Month: July 2014

Education for the Contingent Workforce

In my view, one of the biggest societal ramifications Internet has been responsible for is globalisation of jobs. Anyone today with skills can, in theory, find work. There are a number of platforms that connect those who want a piece of work done to those who can do them.

Examples span multiple industries – 99 Designs for design, Etsy for hand-made goods, RecruitLoop for recruitment, Flightfox for deals on flights, etc. There are many generalist websites as well across this spectrum and this list is by no means exhaustive.

On the jobs front, the implications are obvious. Work will continue to spread all over the world – and you don’t always need to be in the same town, state or country to work with someone. More people will find additional sources of income, or primarily become freelancers. In fact, I believe more and more people will become super-specialised in their skills and as a result get ‘valued’ better for their respective niche.

Various contractors define a contingent workforce
Source: MyPlacers.com

According to Wikipedia, a provisional group of workers who work for an organization on a non-permanent basis, also known as freelancers, independent professionals, temporary contract workers, independent contractors or consultants is called a contingent workforce.

However the big piece missing in this transition is that of training and education. The conventional education structure (both primary and tertiary) has its roots tied in enhancing skills en masse. It doesn’t facilitate specialisation early nor easily. It is certainly not customised based on a person’s interest nor does it let them pick their own direction until much later in their life (usually after 18, if that!).

What’s worse is it does not prepare anyone to be out on their own enabling them to be part of the contingent workforce. The 21st century is seeing a surge in micro-entrepreneurialism like never before – however this is despite the current education structure, not because of it.

I believe there are a few ideas that schools can consider to help adapt curriculum in the information age.

At a bare minimum schools should offer some basic business education, even if optional. This can include things like understanding financials (P&L, cash flow and balance sheet), understanding how to solve problems and making money including finding customers.

Something we notice at Langoor when interviewing people is that they are trained well in the more technical skills, but often soft skills such as communication, empathy or problem-solving capacity are missing. A renewed focus on soft skills, early in their formal education would help people adapt better in a contingent workforce. Another way to address this is by helping children ask questions early in their life and assisting them make their own decisions.

Even if children or young people are formally provided some vocational (work or hands-on) experience while being educated, that can go a long way to making them ready for the new order.

Lastly, the emergence of start up incubators is a case in point for lack of adaptability of the education system. Start up incubators today are effectively a breed of business schools that operate on principles which educators need to consider:

  • attaining training from people who have achieved some success; training people who are interested in the given topic
  • focus on asking tough questions and helping a person drive towards a ‘successful’ outcome on their own
  • focusing on ‘solving a problem’ more than training them on a specific skill

Organisations like YCombinator are leading change in education without realising it. This is certainly something education providers could benefit from by thinking of what education should be differently.

Preparing the next generation to adapt in what will likely be a globalised or mostly machine-automated economy will require thinking outside the box. Education providers risk going out of business if they don’t adapt to this in the next few years!