The Revolution in Education and Work: Is it for Real?

July 31, 2021 | David CushmanPhil Fersht

One of my heroes driving disruptive and practical thinking in global business models, the impact of the Internet and globalization and foreign affairs is three-time Pulitzer winner and NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman. 

Tom came to prominence in our industry in 2005 penning the seminal book "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century".  Was that really 16 years ago?  If you're a spring chicken and never read the book, I suggest find the time as this laid the foundations for the world we're hurling into today.  So you can imagine my interest levels bubbling when my friend Ravi Kumar "S" got some YouTube time with him last week:

Click to listen to the full YouTube podcast

Our key takeaways

  • Work has become separated from the workplace and jobs.
  • AI shifts the emphasis of human endeavor from problem-solving to problem-finding.
  • Companies have become giant education systems delivering just-in-time learning at the edge of the envelope; the linear integration of government-education-work is disrupted.
  • Universities should follow the Amazon Prime recurring subscription model to scale lifelong learning to the world
  • For any organization to win in the future will require them to be part of complex adaptive coalitions

Companies themselves have become giant education systems

When the industrial revolution hit we created something called the welfare state, basically a series of walls ceilings, and floors to help people make the best of the industrial revolution and cushion the worst. The politics has since debated how high, strong, etc the walls and ceilings and floors should be. This worked while the assumption was the pace of change would be linear.

In the last 40 years – since the microchip – what happened was four forces came together and blew up this grid of walls, ceilings and floors

  • The microchip
  • Software
  • Sensors
  • Bandwidth
  • And now the beginnings of AI.

This blowing up has created a world where the job of leaders and educators is to navigate now, a very different ecosystem: Characterized by:

  • Fast – the pace of change now
  • Fused – beyond connected and interdependent
  • Deep – Tech has gotten deep - Fakes, Mind, Research
  • Open – a radically open system in which everyone can play

So the challenge now is how you enable adaptation in this context.

How? We have to look at analogies from nature – when ecosystems thrive it is those with complex adaptive networks – where all the elements of the ecosystem network together (this is the hyperconnected org we discuss at HFS). Complex adaptive systems network together to provide resilience and propulsion. The organizations that will thrive are those that build complex adaptive coalitions to maximize (collective) resilience and propulsion.

Tom: What’s new is where companies are pushing the boundaries and realizing they need to train their own people faster and faster, how will companies, like Infosys and many others, become central players in the ecosystem of education?

Ravi: Nature, human behavior, and technology define how you can predict the learning needed for the future. The whole linear integration between work, education, and government – which was rooted in the industrial revolution – is changing

The world we are getting into is very digital, with rapid sentience, high-speed with rapidly changing business models. Now work, education and government must connect in an ecosystem. Education has never been impacted in the last 40-50 years. The cost of education has gone up 150% vs inflation in that time – and that is because it hasn’t really been disrupted.

Skills are getting depleted at rapid speed, people are having multiple careers, with work getting very modular and disintegrated from the workplace, the pandemic has taught us how to make hybrid models work…I can believe that work and education will get intertwined:

  • Example: Google’s six certifications. Anyone can do these, anyone without a degree, at the end of that we had a consortium of employers, including Infosys and Google ready to hire. We’re going to move to an era of skills process degrees – work and education intertwined.
  • Example: What we are doing. We are hiring without degrees, landing them on digital backbone jobs, and then have a runway of credits so someone can do a degree while they work with us, a learn-earn and work model of the kind that was popular in engineering apprenticeships.

Two-thirds of the workforce in the US doesn’t have a degree so I’m hoping this will lead to more diversity and inclusivity. We have community-led companies which hand-hold people as they land on those backbone jobs and then Infosys helps them to become life-long learners, navigating the credentials and micro-credentials they need.

The US should try out Education-as-a-Service, moving to buying a recurring subscription service – the perfect model for lifelong learners. A Harvard Prime (etc). This will address both student debt and the inclusivity challenge. The US now has a unique opportunity to get digital reskilling to the world, to make the world a better place. It can start to show its generosity to the world (a la post WW2). The US should take its education to the rest of the world.

Tom: The in-house universities of IBM, or Infosys or (etc) are delivering just-in-time learning because they are touching the edges. What does Infosys’ just-in-time platform look like?

Ravi: We have always focused on lifelong learning. We are building a corporate learning university in Indianapolis – and we are not only using that for our employees, but also for all large incumbent companies. They need to reskill their workforce more than we need. AI will mean half the workforce in the world will need to reskill. In creating just-in-time learning we hope to create learners who can adapt to this. We may have to take a hotel clerk and make them a cyber expert. We look for learnability, the aptitude to learn, then we create immersive templates and hand-hold to learn on the job. You start as an apprentice and learn forwards.

Tom: We have to build student agency, supporting independent learning.

Ravi: Over the last 50 years the workplace has created space for problem solvers. Now we must create space for problem finders. Problem finders will be the new human endeavor – problem-solving will progressively be moved to machines. We think workplaces will be flooded with more anthropologists, people with liberal arts, sociology etc backgrounds. Problem finders look for what the human desire is. The future is all about creating solutions at the intersection at the edge – maths and meds, arts and science, computers and anthropology – these are where you will find more problems.

Diversity will be better if we get this right, the model will be distributed around the world and into the homes of people who may only be able to join part-time, thanks to the new modular nature of work, enabled and orchestrated on a digital platform. It won’t just be humans + machines, it’s going to be gig workers, plus FTE plus part-time + machine. Gig work will extend to all industries and FTE will be only a small % of the working population.

Tom: How do people get healthcare and retirement when work is separated from jobs

Ravi: The key is the government's role in protecting the workers, which will drive how well this is adopted.

What do you think governments should do, Tom? They seem built for your first and last 20 years, how do they deal with the middle years when all your change happens?

Tom: It took a consortium to write a law for safe self-driving (in Israel), governments must be participants and convenors of these ecosystems. They will have to test and be very experimental – and not dogmatically left or right.

Infosys is moving so much faster than the government (we see this with all tech), so the only way you can get on top of it is through collaboration

Do click on the YouTube link to hear this terrific discussion in full!  Thanks, Ravi and Tom for airing this:

Posted in: Digital OneOfficeGlobal Workforce and TalentGovernance Practices and Tools

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