Higher education and the skill-building revolution

Dr P R Datta & Mark T. Jones

21 March, 2019 12:00 AM printer

As much as individuals and institutions are concerned about uncertainty it is important to recognise that change is a constant and needs to be prepared for and where possible embraced. The Higher Education sector in Bangladesh needs to be at the forefront of embracing change, and thus it is imperative that both the public and private sector demonstrates far greater foresight in this regard. Whilst it is easy to be critical of the absence of sector-wide forward planning, there are a range of areas that can be addressed with relative ease that will help Higher Education institutions prepare for a world that is predicted to see both rapid and radical change in the coming years. By far the most obvious area of focus should be that of current & future workforces (employees), namely their Upskilling, Reskilling and Cross-Skilling.

The unprecedented changes we have witnessed since second world war especially for the past 40 years is highly significant. Today’s business context is very turbulent and uncertain, sometimes very hostile and complex and it is important that business needs to evolve, learn and innovate to survive. Organisations that do not change are victims of the natural selection in the market place. One of the ways to address the business dynamism is to create competitive workforce that is fit for purpose.

In a world that is set to be transformed by developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of things (IoT) there is an urgent need to prepare for what has been dubbed the Augmented Workforce, one that will see an increasing combination of human and automated functions. As old methods and approaches are challenged and increasingly becoming obsolete, it is essential to help workers adapt in ways that will maintain and enhance their usefulness.

Upskilling – All employees should be actively encouraged to develop and enhance their skill sets via training, short-courses and mentorship schemes. Where once certain academic and professional qualifications sufficed, now the rate of change is such that no member of staff can afford to carry on regardless. What is more, Upskilling plays a key role in boosting morale, is proven to improve productivity, is beneficial for staff retention, can help increase customer satisfaction and is often instrumental in attracting new talent to an institution. For Upskilling to be meaningful it needs to be ongoing and is not merely a one-off training session or an in-service departmental gathering. Upskilling requires commitment, investment in time and resources and support across the board. No one should be denied access to Upskilling, and that is as true of the very senior personnel as it is of those who may have a less prominent/well remunerated post. For Upskilling to have real and lasting impact it needs to be institution-wide and designed to ensure maximum use is made of online and microlearning. We all benefit from developing and enhancing our skillset, yet sadly the Higher Education sector in Bangladesh has failed to embrace Upskilling thus far, and so has a golden opportunity that it and the country cannot afford to miss.

Reskilling – Where once it might have been possible to carry out the same job for one’s entire career, these days this is less and less likely. Hence, the need to train employees for entirely different roles. Reskilling helps an institution to retain staff, but also helps them develop new functions, whether these be in coding, digital skills or some other role that may not have been envisaged in the past. Different staff have different competencies, and it takes an enlightened institution to look at its personnel afresh and see potential in those who may formerly have occupied a somewhat junior post or been required to carry out rather humdrum tasks. Rather than making workers redundant, they can be reskilled and take on a whole new lease of life, one that ensures that they remain relevant and valued. By utilising existing personnel an institution can optimise its most precious of resources, namely its staff and adapt to meet changing circumstances and needs.

Cross-skilling – Everyone benefits from the ability to master new skills that means we can broaden the tasks that we are able to undertake. Having a flexible and versatile workforce helps the institutional dynamic, and has an added value if staff are absent whether through training, illness or for some other reason. Considerable satisfaction is to be gained by mastering new roles and this in turns enables employees to appreciate the range of skillsets available across the place of work. Bangladeshi universities are full of talented individuals, many of whom are eager to embrace new challenges if given half the chance. Now is the time to focus on skilling in its various forms and for institutions to make it part of their culture and forward development.

Already global competitors are enjoying the dividends that come from a highly motivated, appreciated and versatile workforce. Similarly, it is interesting to see large swathes of the higher education sector internationally embracing MOOCS (Massively Open Online Courses), and what is more developing them as a way of raising the institutional profile. It would be good to see some Bangladeshi HE institutions developing some courses for Future Learn (www.futurelearn.com). New technology affords a wealth of new and exciting opportunities for learning and it is essential that Bangladesh is an active participant in such processes.

As ever leadership is central to innovation and transformational change, and it is thus essential to have figures in key positions who appreciate the wealth of opportunities that are available. Regrettably, there are some figures in institutional leadership roles who appear stuck in a 1980s time-warp, and as a direct result their institutions lack imagination and are invariably overly deferential. Whilst some individuals seem to see everything through the distorting prism of politics, others recognise the value of being outward looking and learning from what is happening further afield. Those that have the vision and ability to appreciate the potential of the Skilling Revolution will be better placed to meet the challenges of coming years, they will signal to the world that they are committed to a professional excellence that comes from helping employees to adapt to a working environment that demand new things of all of us.


Dr P R Datta is the Executive Chair, Academy of Business & Retail Management, UK, and Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Business and Retail Management Research, UK. Mark T. Jones is a Consultant Futurist and Editor-in-Chief – International Journal of Higher Education Management