Justine Munro, Director, Z Energy and founder of 21C Skills Lab wrote in the NZ Herald “New work order requires education shake-up.” “On September 26, over 100 Kiwi companies wrote an open letter that made it explicit a “new work order” is here. In this new world of work, many tertiary qualifications are not seen by employers as preparing young people for real world roles.

Increasingly, employers value generic skills, such as critical thinking, collaborative problem solving and global literacy not typically taught or assessed in school or tertiary courses. “

The “New work order” and the redundancy of Business degrees was echoed the same day (7 Oct 2017) by Rebecca Stevenson in The Spinoff.

This is music to my ears. Good, even, that self-styled education “futursists” such as Mind Lab’s Frances Valentine are investing in developing education methods that leave graduates with the elusive “generic/soft skills” that make or break governments and enterprise these days.   

I’ve been hoping for over a decade that the employer market would wake up to the inadequacy of tertiary education for business, then demand better and apply market pressure to the insular, self-satisfied qualifications industry that has monopolised and commodified so-called education. 

During that time, I interspersed coaching change in NZ SMEs with spells in the tertiary education sector developing learning contexts and learning management processes that actually, intentionally, and successfully developed the “generic/soft skills” that are now acknowledged as a prime competitive advantage for innovative organisations in the globalised economy. That includes the current new coalition government in NZ.  

However, my efforts to propagate those methods within institutions were, like those of my local and international network of like-minded tertiary educator colleagues, stymied at pretty well every step. Typically, though inability of most managers, administrators and many academic colleagues to imagine or risk anything much beyond their personal memory of tertiary education context and process.  I know first-hand that this closed-loop thinking and practice dominates even NZQA Category 1 (certified self-monitoring) tertiary institutes in 2017. 

Waves of e-learning (read low cost mass delivery of the now discredited qualifications), code writing and open plan learning spaces have washed through, stripping the landscape and adding little of value.  

The tertiary industry focuses on the student market which still chooses providers on brand and NZQA categorization. Especially the international student market. It’s not surprising then that so many international students, seeking work visas and eventually permanent residence, graduate to find that their qualifications win them little more than menial employment. And not surprising either that the newly elected coalition government intends to shut that door. The tertiary industry will do it hard without the easy cash that channel provided and the change in the employer market will squeeze local enrollments too. Good!

Here’s opportunity here for a hard pruning and fruitful re-growth: root out narcissistic managers and sly, sycophantic acolytes, that rode the wave, took the credit and drove quality into the ground.  Time to give the real creatives room to make a difference.