Future jobs: The importance of business-higher education collaboration

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In this new wave of automation and at the rate of growth in artificial intelligence and machine learning, businesses and universities are ramping up collaboration initiatives to prepare for the future of jobs.

By Aisyah Liliana 

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The age of digital transformation brings forth new and exciting prospects for the higher education industry. As the ever-evolving job market often requires fresh graduates to be equipped with new forms of skill sets, universities must also prepare students for future jobs that may not even exist yet. 

Traditional careers are likely to be soon replaced by automation and the increasingly popular gig economy.  Businesses need to pay attention to these developments in order to remain sustainable or risk losing out.

It is therefore crucial for both businesses and universities to firstly be aware of these employment market changes and then adapt accordingly to leverage a newly transformed talent pool.

The World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland earlier this year discussed these changes, emphasising on how higher education must adapt to overcome future challenges.

In an article by Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian, it was mentioned that 14 percent of jobs across OECD member countries are highly automatable, while another 32% are highly automatable.

While a separate study conducted prior to this by the Brooking’s Institution states that creative and technical positions may be spared from this new wave of automation, at the rate of growth in artificial intelligence and machine learning, this may not be the case for very long. 

World Economic Forum
The World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland earlier this year discussed the changes presented by technology and innovation, as well as how higher education and businesses must adapt and collaborate to overcome future challenges.

So, what does the future job market look like? 

Emphasis on digital skills is inevitable in the future job market – more and more jobs require basic digital literacy skills.

This is shift occurs across sectors and across industries, whether or not the job entails any level of technical skills or knowledge.

As technology takes over most industries, even roles that are predominantly in charge of recruitment and hiring, which are traditionally controlled by humans will face automation, given the development of AI and other technology.

These AI-based chatbots are expected to initiate preliminary interviews and shortlist applicants according to specified requirements. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

The nature of a job itself will also face some rapid transformation with the emergence of new technology. Traditional desk jobs are currently being overthrown by more flexible remote work opportunities found in the growing gig economy.

More and more digital natives are opting for this mode of working. 

Thanks to the development of mobile productivity apps, more young adults are seeking gig-based employment that allows more flexibility in terms of work-life balance and a more transparent way to manage their income.

No longer dependent on long-term contracts and commitments, the gig economy will surely disrupt traditional job market conventions. 

With a more flexible landscape, the job market is bound to face more transformative changes that both higher education institutions and businesses should be prepared for. 


Future jobs will require ‘human skills’ 

The emergence of industry 4.0 will give way to the birth of new industries and the expansion of existing ones through technology. 

While it is understood that university students need to be well-equipped with relevant digital skills to be fluent in designing, developing and applying emerging technology effectively and responsibly, fundamental ‘human’ skills shouldn’t be sidelined either.

In fact, human-skills, something humans are inherently better at than their robot-counterparts, should be given more emphasis.

To develop a future workforce of well-rounded and competent fresh-graduates, it is suggested that 21st-century students must also learn how to approach problems from various perspectives, cultivate and exploit creativity, be active and fluent communicators, and exhibit high levels of critical thinking. 

These ‘human’ skills will eventually become valuable assets for new entrants into a future workforce and will set them apart from the rest in industries that are increasingly being taken over by automated technology. 

This is why while the hype for universities seems to be moving more towards the direction of filling digital skills gaps, these universities should also instill a balance of critical thinking, analytical, communicative and creative skills to produce quality graduates. 


Long-term investment in professional development

In his article for the WEF 2020, Professor Farnam Jahanian highlighted the need for businesses as well as universities to explore more pathways to allow access to higher education and relative skills for fresh talent. 

For example, the private sector could rethink human capital development as a long-term investment, and focus on leadership development and vocational programme design,” he explained. 

It is equally important for businesses to upskill their existing talent pool as it is for universities to train their students. This is to ensure employees are able to build up relevant skill sets to allow them to adapt to the evolving job market. 

Businesses can take advantage of the digitisation of further education to attain this. As more and more online micro-courses are becoming available, companies and employees can pick and choose the skills most relevant to them and pursue these courses according to their own time. 

Having businesses engage with higher education institutions to provide these skills training opportunities will allow them to build a competent workforce that is able to adapt and grow to accommodate new jobs that may emerge in the future. 

Professor Jahanian also considered the possibility of implementing tax and fiscal policies to incentivise workforce development, collaboration between research universities and community colleges, and income share agreements to increase access to education and professional development. 


Private and government partnerships in higher education is important to prepare businesses for future jobs

The evolving job market also requires a new strategic approach toward higher education and employment. 

The private sector, government, educators, and policy-makers must work together to deliver multiple pathways to opportunity for young people looking for their first foothold in the job market,” said Jahanian. 

This proves that public-private partnerships will become even more relevant in the coming era to ensure universities and businesses are in sync with one another on the current skills and trends within the growing economy. 

A dynamic higher education system that is able to adapt to the impending changes in the job market of the future can be strengthened through constant collaboration with the private sector and governmental bodies. 

These partnerships can improve access to higher education, workforce development, outreach, and research innovation to provide for jobs of the future.