Someone asked me this week whether I thought the skills mismatch really exists. The idea of the skills mismatch is that despite persistent unemployment, there are high-skilled or specialized jobs that go unfilled in large numbers because people with the skills aren’t available. My response was that the existence of hundreds of colleges and universities is de facto evidence of a skills mismatch. So when a publication like the Globe and Mail calls the skills mismatch a fairytale, it is referring to one specific statistic in one particular industry, which may or may not be misleading. But in fact, there have always been skills mismatches, and while we can’t predict precise job markets, we can do our best – government, industry and education – to prepare people to adapt and grow into the new needed skills. “What you can try and do is ensure that you are as resilient as you can be and that you have the broad set of flexible skills that allow you to take advantage of an opportunity when it comes along.”
One definition of education (as compared with training ..perhaps) is of course is it is that which provides resilience in the face of change. Better still we might consider using Nassem Taleb’s term, anti-fragility. Humans are not fitted to one ecological niche, rather evolution has selected us for the ability to fit into many niches. We can also not just respond to the environment, but becomes masters of it (and therein lies on occasions hubris). This is one framework in which to view education. Those who believe in medial education as well as medical training, will warm to this approach. The difficulty is defining what aspects of education really do facilitate the ability to adapt. The usual mantras of ‘teaching lifelong learning skills’ I am deeply sceptical of. You can cultivate those attributes, you can signal you value them, but you can’t expect to ‘tick-box’ them.