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Up Education

How we retrain could redefine our economy

10 Feb 2021

Opinion editorial by UP Education Group CEO, Mark Rushworth

The World Economic Forum estimates that more than half of employees will need to reskill or retrain in the next few years. Why? Because they predict 75 million jobs will disappear worldwide by 2025 due to artificial intelligence.

At the same time, 133 million new jobs will be created, many of which will be in totally new fields.

New Zealand will not be immune to this disruption, and Covid is only going to hasten this process as companies worldwide have been forced to think about new ways of working. The scale of the change coming means we simply cannot afford to wait.

We cannot repeat the mistakes of the 1980s – with its mass redundancies and mass unemployment. Many of the huge societal impacts resulting from that period are still with us today.

That is why we need to make sure the current labour force isn’t left behind. We already know many jobs will become redundant, so it’s crucial we look at how we retrain and upskill our existing workforce.

How do we make the education system work for them?

Because the reality of a 35-year-old returning to study is very different to an 18-year-old school leaver, many will have mortgages, young children, and financial responsibilities, and they will be trying to adjust to life on reduced income.

Equally, how can we now make retraining as accessible to those living in the regions as it is to those living in our cities? In a digital world, geography should not be a barrier to education.

Because if we are to meet the skill needs of a changing work environment, we need education and retraining to fit in with the lives of all Kiwis, wherever they are and whatever life stage they are at.

Covid has proved what can be done when we need to do it.

When campuses closed, the New Zealand education sector proved that digital technology can successfully help people study en masse remotely, including the education of international students offshore.

Imagine what is possible if we think boldly and design study to be fully flexible within a digital world. Educators can give students, both young and old, total control of how and when they study.

Whether that’s face-to-face, online, in the evenings or during the weekend – we can restructure courses, so they work for everyone, everywhere. And technology advancements allow us to do this.

This new era of online learning is so much more than simply recording a lecture and placing it online. It is about developing and rolling out bespoke digital learning solutions tailored to each individual student to meet their learning needs.

In a world of digital natives, there will be an increasing expectation that students will be able to access any service they need, across any device, whenever they want it, and wherever they are.

Online learning can interact with students in ways that allows educators to record the information needed to manage individual learner progression and intervene when extra support is needed.

The tertiary and vocational training sectors need to step-up, meet this expectation and redefine education delivery so we achieve the best possible outcomes for both students and employers.

But the government also has a clear role to play in helping address some of the barriers to education. Cost is the obvious one, which is why the government should be applauded for the commitment to free trades and vocational skills training.

It’s clear these changes will result in a heavy investment from the taxpayer. It is crucial the government targets those areas where there are likely to be skills gaps, or where transferrable skills are taught that allow people to work in a wide range of industries.

Covid has allowed us to start this journey but we’re still just scratching the surface. The giant leap forward that is required will only be achieved through continued innovation and continued questioning of the status quo.

We need education leaders to work hand-in-hand with the government to make the future of education as accessible to the New Zealand workforce as it is becoming for its students. We know flexibility through technology is here to stay.

The pandemic presents us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink how we train our future workforce. It is now up to us to meet this challenge.

This article was published in National Business Review. Read more.