The age of AI must reshape how we think about talent development

With artificial intelligence fundamentally reshaping workplaces and careers, how can educational institutions ensure that their students are ready for the demands of a shifting workplace? Henley Africa’s Jon Foster-Pedley weighed in on these and other issues facing the education sector at the 2023 CNBC Africa’s Future of Education Summit this July.

Upskilling employees is costing business billions of dollars each year, but the benefits of cutting unemployment by having appropriately skilled workforces, could add trillions of dollars to GDP. These kinds of trade-offs are at the heart of the issues facing education in Africa argued Dr Rakesh Wahi during the CNBC Africa Future Education Summit in July.

Dr Wahi, who is the co-founder of the ABN Group and the CNBC Summit said that the Summit, which brought together thought leaders and practitioners from across the continent and beyond, aimed to unpack critical issues facing the education on the continent including how to align academia and industry better and what role institutions of higher education could play in building stronger economies.

According to Dr Wahi, rapid technological advancements are giving rise to entirely new careers and jobs, and close collaboration between governments, academic institutions and the corporate world is needed to develop an optimal response.

Large organisations need to clearly define their needs to educational institutions and, in turn, those institutions need to adapt to these requirements by designing bespoke curricula that will increasingly be industry certified, he said.

Jon Foster-Pedley, Dean and Director of Henley Business School Africa, who spoke on one of the Summit’s panels on how today’s institutions of higher learning can enable individuals to upskill themselves in the face of a rapidly changing job market agreed. “Learning must be hands-on and the role of universities and business schools must be to provide talent that helps solve an industry’s problems and achieve its objectives,” he said.

To do this, educational institutions need to enable specific capabilities that match the needs of specific industries, added Foster-Pedley, but more than this, they need to be prepared to rewrite the rule book on talent development.

“We have to fundamentally reconceptualise talent development,” he said. “We should be learning throughout our careers as situations change. And we must think about learning or education not as ‘going to university’ but about amplifying the pace of learning, the speed of learning, the quality of being able to make sense of things and getting things done in real time.”

To achieve this, educational institutions need to be a partner to business, not something that happens before or between jobs, or separate from it, said Foster-Pedley, because it is part of building an organisation’s capability sets.

“Forward-looking business schools like Henley are all about developing capability in people so they can do things well and gain confidence and dignity.”

Foster-Pedley was joined on the panel by Professor Seth Kunin, Deputy Vice Chancellor Global, Curtin University, Professor Thea van der Westhuizen, Academic Leader: Management and Entrepreneurship Discipline, UKZN, and Dr Mahendra Sharma, Pro Chancellor and Vice Chancellor, Ganpat University, India.

The discussion took place in the context of an African education landscape, shaped by a history of colonisation and lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of outcomes. In sub-Saharan Africa more than 100 million children do not have access to even the most basic education and in many countries 400 out of 1,000 new graduates do not find stable employment even a year after finishing university.

Inevitably, all panellists touched on the topic of what new skills need to be taught in today’s classrooms to ensure students are ready for the demands of the job market. A billion jobs are liable to be radically transformed by technology in the next decade. But general agreement emerged that while some things are changing, others remain the same, said Foster-Pedley.

“Skills requirements may differ from one region of the world to another but there is one set of skills that never get stale, and that’s the skill of critical thinking, of thinking systemically, of making wise decisions and managing your own ego,” he commented.

Ultimately, Africa needs motivated, educated and thinking people who can set their ego aside and get things done, he said. “These are arguably the most important skills needed on the continent right now.”

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