Providing for the present, and the future

Unlike in the past, the graduates of today don’t know where they will be in 10 or 20 years’ time because the industry they enter may not even exist then… Graduation is not the end of the education journey, it’s just one step on the way

Soon we will be celebrating as yet more graduates from MCAST and the University of Malta complete their studies and see their hard work rewarded.

This will be a great day for them, and parents and close friends alike will be proudly celebrating their achievements. Many will believe their ‘school days’ are now behind them and a rosy future in a secure career awaits. Sadly, this just isn’t true anymore.

Industries and commerce are evolving at such a fast pace that someone who finished their degree at 22 years old will probably need to be retrained before he or she reaches 30, and that’s being conservative. When I say re-trained I don’t mean dumping a degree in the waste bin and starting all over again. I mean brushing up in a number of areas which witness perpetual change.

Take someone who finished an IT-related degree in 2007. Today the landscape is completely different. Since then we’ve seen the advent of social media, mobile applications and new programming languages. This means a 22 year old graduate of 2007 is now a 29 year old in need of additional training to catch up with today’s world. Of course, he or she will still have programming logic, but is still not trained for current practices.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to technology. We’re seeing it in the sciences, communications and engineering as well. It is clear that we must re-think the education process because we must not cater for the present only, but also for the future. The really complicated part? We don’t know what the future looks like.

With online resources increasing on a daily basis we would be missing the boat if the education process did not include developing the skills needed to train and learn on our own. This doesn’t mean the end of the classroom or the lecturer, but it is an admission that we’re sending youths out there in a world different from the day the same individuals started their degree. We may have ticked all the boxes of the curriculum for that subject, but we have not ticked all the boxes for what that individual really needs when he or she find themselves at a place of work.

We need to ask some tough questions on how we can help workers up-skill. If people don’t want to return to education later in their lives it’s probably because they had a negative experience before; lack of engagement and exam-oriented subjects spring to mind as probable reasons.

So we must come up with solutions that are different. There are various recipes for addressing the ever-changing technology affecting so many industries. We could have catch-up modules for students to familiarise themselves with the new areas of expertise that are developing. These modules would need to be developed well, in a short time and certified appropriately. Another path is to build online material whereby graduates can take catch-up courses from home. We would have to find reliable ways of certification so people felt it was worth making the effort.

There is no doubt then that we need to be looking at doing things differently. We cannot afford the status quo. We need to face the reality that is out there – that the most successful people in business and industry are not necessarily the ones with the most titles but the ones who constantly up-skill and embrace the new areas of technology opening up. The ones on the edge, always learning and developing their skills, are the ones we should aspire to be like.

Skills are important to improve employability but we must also prepare tomorrow’s workforce to ensure that they can carry out their work diligently and efficiently. To prepare our youths better for jobs, we must not overlook another very important side to employability – that of being able to work with others, with integrity, honesty and self-discipline.

My message to both undergraduates and masters students is a simple one – you’re not set for life. It may sound terrible but it’s the truth. And it can be a good thing. It should be exciting not knowing what you’re going to be doing in 20 years’ time. It could even be liberating and more fulfilling. Of course people want job security but it doesn’t exist in the shape it did before; if you want job security you need to remain open to new ideas and up-skill as much as you can. That is the way to guarantee your future.

Unlike in the past, the graduates of today don’t know where they will be in 10 or 20 years’ time because the industry they enter may not even exist then. My advice is to take your degree and use it as the solid foundation that it really is, but be open to adapting and advancing in other ways. Graduation is not the end of your education journey, it’s just one step on the way.