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The New Normal: The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s Demand for Perpetual Learning

By Tae Yoo, Senior Vice-President, Corporate Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility, Cisco

With the pace of technological disruption faster than ever, a new approach to life-long learning is needed.

The world is changing. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here, and it is having an impact on everything, including the future of work. A significant evolution of the labour market is forecast over the next 10 years, and we do not fully know all the jobs of the future.

Given the hyper transformation of technology, business models and work, it is important to understand and anticipate what this means for youth, society, businesses and government, so that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the digital economy. Now more than ever, we need to invest in a new paradigm in the way we acquire the skills needed for jobs – a model that allows for perpetual, renewable skills development.

Imagine a future where educational institutions, employers and individuals work together in an entirely new way. They collaborate fully to provide the foundation for perpetual learning so that everyone can participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This new paradigm would address ongoing skills development and fuel continuous employment, both for current and future students. New, synergistic consumption models supported by new revenue models for educational institutions are developed. A mutually beneficial hub of learning and innovation is created, based on a new relationship between educational institutions, employers and individuals, with a long-term commitment to ensuring continuous employability.

The boundaries between educational institutions and employers are much more fluid. They work together to create a sustainable, innovative and entrepreneurial digital economy ecosystem in which everyone can participate, at any point in life – youth, displaced workers, the underemployed and the unemployed.

The concept of skilling, reskilling and lifelong learning is not new. What is new is that the pace of disruption is faster than ever; educational and career pathways are less defined; and the need for perpetual learning is the new normal. In this model, universities play the role of orchestrators in the talent ecosystem – which includes community colleges, vocational institutions, online course providers, boot camps, project-based work and entrepreneurial challenges. Together, they create new relationships with employers and industry in their local areas to provide relevant skilled talent for everything from one project, to short-term or long-term employment.

Private sector organizations partner with faculty and share strategy, so all parties have a common understanding of the requisite skills that are driving the future of work. Universities and companies have a symbiotic relationship where universities provide talent from their ecosystem and employers focus on new technologies and market development.

Students choose a university not just for the degree or faculty, but because of the ecosystem of employers, projects and experiences they can access. Students have an integrated, affordable and accessible way to learn for life, with rich educational opportunities at any stage of learning – or entry point – of one’s career development.

This kind of paradigm shift may seem quite substantial, but some universities and organizations have already taken a step in this direction. Several universities, for example, have strong existing relationships with community colleges for matriculation, and work with local community partners for entrepreneurial and workforce training experiences. Other universities partner with companies to supply talent or offer internship opportunities.

On the private sector side, some companies help their employees with degree obtainment and skills development for future roles, through either universities or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Companies are also creating industry-relevant curricula and certifications delivered through educational institutions, such as Cisco Networking Academy, which helps students from a range of backgrounds and life stages – from university students to former prisoners, people with diverse abilities, and people seeking to pivot careers –  develop digital skills. Over the last 20 years, this program has supported nearly 9.3 million students across the globe.

Although these are all impactful efforts, they are unlikely to be enough to keep up with the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Companies and educational institutions can lead the way in helping to create a more inclusive future by transitioning from traditional models and coming together to inspire perpetual learning. Not only can we prepare people with the right skills and help them participate in the digital economy, but we can collectively help ensure that no one is left behind.