Innovation as a skill
The Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to the technological and social transformations that are changing business models, labour markets and learning. Automation, development of artificial intelligence, advances in computing power, cloud technology, and advanced materials are driving this change. According to McKinsey Global Institute, by 2030, automation will replace 800 million jobs. In Bangladesh, these shifts are already being felt in manufacturing and other businesses. Bangladesh is home to a youth population of 100 million (under the age of 30 years). Jobs become replaceable when an economy builds on replication, not innovation. The youth face uncertainty in securing jobs and a higher rate of unemployment.
These issues are rooted in the education system. Institutions and educators are unable to adapt and evolve in response to these changes. Currently, education is looked upon as a means to get a job. Students graduate with a set of hard skills and are not prepared for an uncertain future where skills are agile. When fresh graduates start their own business, tech company or take their own innovations forward, they suffer from “tunnel vision”. Young innovators cannot solve complex problems by thinking in the linear, one-dimensional patterns that are being taught by our educators, following an outdated curriculum.
On the other side of the coin, employers find it difficult to recruit well-rounded individuals. A typical university degree does not cover attributes most valued by employers. The employees may be able to perform well at their jobs but cannot guide the innovation required for the companies to survive in a globalised and competitive world. For example, when students graduate after having obtained a traditional education with a set of computing languages, these skills appear to be obsolete. Employers need to hire students who can learn quickly, adapt and critically assess outdated knowledge to keep up with the tides of change.
So, innovation has to be practised and can be applied in every aspect—to start a business, to launch campaigns that stand out, to create meaningful employment opportunities or to provide more effective services in any sector. Therefore, innovation as a skill needs to be taught and instilled.
It is imperative to increase exposure to innovation theories. Amid the ocean of resources on marketing, management, and finance in universities, resources and discussions on innovation need to be more prominent. A culture of innovation can be created by highlighting case studies and role models who are disruptive in their industries. Higher academia needs to capture, document and highlight the many small-scale disruptive innovations taking place in Bangladesh.
Institutions of learning must initiate pedagogical discussions and experiment with more effective methods of learning. Our universities need to prepare their students to be self-employed. Overall, academia needs to set up a system based on greater analytical processes, multidisciplinary thinking and creative methods of problem-solving. Students need to learn how to collaborate in smaller classrooms and “move fast and break things” in workshops. Professors, guest lecturers, and practitioners from the private sector need to mentor students on building innovations with the latest trends and technologies.
Innovation also includes cultivating cross-sectional knowledge and curating solutions relevant to each problem. Innovation is perceived as a function of business, whereas it is a branch of every department and division of academia. Many service-related entities thrive on innovation in engineering and technology. However, engineering schools in our country do not nurture and address innovation as a required skill set. The study and skill of innovation cannot remain siloed in the business or entrepreneurship departments. Every discipline needs students and practitioners who “think” differently and apply the innovator's mindset to problems unique to those sectors. Departments that are traditionally considered unrelated to innovation need to create a space for it. These initiatives are a way to adapt to a rapidly changing future.
Through these changes, employers will get employees who possess a variety of soft skills. These employees will lead from the front, be flexible and adaptive in their approach. They will be able to ramp up to face new challenges. Educational institutions can turn the changes that come with the Fourth Industrial Revolution into a scope of opportunity. Universities, the youth of Bangladesh and cross-sectoral partners can drive this future. Only then can we further build and prosper by becoming an innovative and forward-thinking economy.
Saif Kamal is the founder of Toru Institute of Inclusive Innovation. He is a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum Davos50- 2017.