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(Stock image for illustration purposes) As in the age-old fishing analogy, we must teach the skills students need to fish for a lifetime and to continue learning and communicating well all their lives.

COUNTRIES face two moving targets in the coming decade which is to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and raise national skill levels in order to survive and thrive in the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.

To meet these, we need to review policies and regulations and align them with our vision and we need to address society’s concerns about change. These challenges are fundamental to the agenda of the third annual UAE Public Policy Forum in Dubai on Jan 27, organised by the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority.

Ultimately, the forum aims to contribute to local and global efforts to accelerate progress towards the SDGs with discussions on sustainability policies in the age of big data, artificial intelligence, smart cities and universal digital transformation.

Among the interesting and demanding issues under debate are how can nations align educational policies and capacity-building efforts with the SDGs agenda?

This alignment needs to start from early learning right to the tertiary level.

Students, especially undergraduates, should be equipped with Industry 4.0 skills which are communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking — the 4Cs.

As in the age-old fishing analogy, we must teach the skills students need to fish for a lifetime and to continue learning and communicating well all their lives.

According to one recent report, in 1984 the shelf life of business expertise was 30 years — almost an entire career. Now, most professional proficiencies last five years before they need to be tweaked or replaced.

Kelly Palmer, chief learning officer at Degreed, an education tech company, says three current trends compel employees to focus more on self-education and companies to support their workers with training:

FIRST is acceleration as change is happening faster than ever and people are having a hard time keeping up;

SECOND is digitisation as almost all companies are integrating technology in a bigger way and technology is constantly updating; and,

THIRD is automation as machines and robots are replacing humans in many roles. Recent research warns that 47 per cent of US jobs are at risk of replacement by machinery.

Educators must prepare youth for the disruptive new economy. Whereas the old economy was resources-focused, the new economy is knowledge-intensive.

In the past it was labour-intensive, now it demands highly skilled talent.

At a time when everything from Twitter feeds to driving 18-wheelers can be automated, humans are still trying to figure out where they fit into the new workplace.

Courses about emotional intelligence, time management, strategy and effective communication are particularly popular, since these soft skills align with roles that can’t be easily replaced by automation.

The problem in the future is not a lack of employment opportunity, but a shortage of skills that the new jobs will demand.

For back office jobs such as accounting, salary management and data entry for example, experts expect a decrease in demand between 2015 and 2030 due to artificial intelligence and global outsourcing and an increase in upstream occupations to engage in new businesses, including planning, marketing, and research and development.

Needed, first and foremost, is a drive by universities to make the 4Cs a core element of teaching and learning, to make programming and information and communications technology compulsory for students of all fields of study.

Universities should also develop educational content in collaboration with industry.

The education system should open its content via digital platforms and conduct ongoing roundtable sessions on Industrial Revolution 4.0-related research.

The technological changes underway hold a host of opportunities provided we are adaptive and agile enough to grasp them.

Two ministries — International Trade and Industry, and Education — are deep-diving on the ramifications of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and lifelong learning.

The mismatch between the levels of existing and needed skill sets remains a key challenge.

All stakeholders must be brought on board. Apart from the relevant ministries, the private sector, academic institutions and education providers, in particular those involved in facilitating and offering “Massive Open Online Courses”, must unite for this country’s future generation.

Zakri Abdul Hamid is a distinguished fellow of the Washington-based Global Federation of Competitiveness Council and former director of the United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Studies in Tokyo

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