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Lifelong learning – equipping the youth of today with the skills of tomorrow

Rob Walker
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Ensuring that young people have the necessary skills to help businesses is crucial. However, those needs are constantly changing as society changes. A hundred years ago, the majority of workers needed strong manual skills if they wanted to get ahead in their job. Then as we entered the dot.com era, the need for computer skills began to rise. Research from Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and Oxford Economics has shown that the skills most important for advancing careers has now changed once again. Two fifths of business leaders chose innovation as their most sought-after skill, followed by decision-making (39%) and leadership skills (35%). This is down to an awareness of how the future of work will be more flexible than before. If we are to equip the youth of today with the skills necessary to handle this, we must look at how we educate them not just at school but for the rest of their lives. 

Upskilling and reskilling – pandemic trends are here to stay

The Covid-19 pandemic caused huge disruption to many industries, causing many workers’ current skill sets to become redundant. The need to create a more resilient workforce has become clear and should be reflected in how we educate our children today. People should no longer learn only one skillset for one career. Instead, by encouraging the idea of always learning new skills, we as a society can help both individuals and businesses become more resilient. While we hope that we will never be tested quite as extremely as by the pandemic, having a workforce that is able to adapt to different needs and situations will nevertheless be invaluable as companies continue to confront new challenges.

To ensure that this flexible workforce becomes a reality, there must be a shift in how we approach education for not only young people, but also current employees. To keep the process of learning progressing throughout a person’s life, from when they begin at school and throughout their career, we need to create more modular programs. This will provide people with the flexibility to learn new skills when they need them, or upskill themselves when they want to. As the future of work brings more flexibility in business, we must ensure that this same flexibility follows through into education so that the mindset is encouraged from the earliest age.

These changes are made possible by technology. As students and workers were forced into remote environments, many institutions had to make their content available online. This has meant that students living in isolated locations, which might not have the same level of education infrastructure as populated cities, can now access the same content. This can open up whole new areas of learning which they can access when they want to, rather than being constrained by static education systems.

However, we must ensure that this opportunity is available to everyone. Many children do not have access to personal laptops or stable Wi-Fi. Businesses can help with this – for example, Cognizant’s zero eWaste programme gives old laptops to Computer Aid, which sells them at a highly subsidised price to schools and other charities.

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We have also committed more than £440,000 to initiatives that support underserved and underrepresented groups in the UK with their digital skills training. The Cognizant Foundation works with Code First Girls, which provides online coding lessons to women, Social Mobility Foundation, which helps guide young people with mentor sessions and workshops with industry leaders, and The Prince’s Trust which runs dedicated courses for people looking to enter Digital Marketing all help narrow the digital skills gap. By building on these initiatives and ensuring that changes over the pandemic become permanent, we can help a whole new generation of students get the skills and mindset they need to survive in the world of work.

Building the right atmosphere 

Creating this new way of learning will require businesses to take the first step. Establishing the right infrastructure to encourage continuous learning will be crucial. This can begin with young people, but must also follow them throughout their career. For example, providing online training resources and encouraging employees to set time aside to use them will help businesses attract talent, and also retain employees as they are able to upskill or reskill as needed as the business changes. 

It is clear that the needs of business leaders have shifted over the last few years. They are increasingly looking for innovative employees who have a broad set of skills that can help them confront multiple tasks while at work. Businesses need to encourage a mindset of always looking to learn new skills among their young talent. By using technology, we can make this process easier, allowing people to learn what they want and need, and to do so when it suits them. This in turn will provide young workers with the dynamic skills they need to become productive members of the workforce of the future. 

Rob Walker – Managing Director UK&I, Cognizant

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