“Good Good Study, Day Day Up!” So reads the literal translation of Chairman Mao’s famous slogan, which sums up the traditional view of education preached by parents and teachers the world over: study hard, and you will have a bright future. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Nowadays, having a university degree is no longer a guarantee of getting a good job. Indeed, despite an increase in the number of young people with tertiary level qualifications in Hong Kong, the unemployment rate of those aged below 25 is almost double what it was 30 years ago. According to Janet Pau in her recent article for the South China Morning Post, local university graduates are no more likely to secure a job than their peers that only completed secondary school.
Pau goes on to share a common complaint of employers in Hong Kong – the difficulty in hiring workers with the right skills and training. Employers that feel graduates, despite being highly qualified, lack core skills including language, client management, communication and critical thinking skills.
Today’s world is changing at a phenomenal pace. Young people entering the workforce are expected to understand and use new technologies, deal an abundance of information, communicate clearly through a range of different media, collaborate on a global scale and tackle challenges the world has never seen before. A career is also no longer for life, as it was for our parents and grandparents, and young people today must constantly adapt and retrain themselves if they are to remain competitive. A recent study global study by Oxford Economics and SAP found that "becoming obsolete" is the biggest concern for today’s employees, twice as concerning as being laid off.
Sir Ken Robinson, internationally acclaimed expert on education, believes that nurturing creativity is the key to preparing young people for an unpredictable future, as well as for building successful and sustainable businesses.
In Robinson’s hugely popular TED talk, which has over 29 million views, he explains why it is time for a radical rethink of the traditional education system. Designed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution, he believes that the current system’s emphasis on standardised testing and its prioritization of academic intelligence (of maths, science and languages over the arts) is killing our innate capacity for creativity. He argues that the current education system drills children to be compliant and seek the ‘correct’ answer rather than think out-of-the-box and explore many possibilities.
Some leading companies have seen the benefits of cultivating creativity to allow them to respond in an increasingly complex world, and leverage innovative ideas for business growth. Robinson defines creativity as, “the process of having original ideas that have value,” and believes leaders should create an enabling environment for creativity by integrating it into processes across various departments and functions, not just the ones traditionally associated with ideas generation. As diversity fuels creativity, so collaboration and communication are essential and should be encouraged. In one interview, he cites the example of Pixar, which has established its own in-house university with workshops, seminars and teaching programmes. All Pixar employees are entitled to spend four hours a week at Pixar University, which has resulted in opportunities for people from different departments to mix and generate ideas. Another benefit is that it has contributed to a sense of common culture and purpose.
Deloitte’s Millennial Survey, which we referenced in a previous CSR Asia Weekly article about Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution, revealed that millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 and now entering the workforce – want to work for organisations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills and make a positive contribution to society. A similar survey focussing on young people in the finance sector by PwC also found that millennials value professional development and training, and warned that organisations risk losing future talent if they fail to engage them in development opportunities.
Millennials are expected to account for 50% of the global workforce by 2020 as the baby-boomer generation approaches retirement age. The time is ripe for companies in Hong Kong to think more strategically about succession planning and labour management issues. To address the looming skills gap, businesses need to have greater collaboration with government, industry associations and educational institutions to ensure the next waves of young people entering the workforce have the both the skills, and the capacity for innovation that will allow the company to adapt and innovate in an increasingly complex world. To attract and retain the best millennial talent now, companies can also invest in lifelong learning and the creativity that will drive their business into the 21st Century.