The Role of Education in Creating a More Dynamic Workforce
The ultimate objective of education is to imbue students with a broad knowledge base and set of skills, so they can succeed in an ever changing world. As such, formal education should focus on teaching students how to learn independently versus overly tailoring their education with rigid curricula designed to teach certain bits of knowledge.
Unfortunately, employers seek hires with degrees to fulfill specific positions while many academic institutes offer courses that unnecessarily force students to pursue formal lifelong learning. As a consequence, the workforce is in danger of becoming static in a rapidly changing world, yet it is also education that offers the best opportunity to fulfill tomorrow's needs today.
Although employers generally fail to utilize the broad spectrum of skill sets their workers amass, there are certain basic skills that can help employees prepare for the future and perform better now.
For example, business math courses try to tailor a student's understanding of math and accounting to a specific application; whereas, accounting, statistics, and computer literacy courses can provide students with a deeper, broader understanding of the subjects. In turn, those skills can be applied to a myriad of applications beyond the usefulness of business math courses. Any business from a small grocery store to an industrial corporation can take advantage of the critical thinking skills such a background instills to improve their operations.
Furthermore, when a broader understanding of a concept is replaced with a focus on specific applications for a specific industry, employees become more like technicians. This can be beneficial to some degree as employers and employees need specialization to function on a large scale; however, overly tailoring an employee's background without a broader base of skill sets can also present a problem for innovation.
Innovation and inventive thinking depend greatly upon the ability of the innovators to recognize what problems exist and what solutions may work. Only when an individual has a broad perception of an application and understanding of the function of each element can he or she consider alternative methods. Meanwhile, drawing on solutions from outside applications is a powerful way of innovating.
When students pursue advanced degrees, they learn how to learn in a specific field of interest. As they specialize in subfields, they need to develop specialized learning tools to investigate various specific applications. As such, they are also inventing novel techniques that can be applied to broader applications.
In the various fields of engineering, many of the tools are derived from research in fields like physics while all sciences rely heavily on the field of mathematics for specific analysis techniques. At the same time, business, advertising, and economics utilize the tools created by all these fields, probably without understanding how the tools were developed or originally applied, to improve their operations. It is only when someone in a field facing a specific application is aware of techniques developed in another field can they utilize them.
Unfortunately, pure science degrees, as well as dynamic curricula at all levels, are valued less by markets than "technician" degrees with narrowly tailored applications of complex concepts. Academics, however, can help solve this problem by primarily focusing on educating students to draw on their experiences to solve novel problems. Meanwhile, it is also imperative for educators to design their curricula to encourage students to seek out opportunities to learn beyond formal education as their education provides them with the tools they need to learn instead of what they should learn.
Business and academics are part of the solution when it comes to building the dynamic workforce necessary to advance our industries. Although individuals with specialties are necessary when it comes to specific applications, those individuals still need a broad background and full comprehension of the concepts in their field so they can be flexible, efficient employees.
By focusing on learning how to learn then acquiring broad skill sets, which can be applied to novel applications or used to improve an already existing application versus training for a specific application, educational institutes can do a lot more to produce a far more desirable workforce for the present and the future.