Constant learning is not just for kids now

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It’s that time of year when anxious parents start to worry about their children’s forthcoming GSCE and A-level exams. In households across the land, mums and dads are considering whether their offspring are equipped with the skills required by the world of industry and commerce.

But perhaps those parents should also be thinking about their own futures, especially those who enjoy their work and are not in a position to retire any time soon. Are they equipped with the necessary skills for tomorrow’s world of work?

The Institute of Directors is tackling this subject. A recent policy paper called Lifelong Learning, written by the IoD’s head of employment and skills policy Seamus Nevin, is a comprehensive and insightful analysis of the need to reform education in an age of rapid technological and demographic change.

Seamus points out that “the expansion of the internet means the labour market no longer rewards workers primarily for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.” He argues that businesses and education providers must work together to use technology and different skills to support employees in their lifelong learning.

The context is that we are in a “fourth industrial revolution” where many of the mainstays of employment over recent decades are being swept aside. In some respects that is a good thing as many jobs have been, in the words of IoD head of policy Jimmy McLoughlin, “boring, repetitive or downright dangerous”.

This is food for thought for parents who have learned little in the way of new skills for many years, yet think their children are taught in much the same way as they were. In an age where, accordingly to what is known as Moore’s Law, computing power accelerates by approximately twice its speed every two years, there is a clear and worrying disparity in the rate of change and progress in learning.

The learning of facts based on method and recall is no longer appropriate. Skilled employees of the future need to know where to find information – and how to use it.

Any period of intense change brings opportunities for those who have acquired the relevant skills. This may become a constant state in future.