Global Megatrends and Industry Division P
Updated: Jul 18
Education, which is about imparting knowledge, and training, where the focus is on developing skills, are the cornerstones of modern economies. While we take for granted ready access to public education for children and youth, this was not always the case. So too for the workplace, where it was only 100 years ago that it was recognised that poorly trained employees are a cost on a company’s fortunes. And, just as child and youth education and workplace training have changed over the decades, so too have aspects of universities and vocational colleges.
This is what the article covers, what could happen with respect to the provision of education and training of people of all ages over the next 10 years or so. Particularly in terms of careers and business. It is a futurist’s take on how things might pan out.
Specifically, though, the future of this industry is viewed through the lens of climate change and computerisation. For these are the two global megatrends that are shaping much of the world as we know it. There are other global megatrends, such as urbanisation and an ageing population, but their influence on the education and training industry is not as significant.
About the global megatrend of climate change
At a high level we can recognise some ways that the rising atmospheric concentration of green-house gases has changed our world. For example, increasing frequency and duration of once rare high wet-bulb temperatures, and hurricanes becoming more intense and shift toward the poles in the tracking. But we also need to be aware of what changes have been wrought at a localised level. For example, over the last 40 years 16% of global area of tidal flats have been lost to coastal development and sea level rise.
A more immediate concern is the stress that climate change is having upon agriculture. Stressors, such as heat and rainfall extremes, put constraints upon the agricultural labour force, but also affect biological growth patterns. While there are positive effects of increased heat and rain, yield improvements in rice and wheat in Eastern Asia and wheat in Northern Europe, crop outcomes have gone backwards in places like South America, South Asia and Southern Europe. Overall, the last 50 years climate change has seen a decrease in the rate of improvement in agricultural productivity.
All impacting the food security of many millions over people now, and growing to tens of millions in the coming years.
About the global megatrend of computerisation
One component of computers that most people are familiar with is the hard drive. Formally categorised as mass storage, it is upon this device that we save data and programs. Data in the form of photos, videos and documents, and programs such as word processors, internet browsers and electronic games.
From a historical perspective, the hard drive was first developed in the 1950s. These early models had the capacity of about 4MB (4MB, or 4 megabytes, is about the size of an mp3 file of a top 10 music hit). Physically, they had 50 24” platters that spun at a speed of 1,200 rpm inside a 68” high enclosure. The cost was about $30k in today’s money.
In the years since, as scientific research improved the technology of hard drives their speed and storage capacity have greatly improved. For example, current hard drives can hold more than 5 million of those same 4MB mp3 music files at once. And they have about 8 3.75” platters that spin at a speed of 7,200 rpm inside a 1” thick enclosure.
What’s more, in recent times this hard disk drive (HDD) technology is being replaced by solid state disk (SSD) technology. While the storage capacity for SSD, on a per unit basis, is not as high as the HDD, they are much quicker.
With a seemingly never-ending explosion in the data that is produced, and that needs to be stored, the demand for ever higher capacity mass storage is not likely to abate any time soon.
The impact of these two influences
First, to the influence that climate change may well have upon the education and training industry.
Just like the broad industry acceptance of the need to ensure better working conditions through a focus on occupational health and safety led to relevant amendments to vocational training curriculm, so too will the acceptance of responses to climate change across industry lead to amendments. These curriculm changes for vocational education will be in matters such as sustainability and other aspects of operational efficiency.
With climate change reconfiguring the way economies work, academic and vocational study options will change in response. With a shift to electric vehicles, whether forced by government regulation or driven by customer demand, fewer people will be needed to maintain vehicles powered by combustion engines (vocational college graduates) and to design these vehicles (university graduates).
While climate change was largely the domain of the natural science faculty of universities across the world, the growing recognition is that most faculties will need to prepare their students to this trend. For example, business faculties and green economy opportunities, legal faculties and environmental and human rights law, and engineering faculties and changed environmental conditions.
As for children and youth the rhythms of school life may well be interrupted more frequently. Whether this be from an increasing number of hot days preventing physical education lessons from being held outdoors, to school camps and excursions being delayed due to abnormal weather conditions, or to the spread of novel diseases through school communities. Recent pandemic-related disruptions may be a foretaste of what is to come.
Apart from what is delivered in an educational setting, climate change will influence the physical environment of the setting. In other words, the educational facilities will need to become carbon neutral.
Although new buildings can be designed and constructed according to relevant green star ratings, the most common approach for a campus to meet carbon neutrality targets is to deliver on an environmentally conscious retrofitting program across its entire built environment. This will be increasing necessity to attract students in the coming years.
