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December 19, 2016

It's Just the Economy, Stupid!

Keith Jackson

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We've highlighted how organizations are suffering because their senior leaders are too slow, or too unwilling, to drive innovation. Research showed that they're failing to use technology to achieve a competitive advantage and to become winners in the digital economy.

But such is the pace of change of technological development that now, just a few months later, the term digital economy is already considered "old hat" in some quarters. Yet alarm bells are still ringing about our inability to keep pace with the rate of change, as individuals, organizations, industries, and even entire economies.

Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental agency that aims to promote economic and social wellbeing around the world, has warned that there is a widening gap between technological advances and the skills needed for the workplace.

He said, "Technology is racing ahead of the skills people have. This is the challenge of our times. There is no longer a digital economy, there is the economy."

Schleicher argues that governments, organizations and individuals need to invest in "fostering lifelong skills" and "making lifelong learning a reality."

But technological development is nothing new – we have lived with it since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th Centuries. So, why do we have to worry about it now? And what does it mean for workplace learning, managers and team members?

"We Have To Invest In People"

According to the OECD, it’s the increasing pace of change that is new, and that is rendering traditional learning almost obsolete. As Schleicher points out, it was only 10 years ago that "we didn’t have the iPhone®, Google Maps® or digital printing."

He warns that, as a manager, chances are that you are – or soon will be – in charge of a team that works harder than it ever has, but with declining levels of productivity. And without continuous relevant training and learning, graduates will find that they don’t have the skills that workplaces need, and employers will find it harder to find people with the skills that they need.

But Schleicher believes that the workplace can be one of the best places to learn. He said that integrating the world of work and the world of learning should be a priority for economies. He describes the workplace as "an amazing opportunity to learn."

The challenge for organizations and employees is to take ownership of their learning. The rewards for doing are considerable, and the price of not meeting the hanging demands for skills is daunting. The OECD estimates that people with the skills that employers want are three times as likely to earn a good wage than those struggling to acquire the learning they need. But outside some northern European countries such as Sweden, Finland and Denmark, and also Vietnam and China, a lack of investment in lifetime learning is damaging many societies.

Schleicher said, "We do not have another choice. If we just focus on institutionalized learning we will fail. We have to invest in people. We have to shift toward making lifelong learning a reality."

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