Time for Lifelong Education has Arrived

Rajesh Nair, Destination Kerala business magazine

When you look at today’s business, you have to consider both headlines and trendlines. The headlines are being created by companies like Facebook, Uber, Tumblr, Twitter and Alibaba which defy the normal principles of business modelling and our traditional outlook to assets. These companies have not just edged millions of companies out of business, but fundamentally changed human habits. A middle-aged professional of today is at a very interesting crossroads in his or her career, wherein they see the value of their ‘decades-old experience’ getting redundant gradually as the future course of business demands acquisition of entirely new sets of skills. The stark reality in front of them needs to be understood very differently. Business memory or history today has little to offer in terms of understanding and predicting these unforeseen changes.

One has to continuously keep an eye on the technology radar and the business disruption happening around, says Rajesh Nair

Such enormous changes in technology require that education should be in sync with future employment scenarios. Today, a student who enters the portal of employment or entrepreneurship has before him/her some baffling puzzles to solve. The traditional career ambitions are sure to suffer a jolt as some of the attractive jobs of today will undergo a sea change in nature and character. Analysing from the point of view of professional education, the significant difference in the earning capacities of a good student and the below average student in the past decade, will get more starker. Educational qualification was normally considered a sign of future success. Of course, exceptions were always there. But now, this divide is fading. The key competency a professional needs to nurture today is the ability to unlearn and learn new things. Perhaps, higher education prepares you for this travail, but it is by no means a clear assurance.

In high literacy environments like in Kerala, the average youth may have had his or her fair share of education. But what is concerning is that a lot of them develop a lack of interest towards learning in the process of learning more. For them, a job is a sort of a finishing line of an obstacle course and the reward of years of hard work. But that is not how it should be. Today, your first job is exactly what it is – only your FIRST JOB! Perhaps the first in a dozen or so of jobs you switch in your career! Hence, one has to continuously keep an eye on the technology radar and the business disruption happening around. Those who refuse to pick up new skills will be squeezed out of the workforce.

So, are the pessimistic technology soothsayers proving correct? Will the machines take over? Not exactly. From time immemorial, technology has ushered in disruptions and then transformed chaos in to order; whether it was the printing press of the past, the computers or the automation of today. It is of interest to note that automation tends to infuse efficiency in tasks within a vocation and does not obliterate it altogether. But even the most optimistic of futurologists will aver that in most occupations it is of paramount importance to figure out new skills, when established routines become obsolete. Employers cannot always give you a futuristic guidance. In most cases, it is difficult to articulate what is the expertise needed in even a smaller time-frame of two to three years.

But the writing on the wall is clear: The time for lifelong education has come. For the middle-aged, it is time to revert to the school-time routine of reading and thinking and not just trusting their business intuition to make decisions. We are moving into a ‘learn and earn’ future!

(Rajesh Nair is Director-Markets, Kerala & Tamil Nadu, EY and President, TiE Kerala)