Sunday, December 8, 2013

What the future holds

“It takes courage to accept the problem, and even more courage to address it, with entrenched interests as well as skill gaps in the educational system. But it’s an important fight, if we want to regain both prosperity and balance.” [Michael G. Jacobides (holds the Sir Donald Gordon Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the London Business School), How Europe Is Betraying Its Children, Harvard Business Review, 28th Nov 2013] “But it just might be something deeper: a reflection of just how hard it is to recognize some uncomfortable truths, especially when we have no ready solution to offer. Yet, what could happen if we keep confusing wishful thinking with optimism? Most probably, a wasted generation and, for sure, further loss of competitiveness. And, on the personal level, the biggest drama for parents in plighted countries, who sacrifice all they have for the education of their children, is the realization that they may be making a bad investment . . .”

“It isn’t just the educational system that’s at fault. A recent BusinessRoundtable study of employers found that most complain that they can’t find the right people. Not because they can’t read, or lack computer or job-specific skills but because they lack critical thinking, critical problem solving and teamwork.  Perhaps worse, they also lack professionalism, adaptability, and personal accountability for work. These are skills that the educational system isn’t geared to deliver but they are precisely what the new generation must necessarily develop . . . [S]chools in many of the Old World countries, and certainly in the European South, still prioritize memorizing over critical thought; we obsess with teaching technical skills as opposed to fostering the ability to adapt, add and capture value in a shifting economic landscape. Universities, in many a European country, are neglecting the realities that graduates will face, producing degrees better suited to a generation ago.”

It brings to mind that even in PHL, our universities, which once had preeminence, have fallen in the rankings. The then president of my old MNC company would proudly refer to his days at UP and Sophia University (in Japan) whenever he’d explain how he explored Asia as a young man after graduating from Dartmouth. He was ahead of his time, and foresaw the Asian century. He had run the company’s European operations early on and once at the end of a visit to Hong Kong, I asked him about Europe and while polite, he said he always thought Asia was the future. 

At the MNC company I was part of the council that created a virtual university; and we tapped every conceivable resource including the academe and renowned consultants. And with some of them, we even had the opportunity to critique their then latest works. That was decades ago, yet the HBR article making reference to the lack of critical thinking, critical problem solving and teamwork in the typical graduate is like déjà vu. And precisely why with my Eastern European friends, our continuing education and training initiative includes a very concerted effort to address said needs: “Tell us the object of the exercise and why; have you tested that for simplicity and clarity, and understanding and acceptance by the team; tell us if your initiative is falling or not falling behind, why or why not; how are you addressing it; how do you prevent a similar occurrence in future, and what are the intermediate control points that will ensure that you are on track; how are you executing and what learnings are you incorporating to ensure delivery of desired outcomes; what is the composition of your virtual team, and why, within and outside the organization; how are you leading and encouraging and motivating them?”

Not everyone gets it right the first, the second and even the third go-around; and which is why education and training is a continuous enterprise, including the use of interventions like, model thinking, lateral thinking, deliberate practice, best-practice models, self-organizing and cross-functional teams, among others. In other words, there is overwhelming evidence that the old command-and-control system undermined excellence and competitiveness, if not the sustainability of the enterprise!

PHL universities are dropping in their global rankings. And in the case of UP, the challenge is for them to have an ongoing partnership with industry. As this blog has raised before, the fact that Philippine industry isn't geared to be globally competitive limits UP’s options? And as Michael G. Jacobides posed the challenge, “It takes courage to accept the problem, and even more courage to address it, with entrenched interests as well as skill gaps in the educational system. But it’s an important fight, if we want to regain both prosperity and balance.”

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