With respect to non-accredited adult education, the range of topics delivered will change according to community needs and fads. Just as internet training was a popular personal development topic of the late 1990s, and guidance to developing entrepreneurial skills was after the financial crash of 2008, so to will topics such as sustainability and resilience be de-rigueur over the coming years.
Turning now to the global megatrend of increasing computerisation.
At its heart, education is fundamentally a human endeavour. A person needs to learn something, someone needs to create that learning package, and someone needs to deliver the teaching.
Computer technology has changed each of these three. It has changed what a person needs to learn, as most industry sectors and fields of study interact with digital technology to a greater or lessor extent. The learning material, depending upon the age of the person and the subject, is centered upon the computer (eg. presentation slides, videos, quizzes, specialist software, etc). And delivery, even taking into account the different learning styles, the use of information and communication technology is more common-place.
Just as the cost of computing has fallen, thus removing an entry barrier to its broader use in education, so too will the falling cost of augmented and virtual reality usher in an increasing use of this technology in the classroom and lecture hall.
Schooling, in part, prepares a student for life. Vocational and university education prepares a student for work. Because life and work is being changed by digital technology, key skills that are taught need to change. With jobs increasingly being automated, students will need better thinking skills and people skills. With life increasingly being lived online and more accessible to others, students will need better character qualities.
Going further, other life competencies that educational institutions will need to develop in their students include the ability to navigate through a complex information space and to maintain relevancy in a changing world.
Social media and other electronic messaging affect the information space. This arena of life, greatly impacted by the capabilities of digital technology, will be increasingly contested. Students will need the skills to appropriately respond to: disinformation (people knowingly spreading a lie), misinformation (people unwittingly spreading a lie), and mal-information (truths being used to inflict harm).
Increased computerisation, the focus of this particular megatrend analysis, is driving change across the world. Whether its in the range of tasks that job-holders perform, or the new types of jobs that arise, or the types of businesses that become successful, graduates will face an ever changing world. As such, they will need to maintain relevancy during the course of their working life. They will need to become life long learners. Updating skills from industry bodies or building competencies from a series of career related micro-credentials.
Finally, at an institutional level, the capacity to share learning materials, to mutually recognise qualifications, and to develop shared accreditation frameworks will become easier and more attractive over the coming years.
As with other industry divisions, we can see that the global megatrends of climate change and computerisation will continue to have an impact the education and training industry for the foreseeable future. The responses to climate change will primarily be centred on the content of what is being taught. For computerisation, the impact will be continue to be felt in teaching content and methods of delivery. It is important to note is that this industry division both leads, and responds to, changes in other industry division. As a consequence, there is a medium term feedback loop between the education and training sector and all other sections of the economy.
What are your prospects
From the preceding, and from a career perspective, there are several observations that can be made:
If you are more the “get it done” type: any climate-exposed trades that you teach will either change or exhibit limited career prospects
If you are more the “thinking” type: there’ll be more data and a greater need to analyse trends from a systems perspective in order to develop expert institutional advice
If you are more the “creative” type: you’ll be required to regularly develop initiatives and educational packages that help students maintain currency and relevance
If you are more the “helper” type: you’ll be needed to support students and other stakeholders become resilient in an ever changing world
If you are more the “leader” type: you’ll need to be very comfortable with leading people in an industry that will become more disrupted by the ever-changing needs of target industry clients
If you are more the “structure” type: you’ll be faced with the ever-increasing inclusion of computer-based content, delivery and assessment
Overall, from a career perspective, in the years ahead you’ll need to comfortable with an industry that in many ways is being significantly challenged by these two global megatrends. The challenge will primarily come from the industries served.
And from a business perspective, like with other industries, when it comes to responding to climate change it is all about mitigation (ie. shifting focus to reduce risk) and resilience (ie. fortification to handle risk). When it comes to computerisation, its all about using information and technology. So, for those operating within the education and training industry, likely business prospects are along the following lines:
Mitigation: reduce reliance on fossil fuel-related courses, develop climate-transition courses
Resilience: carbon neutral facilities, climate change learning material
Information: develop information space expertise, develop people skill learning material
Technology: mirror stakeholder technology usage, use to innovate in content and delivery
Overall, and quite obviously, for businesses there are both risks to be aware of and opportunities to exploit in the change that is happening.
The education and training industry, like all other sectors of any economy, is being affected by the global megatrends of climate change and computerisation. Not only will these phenomena continue to change the industry, but because this industry primarily responds to the needs of other industries – what happens in other sectors will drive change. An extension of this notion is the aggregation effect. Education and training providers are in the unique position to be able to see and respond to the same types of change that may be occurring across the many silos of industries they serve.
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