Workers are not equipped for 21st century’s innovation economy

17 Sep 2008

The skills required to work in the 21st-century economy are vastly different to those required 10 years ago and equipping students and workers with relevant IT skills is essential, a senior Microsoft executive has warned.

Microsoft Ireland country manager, Paul Rellis said Ireland needs to ensure that its education and training provision meets the needs of a 21st-century innovative economy.

Rellis has called for a debate on how best to deliver teacher professional development to meet future economic needs in his address to the IBEC Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century: Professional Development of Teachers Conference in Dublin.

“We are calling for a debate on how to deliver a new model of teacher professional development and a dynamic assessment system which places digital technologies at its epicentre,” said Rellis. “This, we believe, will prepare our students to meet the challenges of the 21st century in whatever form they present.

“Our vision is simple. It is the development of students, teachers, parents and educators to be lifelong learners, who realise their potential any time, any place, on any device, through the power of technology. In real terms, this vision translates to providing increased levels of access to students and teachers to technical devices that they can use in the classroom and in their homes.”

Rellis went on to outline how the requirements of the workplace are changing.

“The skill set required to work successfully in the 21st century economy is very different to that which was required 10 years ago,” he said.

“Ireland has competed successfully on the global stage and we are recognised today as a country with a highly educated and creative workforce. Things are changing so quickly, as is apparent from developments in the global economic environment. We need to continually innovate so that we can continue to compete. Equipping our students with relevant IT skills is an essential part of ensuring that Ireland is in a position to compete in the medium and long term. ”

The National Skills Strategy Report (2005), which identified the changed skills needs of the Irish economy for 2020, warned there will be a requirement for all employees to acquire a “range of generic and transferable skills including people-related and conceptual/thinking skills.”

Work in 2020 will be about less routine, with a requirement for flexibility, continuous learning, and individual initiative and judgement. The report also highlights the importance of R&D, innovation and marketing skills, stating that all occupations will become “knowledge-intensive” resulting in the need for higher qualifications and technical knowledge.

“The National Skills Strategy Report has clearly identified the kinds of skills that the economy will need in just over a decade’s time. In order to be able to meet these needs, there is a requirement to bring new thinking to the professional development of teachers so that the curriculum is delivered in a manner that will ensure that the right skills will be in place,” Rellis said.

He cited as an example Dunshaughlin Community School in Meath, which is one of only 12 Microsoft Schools of the Future in the World identified by Bill Gates.

Seamus Ryan, former principal of Dunshaughlin Community Schools (now Education Office, Co Meath VEC) said teaching staff at the school have been exposed to best practice, innovation and experience from schools across the globe.

“The experience to date has been fascinating and has allowed the school to share ideas and put some new processes and infrastructure in place which have changed the way teachers are delivering the curriculum, with attendant benefits to the students,” Ryan said, adding that the model is one that can be replicated right across the system for the benefit of students and teachers alike.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years