Are students ready for the new tech age?

What has not changed is the need for high work ethics, diligence, and professional etiquette. Students who exhibit these are still sought after

By Gita Bajaj (Perspective)

Published: Tue 30 Jan 2018, 10:04 PM

Last updated: Wed 31 Jan 2018, 12:07 AM

Millennials have been born into the age of technology. Their breathing is more aligned to their phones and internet connections than their heartbeats. So, on the face of it, they are all set to take up jobs in a technology-driven world. In fact, a technology stagnant world would make them uncomfortable.
These technology savvy millennials are well-versed with social media and social communication. They are natives of a virtual world which comprise facebook, snapchat, instagram and whatsapp and are hooked on to the internet to satisfy their insatiable need for media consumption.
But does this make them ready for technology jobs or the new age organisations?
The situation reminds me of a time when some villagers in India sold their agricultural land to MNCs, who in turn set up retail malls in those villages. The villagers with the newly earned money from the land sale started shopping at these malls. They were mistaking consumerism as development. They were just consumers and not creators.
Aren't the tech-savvy millennials who are consuming new media and considering themselves as technology-ready making the same mistake? Aren't t they missing the distinction between a consumer and a creator.
They are merely consumers of technology mammoths like Facebook and Google. Would these companies employ them for these skills? Certainly not. In the job market, the requirements are completely different.
Traditionally, there have been lower order jobs that require physical labour and routine work, and higher order jobs that require human wisdom for decision making, such as guestimating the market, technology, consumer and financial trends followed by strategising and leading change through people.
Companies that have embraced change have replaced the lower order jobs with technology. Robots have replaced the physical and clerical labour force. ATMs have replaced the teller, many front- office and call-centre jobs have been automated, and much of documentation is now done online by clients.
Higher order jobs are changing drastically, too. Guestimation is being replaced by estimation and artificial intelligence based on hard data is churned by software. This, in turn, is creating opportunities for software engineers and data analysts. A managerial job now calls for data-based sense-making which requires critical, systemic, creative, and innovative thinking. Even as this happens, pattern matching, forecasting and ideating are making the difference. Thus, job profiles and competencies are changing dramatically.
No wonder, the accreditation bodies and ministries of education in many countries are calling for a overhauling of the education system. Education institutions, public and private, small and big are rethinking their offerings.
Variation in knowledge is one focus area. Super-specialisation is trickling down from doctoral to masters to bachelor's level with students studying subjects like machine learning, and artificial intelligence, at the bachelor's level. Many B-schools are doing away with conceptual courses to provide more relevant application oriented courses. New courses and innovative teaching methods such as flipped and blended classrooms are being introduced.
However, these innovations are experiments not proven yet. For instance, reduced conceptual courses could cause stunted growth which is dangerous in terms of lifelong learning. When intensive course content is combined with flipped classrooms, students can get stressed out and creativity and risk taking can take a back seat.
Changes and experiments will have to continue for evolutionary response.
What has not changed is the need for high work ethics, diligence, and professional etiquette. Students who exhibit these are still sought after. Shrewd recruiters understand the need for conceptual clarity, and excellent work ethics.
So, are college graduates ready for the evolution? Perhaps some of them are and some are not. The more critical question though is whether educational institutions and companies are ready. They must create an environment of true learning to prepare life-long learners - learners who can adorn the wings of fantasy, do sense making, take risks, play with data and experiment with ideas - for these are the core competences needed to survive the industrial revolution 4.0.
Dr Gita Bajaj is Professor HR & Communication and Chairperson, Executive Education at the Institute of Management Technology, Dubai

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