I am truly energized after having just attended the 3rd International Congress on Technology and Vocational Education and Training in Shanghai (TVET) - what a remarkable assembly of leading educators, administrators, political decision makers, subject matter experts, NGOs, industry representatives and journalists from around the world.
The event has attracted more than 800 representatives from 117 member states of the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
After attending the sessions, it's clear that the the concept of "TVET" is widely accepted and seemingly well understood globally. But for me, it feels like the perfect time to update our traditional understanding of TVET, especially the Technical part of it. A lot has happened since the first two TVET conferences in Berlin (1987) and Seoul (1999). Technology has accelerated beyond our wildest expectations, shaping and driving how we work, live and learn in unprecedented ways. Two decades ago we did not anticipate the pervasive availability of broadband connectivity and the explosion of cell phones, let alone the general acceptance of smart and mobile devices of all kinds. The digitization and streaming of content had barely started in those days, and we used to buy printed books and get our music and videos on discs. Personal productivity tools were limited to personal computers, rather than services available anywhere and anytime. Social computing was in its infancy, Facebook was years away, and no one would have ever considered using “cloud” and “computing” in the same sentence.
Hence for me, “Transforming TVET”, the motto of this year's TVET conference, is really appropriate in more than one way. It’s not just how TVET itself evolves, but rather how technology is transforming occupations and workforce development as a whole. What’s happening is revolutionary: technical and vocational skills are moving quickly from being a less appreciated branch of a country’s training and workforce development to center-stage, changing the education and workforce system as a whole.
This transformational change has been confirmed by researchers. IDC, for example, predicts that the percentage of all jobs requiring some technology skills will grow from 50% today to 77% in the next decade. In fact, they estimate that 60% of the jobs that will exist in 10 years do not even exist today. Imagine what that means for our education and training systems – preparing young people for occupations yet to be invented! And yet, the signs of things to come are clearly visible now, we just have to pay more attention to them and analyze them appropriately under the skills and employability lens.
Let me share a couple of experiences with you that I have personally encountered recently, showing that these occupational changes are all around us. A few months ago, I had to have the headlights on my car repaired. My car is really nothing fancy, but it is a last generation model. Knowing how easy it was to change a light bulb in my previous cars, I first tried to do it myself, and soon realized that I needed a trained professional. When I showed up at my local repair shop for assistance, the car mechanic took a quick look and immediately told me that he was not able to help me. He explained that my car has “smart lights” that anticipate the flow of the road ahead of me and he did not have the software necessary to calibrate the car’s headlights. When I asked him about his approach to hiring and training, he confirmed that knowledge of computers and software are absolutely a must-have for his employees today.
About one year ago, I broke one of my dental crowns (a lot of breaking going on in my life, now that I think about it). Accustomed to the procedures of manufacturing and fitting crowns, I got ready for a ten-day ordeal with at least two visits to the dentist. Imagine my surprise when I was all set and done in one session lasting not even 60 minutes! What happened? Well, my dentist was using the latest replacement technology which combined the holistic photographic mapping of my broken tooth with a kind of 3-D “printing” of the replacement crown immediately in his practice. I find this absolutely amazing and wonderfully effective for the patient. And, needless to say, both he and his medical technical assistants had to go through additional technology training to master this new computer-based medical procedure.
When I visited one of the vocational schools in Washington State in the USA, for plumbers and pipefitters, the trainers described how being good at welding and other manual skills associated with their trade is not sufficient to ensure employment any longer. With most of the planning done nowadays on computers, using CAD and other advanced software is a must for their apprentices. And with environmental protection, energy conservation, and broader green technology requirements becoming commonplace, the technology skills expectations for plumbers and pipefitters have increased dramatically. It did not surprise me when a local air conditioning producer described himself to me as being “in the software development business”. The hardware is becoming a commodity and their competitive strengths lie in the value they create by embedding innovative software into their air conditioning appliances.
These are not isolated cases of occupational and vocational changes. Almost all successful products today are an inseparable blend of hardware, technology and embedded software applications. Even most service oriented occupations are undergoing a similar transformation driven by technology advancements. Providing effective customer services in the hospitality, travel or retail industry is virtually impossible today without the use of cutting-edge technology. The sophisticated application of information and communications technology (ICT) allows companies to have a much deeper understanding of their customers’ needs and the ability to sell to them in more efficient ways. Effective customer relationship management requires technology. Even small businesses need staff who understands how to create and maintain web pages, use social computing for marketing, and other productivity tools for planning, purchasing and selling.
Last year the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) very appropriately stated that “skills are the key to the prosperity of nations and to better lives for individuals in the 21st century”. In their view, providing the appropriate skills to their citizens will “contribute to economic growth both directly, through increased productivity, and indirectly, by creating greater capacity to adopt new technologies and ways of working and to spur innovation” (www.oecd.org/dataoecd/58/27/47769000.pdf, OECD 2011). I could not agree more. It’s all about getting people, especially young people, the appropriate skills they need to be successful in today’s and tomorrow’s workplace. Our world will be even faster paced, globally connected and competing, shaped and driven by technology and innovation. That’s why technical and vocational education and training is truly a global concern. That’s why TVET is vital for ensuring a productive workforce, advancing sustainable development and economic growth. That’s why pressing social challenges, like the unacceptable level of youth unemployment worldwide, cannot be resolved without evolving and transforming technical and vocational education.
To help address these global challenges and turn them into opportunities, Microsoft is partnering with international organizations like United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), UNESCO and the development banks, to help bring cutting-edge technology to education and training, helping to make it more effective and scalable, more widely available, less costly, more student-centric and engaging. Through our own programs such as Partners in Learning, IT Academy and DreamSpark, Microsoft supports the seamless integration of technology into learning inside and outside the classroom, equipping teachers to deliver immersive education experiences. With the help of programs such as Imagine Cup, Student-To-Business and BizSpark, Microsoft makes it easier for students to move from learning to earning, and completing a Microsoft Certification prepares students for attractive, higher earning positions in the quickly changing labor market by effectively improving their employability today and tomorrow. Not surprisingly, we’ve seen already over seven million students and professionals worldwide take one of the industry recognized certifications from Microsoft.
As I said, it is truly inspiring and energizing to be part of an event like the UNESCO TVET Congress. The aspiration of this event was to identify better ways of “building skills for work and life”. The relationship between technology and skills development has never been more dynamic and vibrant than today. Speaker after speaker has given testament to the power of technology in transforming lives and helping to change the world, one local community and economy at a time.
Lutz Ziob, General Manager, Microsoft Learning
This sounds like a great conference to have attended. Thanks for attending and sharing Lutz!