Train-to-task education, done while employed, is a powerful way to address business skills shortage.
What will the business environment be like in the years ahead? How should companies and individuals be preparing now for this future?
Without in any way lessening the monumental impact of COVID-19 on societies around the world, the fact is that numerous economic sectors, trades, and occupations, were already responding to changes due to disruption. Over recent years, the rapid pace of change in industry has been due to the complex impacts arising from technology, globalisation, out-sourcing, off-shoring, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI), bitcoin-blockchain-crypto currency developments. Additionally, this was compounded in some countries by the return to tariffs and trade protectionism. This has made the 21st century economic landscape and on-ground commercial practice largely unrecognisable to the way of business in the prior century.
The ongoing, apparently unstoppable, disruptive change can result in the impression of being out of control. Yet, such profound change has occurred before, not less than 150 years ago. The horse and the application of its power, was central to many national economies. Millions of jobs and businesses, directly and indirectly, were tied to breeding, feeding, housing, equipping, and using the horse for transport of all manner of goods and people; turning machinery, for the application of equipment and tools. However, within a short timeframe, almost all horse-power dependent commercial activities, were displaced by machines generated by the internal combustion engine. This resulted in all manner of trades and skills disappearing and being replaced by professions, trades, and skilled workers that, at the time, would not have thought to be possible.
It is a difficult task to set for ourselves, as we still struggle with COVID-19 outbreaks, but now is the right time to undertake preparatory work to be a successful business in the post-COVID-19 era. This means identifying the business skills that can be useful in this new era and anticipate the likely skills gaps. What new skills will be needed? What are the best ways to start training and educative programmes to assist individuals to develop these skills for access to employment? What bodies are positioned to formalise skills training and qualification recognition?
One major industry impacted by COVID-19 is the Education sector. In the last 18 months, rapid and widespread adoption of remote and online learning has occurred at all levels of education and changed the traditional approaches to teaching and learning. As well, numerous educational institutions have shed significant numbers of staff. The loss of organisational and intellectual capital has been huge and the implications of this will play out for many years.
This disruption of education means that students from schools, polytechnics, and universities have graduated with substantially different learning experiences and outcomes than previous cohorts. Furthermore, education providers and employers now face dealing with a pipeline of learners or employees whose experiences and expectations have been shaped by online and/or limited in-class learning.
This circumstance need not be negative for businesses or educators; there might be some very strong positive benefits. To make up for the lack of physical interactions, employers could start adding into employment a range of experiences that are actually in situ, value-adding, education-focussed, and relevant to their day-to-day commercial activities.
Employee skills development and practical application could come to resemble Just-in-time or Train-to-task mode, similar to practices within the logistics and inventory control areas.
A readily available tool to achieve the above goals would be relevant, fit-for-purpose, online simulations that build appropriate, and focussed business skills in employees. This approach means there would be no separation between education, the education process, and the practical application of learnings. Business skills education would not be something to be done prior to actually entering the business; instead, it would be something that is done as the need for it arises during a person’s employment and as per each business’s requirements.
The impact on business skills education from COVID-19 is likely to include the following:
- Increase in non-linear careers and employment options and a decrease in lifelong, single career, single employer mode.
- A significantly greater need for identifying and solving of skills gaps via an integrated approach whereby government, industry, and skills educators work together to identify, plan, and respond to skills shortages across sectors and over time.
- Proactive and sustained investment into and resourcing of emerging future industries via alignment between education and industry portfolios and resulting training and enterprise support, especially for transitioning to such industries and occupations.
- Just-in-time and on-location training to meet immediate industry needs, with consideration to formal credential badging for completion of such training. For example: micro-credentials recognised as part of formal in-employment, skills training, allowing for people to undertake these micro-credentials where they are employed, as they do their work.
Developing industry-relevant, employment-useful, skills training means education and industry will need to rethink current approaches to skills identification, teaching, and learning. The adoption of swift and easily accessible, Train-to-task education activities, that involve learning while employed, and accreditation provided for such achievements, would be a powerful way to address the impact of COVID-19 and leverage the new digital generation of students entering their career or education journeys.
Louise Robinson is a Fulbright scholar researching 21st century skills and an executive leader within the Technical and Vocational Education & Training sector in Australia. She is currently the Executive Director, Industry & Growth at Victoria University.
Daryll Cahill has been a senior academic in business and accounting, working across Australia and South-East Asia for nearly three decades.
David Knock is the Director of EDCentralasia. Previously David has worked in the tourism industry, local government, manufacturing, light engineering, vocational training and tertiary education where he lectured at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level for over 11 years.
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