Degree of ‘Cert’ainty: adapting learning programmes to meet changing demands

Published May 27, 2024


George Asamani

Gen Z and Gen Alpha might have been cut from the umbilical cord but they are tethered by the proverbial cord that constantly keeps them connected to the digital world.

Like the umbilical cord, 24/7 internet connectivity links the generation to a vast reservoir of information crucial for their personal and intellectual development.

Just as the umbilical cord is essential for sustaining life before birth, the internet sustains their engagement with the world, fostering learning, creativity and social interaction.

Unlike previous generations, the young individuals are digital natives, immersed in an environment where the internet, social media and instant communication are integral to daily life.

The constant connectivity shapes their interactions, learning styles and problem-solving approaches. They possess the ability to navigate digital platforms, seek information swiftly and adapt to technological advancements.

As such, the skills and competencies needed for their success differ significantly from those of earlier generations, requiring a rethinking of educational and professional development to include critical thinking, problem-solving, communications and so on.

The 20th-century educational system was shaped by the Industrial Age, focusing on conformity, standardisation and rote learning. Classrooms were teacher-centred, with pupils mainly absorbing information passively.

The rigid curriculum focused less on critical thinking and creativity and more on memorisation and repetitive tasks. The method was effective for its time, preparing pupils for stable, well-defined jobs in the industrial and early post-industrial eras.

However, as the Digital Revolution took hold towards the end of the century, the limitations of this education system became increasingly apparent. Graduates were often unprepared for the demands of a rapidly evolving job market that valued problem-solving, adaptability and digital skills.

In contrast to the previous century, 21st-century skills encompass a broad set of abilities crucial in a globalised, information-enabled and increasingly AI-driven society. These include critical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration, agility and adaptability, communication skills, an analytical mindset and curiosity.

For Gen Z and Gen Alpha, a career-long learning mindset is essential. Unlike previous generations, they are entering a world where professional roles evolve rapidly and new industries are born from technological advancements. This means learning must extend beyond early life.

The trajectory of professional qualifications is evolving rapidly. A single degree might have sufficed for career entry and progression in the past; however, as we move further into the 21st century, the criteria for job readiness and advancement are shifting dramatically. The change is largely driven by the pace at which technology and globalisation are transforming industries.

Traditional degrees are valuable and will continue to be so but a range of specialised certifications and micro-credentials will probably supplement them. The credentials prove an individual’s commitment to learning and mastery in specific skill areas. As a result, résumé will not just list degrees and work experience but become dynamic portfolios of certifications demonstrating competency and expertise.

The shift towards certification-rich résumé reflects a broader trend in which employers value diverse skills and adaptability. Educational institutions are recognising the shifts and focusing on training students for the certifications. In a path-breaking move, the University of Johannesburg recently became an authorised training partner for the PMI-CP certification and will soon start training individuals.

Looking ahead, it is clear that the educational and professional landscapes are aligning more closely with the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace. For Gen Z and Gen Alpha, building a career will mean accumulating diverse skills, demonstrating a commitment to career-long learning and adapting to new challenges.

The shift in how skills are earned marks a fundamental change in preparing for the future of work. While this can be overwhelming for individuals, educational institutions and employers can provide support for professional development through memberships in professional associations, ensuring they stay current, access mentors and network.

George Asamani is the managing director for sub-Saharan Africa at the Project Management Institute.