Cisco Blogs

Jobs vs Skills: a conundrum based on myth?

September 21, 2011 - 5 Comments

The Economist held its annual conference on Human Potential last week in NYC. It could just as well have been named: ‘Job Acquisition vs. Job Skills: the Great Mis-match of our Generation,’ echoing the title of their special report by Matthew Bishop. For two days, panelists and speakers discussed this dilemma: “The abundance of jobs and the shortage of skilled workers.” Yes, I did say, abundance of jobs. Education took center stage of this conundrum many times, only to be quickly ignored because of the complexity of the solution. Like the Medusa with her head of many snakes, each education challenge begets a new challenge, which, in turn, becomes so intertwined that we run from it, screaming for relief.

Here’s the reality: the skills needed today at the workplace are not the skills needed when public education was evolving 150 years ago. Only a few years ago, we were wringing our hands over not knowing what the skills of the future would be. For those of us still doing that, it’s time to stop. As has been painfully obvious for more than a decade, the foundation of all work for the next several generations will be Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM), as well as the Arts. Allow me to address STEM first; then, I’ll explain the essential creativity factor.

Education institutions like California State University-East Bay have introduced a virtual STEM university, which leverages open education resources to quickly bridge the widening skills-acquisition crevasse. Recognizing the new relationship between space, time, and work, such leading edge institutions are proposing learning environments that extend beyond physical boundaries of a classroom to accelerate the acquisition of knowledge specifically around STEM.

Cisco addressed the great mismatch of jobs to skills 14 years ago by introducing the Cisco Networking Academy program. We designed and provided free ICT curriculum, professional development, and cutting edge learning platforms. This type of program is meeting the direct need for skills, reaching 165 countries, in over 10,000 institutions, to over 1 million students every year.

While STEM will be the foundation of many global jobs in the 21st century, learners must engage creatively to take these skills to the next level. We cannot merely calculate our way out of the challenges we face today. Communication, creative thinking, and divergent thinking come from being allowed the freedom to create. The digital learning movement is putting creative tools into the hands of learners to self express. Self expression, in turn, teaches the fundamental skills we want from all employees: motivation, inspiration, determination—essentially helping individuals reach their full human potential.

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  1. Is it really a mismatch between jobs and skills or is it a mismatch between jobs open at one salary level and skills (people) available at a higher salary level?

    • I believe the bigger mismatch is between jobs and skills. Yes I think there will always be more entry level (low wage) jobs than that C-Suite spots. But I believe the skills give you entry to executive level is changing. For instance it’s much more than just understanding technology these days. The talent that is often sought (high and low) is the creative thinker who can help solve the problem of the moment using every tool available.

  2. Nowadays school can’t offer the complete set of skills needed at the workplace. Training programs and extra-curricular activities can help, and also individual learning.

    • I agree that it is tough on schools to develope speciality/vocational programs today. But companies like Cisco are stepping in by developing, and offering for free, cirriculum, instrustion and support for ICT skills through programs like Networking Academy. Education systems need to be allowed to bring these types of programs into thier classrooms and suport these types of blended learning models.