As we move towards a more automated workforce, people with not just technological skills, but creative skills, will be highly valued
A popular estimate from the World Economic Forum is that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will work in jobs that don’t even exist yet.
In such a rapidly changing employment market, it is critical for the New Zealand Government, businesses, tertiary organisations and citizens to focus their attention on what skills will likely be needed in the future, and how workplaces will change.
To adapt, businesses need to innovate, and to be innovative, they need people who break the mould, who have expertise in the arts, dialogue, design-led thinking and technology, science, engineering and math.
Globally, the talk has shifted to the importance of the education sector bringing together the arts with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects, giving rise to another acronym, STEAM.
The Harvard Business Review in August 2017 said that a liberal arts degree was “tech’s hottest ticket”, with arts graduates knowing how to use and interpret the vast amount of information online better than other graduates, due to their skills, wide reading and knowledge, and their ability to make informed criticisms of its content.
In New Zealand there are some educational initiatives to drive student’s interest in STEM, yet despite this, engagement levels remain low.
It’s well known that New Zealand employers struggle to recruit the right people and the country is grappling with a critical digital skills gap, according to the New Zealand Digital Forum report. What’s more, the Institute of Directors found only 30 per cent of directors think their boards have the digital leadership to lead the digital future of their organisation.
As we move towards a more automated workforce, people with not just technological skills, but creative skills, will be highly valued.
If NZ universities jump on this issue now, partner with industry, and create STEAM courses reflecting industry skills demand, they would help close the digital skills gap.
If New Zealand universities jump on this issue now, partner with industry, and create STEAM courses reflecting industry skills demand, they would help close the digital skills gap.
Many students who have strengths in the arts, will likely need more instruction on how they can employ artificial intelligence and machine learning in their professions, and conversely, students who excel at STEM subjects, will need to be able to understand people, cultural experience and how to communicate – skills learnt in the arts.
Under a STEAM framework, arts education exists in conjunction to – or completely blended with – STEM studies. The cultivation of ideas and passions, calculated risk taking, how to work through failure, problem finding and problem solving are the focus.
While 65 per cent of future jobs are still an unknown, we can see leaders will need to continually innovate to remain competitive and the adjacency of STEM and the arts is crucial.
Unfortunately, New Zealand lags behind other countries when it comes to collaboration between firms and the higher education sector, as identified in a 2017 OECD study.
New Zealanders punch above their weight in creative fields and you don’t need to look far for evidence of this in New Zealand-made movies, books and music on the global stage.
So, New Zealand’s creativity could be our strength in the future as well, yet education and training systems will need to be responsive to the rapidly changing workforce. The OECD said New Zealand students will need good information about the labour market consequences of their study choices.
One example of a successful industry and university partnership is the Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp, an opportunity for students at Victoria University of Wellington to take their business ideas and test them to see if they are viable.
Accenture is one of several partners of the scheme, providing workshops and mentoring to challenge the thinking of Bootcamp’s young entrepreneurs and keep them up to date with the latest innovations and trends.
In 2013, Stanford University recognised the importance of fusing the arts with all its subjects. California’s famous innovation factory, which counts Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google, Reed Hastings of Netflix, and Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram among its alumni, has discovered that arts are the future, according to a report from The Economist.
Now, all undergraduates at Stanford, regardless of their course major, must take a class in creative expression, and can choose from classes such as ‘Laptop Orchestra’ to ‘Shakespeare in Performance’.
The biggest difference between Apple and all other computer companies is that Apple always tried to marry art and science, with the original Mac team having backgrounds in anthropology, art, history and poetry.
Closer to home, New Zealand’s property investor Sir Bob Jones famously prefers to employ arts graduates for their broad knowledge and curious minds.
Well-known New Zealand arts graduates include current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, former Prime Ministers Bill English and Helen Clark, filmmaker Taika Waititi and actor Sam Neill.
If we consider the leaders of the future will not only have to carry out their everyday remit, but continually innovate, analyse data, manage evolving technology, and communicate effectively, then a marriage of STEM and the arts is essential. When you bring the two together, the greatest innovations are possible.
Justin Gray is the managing director for Accenture in New Zealand.
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