Reeducation? No Thanks, I’m Good!

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It’s weird. You’ve been learning new stuff all your life. And changed accordingly – maybe ‘evolved’ is a better term. As adults most of us have embraced learning, even occasionally bragged about it – as in ‘lifelong learning, that’s me’ etc. Then – suddenly, it’s bad. “Reeducation? No thank you – I’m good.” Why?

If you’re familiar with Pink Floyd and ‘The Wall’, you can probably hear – or feel – the steady rhythm in the background. ‘Dum-dum-dum-dum-we don’t need no education …’ and so on. Well played and a tremendous hit, not because of this particular message, but the story and the package. Sober or stoned, the Pink Floyd gang created musical history with The Wall. 

The metaphorical wall from the album (and movie) is about shutting out, seeking protection from reality. It may be a stretch, but I frequently see a similar wall being erected when the issue of reeducation comes up – almost regardless of setting: Nodding heads and frowned faces that reluctantly accept the need for reeducation, ‘but not me’. The ‘threat’ applies to ‘the others’, those outside my wall, but I’m protected. It’s exactly like discussing whether someone’s job is threatened by AI: ‘Yes, many, but not me – I’m unique’.

I’m sure you’ll recognize this example: An accountant I used to know was the perfect employee. Conscientious, hard working, diligent, reliable, easy going and very good at his profession. Spotting mistakes by a glance at a ledger or a balance sheet, a stickler for accuracy and rules. He loved his tools, hated change, accepted new systems (aka ‘tools’) but always found ways to do things the old way. Correction: His way. Until he became a laggard. It didn’t end well. Did he avoid reeducation? Not literally. He attended classes about new rules and regulations, about tools and systems and more. But he avoided change. What’s the difference? It’s attitude.

It’s interesting. The metaphorical wall from above is an attitude, a defense against a perceived threat. ‘Reeducation’ – and its sibling ‘new skills’ – convey a disconnect from the past, which rocks our very foundation in life. Understandable but wrong. What most of us need is an accelerated version of what we’ve been doing all along. To actively move on, while building on what we have. 

Why is this an important observation? Because time is running out. Lack of skilled workers is becoming the top challenge for businesses and entire countries around the world, and it’s not because we weren’t warned. 

In a widely publicized 2017 report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) stated that “More than half of the global workforce will need new skills by 2022”. It didn’t happen. Not because it wasn’t possible, but because most people – you and me – read ‘new skills’ like ‘reeducation’ and reacted accordingly. And most companies didn’t want to foot the bill, and took the ‘wait and see’ route.

Now we’re here – 2023 – with a serious problem partly caused by a misunderstanding. Of course reeducation is important – in some cases required, in other (most) cases advantageous. After all, new professions are popping up monthly, not the least in the wake of the AI wave (What AI Cannot Do – part II). They need daring explorers on a journey where yesterday is history, tomorrow is opportunity and the journey itself is excitement.

Back to the general case, which – when we’ve dealt with the mindset challenge – is about willingness and interest in improving the understanding and knowledge we already have to deliver faster, smarter, more creative, more sustainable whatever – at work and in life. Accept that leaving old ways/skills/habits behind is not a defeat but experience. An enabler to move forwards and up the ‘professional ladder’. Used in this context, ‘new skills’, the term WEF is wisely using, works.

The acceptance part is generally underrated. Acceptance that yesterday was useful, a foundation, and that today is different – whether you’re a teacher, truck driver, researcher, developer, manager, MD, farmer or just about anything else. All of them, all of us, have acquired new skills every month since forever. The difference between then and now is mainly speed. We need to change faster because the world is changing faster. It shouldn’t be frightening, it isn’t dangerous – it’s necessary. 

Of course you want to build your own future. To do so you need to ‘audit your mindset‘ as renowned professor Leiv Edvinsson says: Tear down the wall – the skepticism towards skills development, sometimes known as ‘reeducation’. 

Great for you, good for your family, necessary for the world. And exciting…

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