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Future of work demands holistic education

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We have to liberate our young people from thinking in silos, and encourage broader critical thinking, writes Ronald Benjamin.

The future of work, which will use the digital platform and artificial intelligence, requires dynamic and holistic education. In the future, there will be numerous jobs linked to the digital system or taken over by robots programmed for specific functions.

This will free up human resources professionals and those in functional and organisational operations requiring value-added tasks. Such tasks require a broader critical-thinking intelligence that contributes to meaningful and holistic solutions for business matters, taking into consideration the interests of various stakeholders.

According to a new survey by Clutch, a B2B research, ratings and reviews company, critical-thinking skills, including problem-solving and adaptability, will be most important in the future of work. Problem-solving and adaptability are not merely about resolving technical or functional issues, but involve understanding human beings, who have various needs and desires and are situated in the psychological, sociological and political contexts.

This requires people to have problem-solving skills that are not only technological and procedural, but also spiritual and psychological. The term spiritual is used to connote the wisdom and ability to connect issues in a broader perspective, rather than a narrowed functional perspective. It entails sacrifice, solidarity and ecological awareness. For example, one cannot promote green jobs without valuing the sanctity of the environment.

It would be unwise to accept artificial intelligence in toto without understanding the ethical concerns that come with the technology. It is obvious that such concerns have not been at the forefront in the hype over the “fourth industrial revolution”. While artificial intelligence will analyse big data, decision-making that involves the common good of stakeholders requires the human balancing act of wisdom that understands complexity.

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It is obvious that the Pakatan Harapan government and the Malaysian Employers Federation, which are jumping onto the technological bandwagon of the fourth industrial revolution have not got the basics – the vision, values and skills needed in our education and training content, in the context of the fourth industrial revolution. There is a tendency to merely assert the importance of adapting to technology, or reskilling and upskilling, while ignoring the necessary human foundations for such endeavours.

In many organisations, individual competency is gauged through personality, past behaviours, and skills that are operational in nature. This is not taking a bird’s-eye view of the big picture, collaboration between departments and the value of the synthesis of cross-disciplines in problem-solving. Also, the hierarchical structure in organisations today limits problem-solving to the top level, while those below are just followers of a given policy.

The cross-functional aspects of problem-solving and the synthesis of ideas are missing in this equation. In the future of work, there will be less hierarchical problem-solving and greater horizontal problem-solving through knowledge and talents, rather than positions of hierarchy. The question is, are we preparing millennials and the older generation for this type of holistic problem-solving?

In my experience as a recruiter, I find that such thinking is lacking among not just youth, but also adults who are not able to get their thoughts together to share broad work experience, which can bring about progressive results.

For example, when I interviewed a candidate for a hotel front office supervisory position, I asked him to recall a specific experience of customer displeasure and the problem-solving approach he used for it.

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He gave me a standard answer in a mechanical tone, explaining the standard procedures followed, rather than the ability to empathise with the guest on a human level by identifying the guest’s real needs and ensuring the problem was resolved by understanding the given context, without holding on to rigid standards. This requires higher-order thinking that takes into account the importance of spiritual, psychological and sociological responses to any given issue.

To address the holistic development of education, it is vital for the ministries of education and human resources to review our education system, which vacillates between functionally academic and technical education. There is the missing link of spiritual and social sciences, which can provide a broader perspective when dealing with the challenges that come with the fourth industrial revolution.

We have to liberate our young people from thinking in silos, and encourage broader critical thinking. Therefore, holistic education is vital for the future of work.

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