Jiva Technology

As the year draws to a close

The end of any year provides ample opportunity to pause and reflect on what has come before and this year is no different. With the significant political turbulence we’ve seen in 2016 and 2017, one thing seems very, very clear: things will not be going back to the way they were. One consequence of the political earthquakes of the past 18 months seems to be receiving little attention, but could ultimately have a significant impact. With governments tied up with Brexit in the UK and ‘meeting the expectations of the political base’ in the US, pretty much any other ‘business as usual’ government activity has gone out of the window. If I could sum it up in a few words, it would be: ‘you’re on our own’.

Whether you’re still in education, just starting out or in the full flow of a career, I would be paying very close attention to the skills that are in demand and the skills that will be in demand in the future, because you shouldn’t expect a general rise in the economy to help you out. Its time to have a strategy and time to back that up by investing in the most important productive asset you have: you. It seems pretty clear to me that government is behind the curve on providing an education that meets the needs of the jobs market; you can see it in the productivity figures, you can see it in immigration figures and you can see it in the big skews between in-demand jobs and those where there’s an over supply. You could argue that its not the job of the education system to direct resources to where they’re most needed, but with the incredible fragmentation of jobs and careers over the past twenty years, its tough for school or university leavers to get a good grip on which way they should go.

I think there’s a place for advice from educational institutions and government, but if you’re in education or at the start of your career, its worth recognising the reality that increasingly the onus falls on you to think about this. A lot of people limit their thinking to what their parents did or close relations. Some fall into jobs by accident. But we have to accept that the world just got a whole lot more volatile and unpredictable, exactly at the time when politicians are focused on other things. You can complain about it or you can sit down and have a good hard think. We all know what will be important in twenty or fifty years time. Will you have the skills to fit in? Its the end of the year … a good time to think about it.

Is the UK Chancellor a Jiva Blog Reader?

Who knew that the UK Chancellor was such an avid reader of the Jiva blog? A matter of days after publishing a blog post reiterating the importance of maths, Chancellor Philip Hammond stands up in the UK Parliament and tells the country, “maths matters”. Whats more, Mr Hammond has backed up his words with cash. Schools get an £600 for every  pupil who sits A Level maths and teachers in certain areas will get an extra £1,000 towards professional development. Its all good stuff and naturally, the folks at Jiva will claim the credit for the government’s actions. Now all we need to see is a bit more action further down the school years, at primary level. If we’re going to have more people capable of passing maths A level, we need more encouragement in the early years. Its unlikely that a 16 yo who’s had little encouragement to enjoy Maths is suddenly going to be enthused when the school suggests it for A level. But thats a conversation for another day, lets be thankful for small mercies.

“I don’t do maths”

As a self confessed lover of Maths, I’ve never understood the ambivalence or outright hostility aroused by my favourite subject. And whilst I can’t support this with any hard evidence, it feels as though the situation is getting worse. People are running up the white flag before they’ve even started. I see too many parents smiling and saying, “I don’t do maths” and hear of too many teachers who haven’t been trained in maths who’ve been asked to step in at the critical early stages because there isn’t a trained maths teacher at hand. Some of our kids are literally taught that this is a subject you should fear. So why is this a problem? Its a problem for a simple reason: our whole society is built on a foundation of maths. Our banking and finance are based on maths, our tools and technology are based on maths our medicine and health is based on maths, business is based on maths, the internet is based on maths, government communication is based on maths. The future is based on maths. As Apollo 13 famously said, “Houston, we have a problem”. And we have a problem because the maths our society is based on is not complicated maths. Sure, they’ll be some of the tougher stuff in there, but the basics can take you a long way. Which means we have to start encouraging people to get a basic grasp of the most basic of subjects.

The first hour of the first day of the new school year shouldn’t be for the kids, it should be for the parents. Every head teacher should stand up and remind the parents of their duty to support and encourage their kids to learn maths at their own pace. And they should be reminded at every parents evening. Maths isn’t for the techies and the scientists and the engineers. Its for everyone. All the time.

Mid-life retraining

Most people think of education as something that happens to you early in life. You get an education, you get a job, you retire, you die. Proponents of education typically encourage students to get a better education at the start on the grounds that it leads to a better job, more money and a comfortable retirement. But increasing longevity is playing havoc with this thinking. If, as seems likely, current school leavers and graduates will be working into their 70’s, will the education and skills they gamer today be of any use in 50 years time. Just to reinforce that point, an 18 year old school leaver this year will likely still be working in 2069. It sounds like science fiction.

With robotics, artificial intelligence and massive medical advances on the near horizon, it frankly seems ridiculous to talk about arming todays school leavers with the skills they will need in the workplace. We have to be honest with each other and start recognising that gaining skills and education will happen at critical points in our lives and careers. Education will still be front loaded, but its not hard to envision a world where it becomes the norm to pick up new skills and new ideas in your mid-40’s, your mid-50’s or even in your mid-60’s. Japan, which in many respects is leading the demographic revolution associated with longevity encourages second careers as a way to stay healthy and engaged with society. The Japanese Government works hard to get over 60’s into work, particularly in community related jobs. In the US, Markle work hard to provide opportunities to re-skill or up-skill where workers find themselves at the sharp end of  automation. Historically, automation has been a problem for blue collar jobs, but as an increasing number of white collar jobs disappear, organisations like Markle help people to build on existing skills, find new marketability in the workplace, becoming in effect ‘new collar’ workers.

These trends will continue, which means organisations like Markle are going to be vital in the future, but above all, we need to re-orient our education systems to normalise re-training, re-skilling or even taking existing skills and re-applying them. It says everything that there isn’t really a word for the latter.

None of us like to admit it, but skills and education have a shelf life. We all know that ten years down the road, most people would struggle to pass the exams they took as an 18 yo or a 21 yo. Experience, a refinement of the skills needed in the workplace and the addition of job related skills means its less important to be able to pass a final set of exams in economics (unless of course you’re an economist), but that should not blind us to the fact that the original flexibility we had as a new recruit disappears over time. The idea of creating specific programmes at our universities and colleges for supplementing our skills is an idea whose time has come. Perhaps its time that university web pages had fewer fresh faces on them to encourage a broader section of the workforce pick up new skills, perhaps its time to create a whole new category of courses, so that undergraduate and graduate programmes were joined by mid-career programmes.

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