Roger Cowdrey - International Business Consultant. Writer & Motivational Speaker
My Blog

What degree?

Recently I was talking at a seminar on Industry 4.0 in front of a university audience of mainly engineers. Whilst the subject proved interesting and enlightening to the audience, it also clearly raised a number of concerns amongst the students in the audience. 
There were many speakers on the implementation of Industry 4.0 as well as those that gave examples of Industry 4.0 in action. However, when questioned by concerned students regarding what advice the speakers could offer them there were only platitudes.
The typical response was to tell the students to work hard. Nowhere did people think to suggest what the students should work hard on, or in what direction they should focus this hard work.
I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that we are living in an industrial world that is developing so fast that it is impossible to predict the requirements for Industry 4.0, 5.0 or 6.0. For those working in industry the future is probably measured in months and a couple of years at most, such that study starting today will not guarantee relevance at the end of the course.
I was lucky enough to talk quite late on in the day and therefore had time to ponder what I would say. Contrary to the generally held belief that I regard university study as a means of delaying the transition to real work, I do believe that education is an essential part of development throughout one’s life.
Where I fall foul of the traditional education system is the belief that packing in most of your education before your mid-twenties will guarantee that you have set yourself up for life. Given the speed of development in today’s world, making plans for your lifetime career through choices at 14, 16 or even 18 is probably going to lead to disappointment and probably disillusionment with those that advised you.
If there is anyone out there that can predict the labour needs and qualification requirements for five to ten years time then I will certainly be asking them for the lottery numbers!! But that doesn’t mean that I advocate giving up.
On the contrary, I am a firm believer that people should grab education wherever and whenever they can. Being a student at university is not a waste of time. Being at university demonstrates an intellectual capability that will be necessary going forward. In many ways the degree subject is less important than the process for achieving it.
Where the problem comes is when people focus on this aspect of education to the detriment of others. People may regard university as a holiday camp, but social development is an important skill for interacting in a world where cooperative working is becoming more and more important.
And the skill that I believe will serve all students in good stead going forward is that of creativity. Tomorrow’s world will not need people that can follow the rules in a workplace where there is a single right answer, as they did after the first industrial revolution. Tomorrow’s world will need people that can create new, innovative and exciting solutions to a wealth of new problems.
So, my advice was not just to work hard or to consider course changes. My advice was to recognise the advantageous position that the students’ intellectual capabilities have put them in and to work hard on developing their creative abilities and not to forget their social people skills.  

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