Why IBM’s Ginni Rometty has me thinking about the future of post-secondary learning

Last week, we were thrilled to have IBM executive chair Ginni Rometty join us virtually for an insightful conversation with RBC leaders. She’s been a source of personal inspiration for many years, including her work to change the way companies hire, reskill and train talent.

One of the biggest takeaways from our discussion:

Ginni says the half-life of most specialized skills nowadays lasts just five years. That means today, a four-year degree isn’t the end of a graduate’s education journey, but rather just the beginning. And for Ginni, that’s why “propensity to learn” is one of the most critical attributes she believes companies should look for when hiring talent.

She’s absolutely right, and that has me reflecting again about the skills gap challenge we still need to address in Canada’s workplaces and classrooms.

We have an historic opportunity in front of us to take a more progressive approach to lifelong learning and keep reinventing one of our greatest competitiveness advantages – our reputation for delivering high quality education.

Businesses, educators and government need to collaborate on a new model of post-secondary learning – one that’s built into business strategies as well as course curricula. Organizations such as the Business/Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) can keep playing a critical role here.

I’m not just talking about the changes required to move to a hybrid-model that blends traditional in-class courses to more personal and more interactive, online learning. There’s a bigger changes needed here.

We can’t approach the future with the same model that has existed for over a century.

For instance, does it still make sense to deliver four years of education upfront in an undergraduate degree?

Would students be better served in half that time, entering the workforce and then returning in the future to build on their work experiences?

And stepping back even further, just as we’re changing the way we recruit, should schools also rethink the profile of students we bring into the post-secondary system?

Training and educating our youth differently would also foster a post-secondary infrastructure that’s more conducive to having existing workforces return to school for retraining.

And with a five year half-life on so many skills, that could be more important than ever.

For post-secondary institutions, this starts with rethinking curricula and classrooms, changing the way they work with secondary schools, and measuring the effectiveness of work-integrated learning programs through the lens of how much value they’re adding to students and the economy at large.

This isn’t a job for any one group to solve.

Many employers have struggled to rethink hiring practices and move beyond degrees and certifications. In so many cases, students enter the workforce possessing skills that are critical for organizations, but they’re often undervalued because those skills were gained outside the classroom in volunteer activities, entrepreneurial gigs and hackathons.

Business and government must together with education to seize the moment in front of us – to both encourage 21st century hiring models and transform our post-secondary education models.

For years, our bank has relied on the innovation and talent coming out of campuses across the country. We are intricately connected with post-secondary institutions, as are so many business across Canada. And we know a well-prepared, well-educated and highly-skilled workforce will play a key role in building back stronger from the impacts of the global pandemic.

In a long list of priorities, let’s not lose sight of the long-term competitive advantage we stand to gain by reinventing how we deliver that education to Canadians and talent around the world.

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Our current model of post-secondary learning is in need of reinvention – a need that’s been magnified by the pandemic.

We have a historic opportunity to take a more progressive approach to lifelong learning and create a significant competitive advantage to grow our economy.

But as I’ll share in this piece, the time to act is now.

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