Skilling For The Future
Tomorrow’s workplace looks very different to that of today, says Eloise Nolte of College SA. Just one look at the pile of products that have become redundant – Walkmans, floppy discs, Blackberry phones – confirms this. And if products and industries are becoming redundant, that means certain skills are becoming redundant too, as new ones come to the fore.
Technology is the obvious byword here, as its influence in every sphere of our lives becomes increasingly prevalent. That is why Nolte is looking to specialist services related to the IT industry as a significant job provider in the years to come: “We see how IT departments of companies are growing alongside their reliance on websites, apps and systems. So they require more IT technicians, network specialists and administrators to manage technology and equipment for staff.”
New challenges call for new types of skills. Cyberattacks, for example, leave companies exposed, putting them at risk of losing revenue, and so they need a contingent of workers with the know-how to protect them. Server hosting and management is also an extremely specialised field with companies requiring more and more storage space to host their services online and ensure stability in times of high demand or service interruptions. Companies will continue to invest more in these fields in the future.
Then there are the social media specialists who lead companies’ interactions across the platforms they increasingly engage on, as well as the legal and ethical experts who guide these interactions.
More than just digital skills
Dean McCoubrey of My Social Life believes that the accent shouldn’t simply be on helping learners acquire digital skills, but also on developing the skills that form the foundation of good digital citizenship – in other words, life skills that will help them navigate an online world.
These relate not only to understanding technology, but also how to self-regulate while online, how to find the balance between wellbeing and spending time online, managing digital identity and reputation, and how to deal with challenges linked to privacy and cybersecurity. With these in place, children may go on to tackle jobs in a variety of industries.
Digital skills may provide a solid foundation; however, it is maths that lies at the heart and provides the underlying knowledge required for many of the industries where a shortage of skills is apparent, from commerce to engineering and architecture. Apart from forming the basis of all STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, mathematics also teaches children critical analytical skills, such as how to think logically and apply new knowledge to different situations, points out Professor Kerstin Jordaan of the South African Mathematics Foundation.
Encouraging children to keep with maths – and not just maths literacy – isn’t always easy, though. And, it has become harder since the advent of COVID-19, which put paid to many of the games the Department of Education included in school syllabuses to encourage an interest in the subject.
One way of getting around this issue, though, is by showing children the creative side of mathematics, says Jordaan, and supporting teachers where possible, as the lack of quality teachers for this subject is a major obstacle to learners’ success.
Cathy Sims, of the South African Graduate Employer Organisation, shares Jordaan’s views. “Although I would encourage parents to allow children to follow their passion, they should be made aware that maths may be involved in jobs where mathematics isn’t necessarily the point. Data analysis is a case in point: it’s a discipline that speaks to the curious because it helps us make sense of information and informs so many areas of work. We need to help children understand the value of having maths as part of your arsenal for tackling life.”
Meanwhile, learners whose interests lie outside of STEM needn’t feel disheartened. Increasingly, the arts are being included on the list of scarce and critical skills, as STEAM. Carmen Schaefer of the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business is not surprised: “There is no such thing as a right or wrong answer in the creative arts, which means that young people schooled in these subjects are highly skilled in coming up with custom solutions for custom problems.
“They’re also adept at lateral thinking – important because this helps them investigate solutions from completely unexpected angles, and that’s often how great strides in all areas of industry are made.”
Trevor Harbottle, principal of Hermannsburg, agrees that it is the skills that emerge from a subject, and not merely its content, that make it valuable. That’s why he says that stimulating a child’s curiosity in coding, robotics and programming – or any other discipline that will help them get ahead in the fourth industrial revolution – is secondary to teaching them how to get up once they have fallen and how to be resilient and adaptable; skills that have indeed been necessary as our children grapple with a world that is rapidly becoming unrecognisable.