require new ways of thinking and acting based on new behaviours: solving problems in real time as they evolve and mastering the real-virtual convergence in interactions with human operators/connected smart objects, cooperating and collaborating in person and remotely, working out of synch with place and time, and working within hierarchies imposed exclusively by the problem which has been set, etc.” (Interim report, October 2017, Mission Monteil, French Ministry of Education).

In adult training, the equivalent is to form an inter-company or an inter-departmental team to address a real shared problem by pooling expertise. This “problem-based leaning” engages learners in an approach centred around investigation, asking questions, and debate leading to hypotheses which can be validated via action plans. With problem-based learning, participants create artefacts – which can be written texts, drawings, three-dimensional representations, videos, photos, etc. – to give concrete expression to their action plan and findings.

The benefits include: “a greater depth of understanding of concepts, broader knowledge base, improved communication and interpersonal/social skills, enhanced leadership skills, increased creativity […]. Successful problem-solving often requires students to draw on lessons from several disciplines and apply them in a very practical way. The promise of seeing a very real impact becomes the motivation for learning.” (Source: Wikipedia entry for “Project-based learning”).

Developing modern-day skills therefore entails taking real problems as a starting point and addressing them with a multidisciplinary team, with the clear objective of making this a learning experience. It involves providing the appropriate tools, and this includes examining the result achieved, the learnings produced, and the quality of interactions within the group.

Overhead View Of Businesswoman Working At Tablet PC In Office

3- Becoming self-directed learners: adult learning and developing personal responsibility

I adopt the hypothesis that differences between individual training paths will depend less and less on initial training and increasingly on having the capacity for self-determination with regard to learning. People who are unable to shape their own training journey and implement it using all the means available to them, including the vast quantity of free resources on the internet, run a high risk of falling by the wayside in our economic and technological environment.

Deci & Ryan (2002) have classified various types of motivation according to the degree of self-determination involved. Motivation is defined as “self-determined” if the activity is freely undertaken. It is not “self-determined” when it is the result of external pressure or internal pressure (“people will look askance at me if I don’t do this e-learning module”).

According to them, three social factors foster self-determination:

  • a need for competence
  • a need for autonomy
  • a need for relatedness

A teaching approach based around a project and solving a problem seems to me to be able to fulfil a need for relatedness and to reinforce a sense of competence as each person contributes an element to the diagnosis or solution.

A great deal of work is still required in the field of autonomy. The way forward is circumscribed and signposted by so many resources; training records and connection speed create the illusion that we are in control of our training!

According to research carried out by Deci & Ryan, self-determination is experienced most strongly while we are in education. However, trainers cherish the belief that all adults can still develop. Our major role after all with respect to individual learners is surely to “teach them to fish” instead of giving them fish. We cannot expect a responsibility framework, facilitated by artificial intelligence, to provide each individual with what is considered appropriate for them. The goal of a responsibility framework could be to give people the tools they require to believe in themselves as learners and to know how to choose what best suits their career path.

All together! Conception of successful teambuilding. Topview of businesspeople putting their hands on top of each other in nice light workstation, wearing casual clothes

A solid responsibility framework would address the tangible learning outcome – rather than just mapping a career path. It would help each individual to identify their training strategy and develop it in all situations.

The nature of work is changing. Skills development solutions are also evolving, and with them the role of the trainer and learner.

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