Learning and working – a digital chain revolution

Technology has revolutionised the way we learn and work. We already spend more time attached to machines such as computers, laptops and mobile phones than interacting with human beings. Most of us feel lost without inputting, sharing and receiving electronic data. We are constantly searching for information and are forever engaged in exchange of communication. We expect immediate feedback and communicate ideas, decisions and opinions in real time. All employment sectors are deeply affected by this chain revolution. Accountancy is no exception. The way accountants work today is decidedly influenced by technology. Reporting in accountancy is faster, more accurate, contains substantial amounts of electronically researched information and is becoming a more reliable source for transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of businesses all over the world.

There is clearly a chain effect to most operations on places of work. Workers are becoming more dependent on machines than on fellow colleagues. At the same time employers lament that the skills they look for in our young workers are insufficient for the workplace. There is a widening gap between the world of education and training, and the world of employment. The claim from employers is that relevancy of educational programmes does not match the advancements in most work environments. On the other hand, educational institutions argue that because of shrinking resources their learning environments lack the necessary infrastructure and expertise to cope with developments in work places. The truth is that no matter how many resources are thrown into education and training for high-tech work environments it is impossible to generate fully prepared human capital.

In acknowledging these new realities, one would have taken the first step towards work-based learning. The field of accountancy is for instance known for producing hands-on employees who can hit the ground running. This is because the divide between the world of education and training and employment has been narrowed throughout the years and in particular through a more professional approach by the accountancy industry itself. The chain between a learning and a working environment in accountancy has not been broken.

Work-based learning is the future of education and training. This implies that all learning designed to make people employable must be based on two overarching principles. The first is that qualifications (or the evidence of what a person knows and is able to do) must be industry driven. The second is that we need more community lead curricula. The first ensures preparedness, the second relevancy. The link between learning outcomes and relevancy of content to real work is the key to a sound education and training environment. Young people need to be attracted to learning environments that enable them to endure a structured learning process in formal settings. In fact, most learners leave school earlier because a one size fits all approach in formal education and training settings does not match their mind-sets and the culture of learning in our age of technology. Speed has truly penetrated into all spheres of our lives. Our attention span has been severely dented by the immediacy of the acquisition of information. Evidence of this is the way we flick through a newspaper, scroll a document on internet, watch television or listen to the radio. We impatiently jump from one cluster of information, image and sound to another in repeated behaviours which at times are done unconsciously and unintentionally.

This same pattern of behaviour is reflected in the way we learn and the way we work. Hence the need that these two sectors work with each other in a more structured and interchanging way. In this age of technology educators and employers are increasingly becoming shareholders (and not just stakeholders) of the same process. A person learns while he works and works while he learns. Technology has built a new common ground which will make or break working and learning environments. As a result of this sequence of developments, educators and employers in highly developed countries are seeking partnerships more than ever before. These are reflected on the one hand, in the increase of apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning and on the other hand, in continuous professional development programmes which are now obligatory, after qualification.

In a world which is changing so fast, the biggest error professions can make is to freeze the development of their members or leave it optional. Looking at the strength of the accountancy profession, one of the key lessons to be learnt is that being an accountant requires obligatory updating, re-training and re-skilling. It is obvious that work in itself is a learning experience much more than the formal learning experience per se. However, formal learning in educational institutions also has enormous added value in that it enables learners to share experiences, learn from each other, discover new methods of enhancing their profession and becoming more customer-oriented.

Businesses failure or success today largely hinges on the ability to adapt, adopt and adjust to innovation and sustainability. With the advancements of technology, bridging the gaps between the world of education and training and the world of employment is not an option anymore. The accountancy profession is a shining example of this trend and a model on which other slow-developing disciplines and professions should adopt to move towards continued existence. Evidence shows that because of technology thousands of jobs will be lost and equally others created. The chain effect that work-based learning creates is the adequate response to these compelling developments. Moving away from being stakeholders to becoming shareholders of each other’s domain, educators and employers hold the key to a country’s economic and social realisation, or failure.

Malta has an educational system with strong roots in academic and vocational education and training. Public funding of education has been increasing for many years. Learners who enrol at University or at MCAST today have an open pathway to a higher education qualification. This is particularly important in a labour market where a degree is the basic stepping stone towards a sustainable career and a person’s quality of life. As a result of technology, practically all jobs will sooner rather than later become very professional.
Hence the importance of key competences (in compulsory education) and a higher education qualification as pre-requisites of employability; the need for employers to engage more cogently in education and training and, increased agility and foresight in investing in the infrastructure of vocational training by government and industry together.

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