Vladimir Zlacký is the Founder of LookingEast.eu.
While riding on the London underground some time ago, I noticed that nearly all passengers on the train were reading something, many of them educating themselves. The train was covered in small display ads of all kinds for part-time and evening educational programmes, offered by lower-level as well as prestigious business schools.
We live in an age of unfolding structural change. Even though the Covid-19 crisis somewhat diverts our attention from these changes, advances in science and technology, along with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution, are bringing massive innovations to the workplace. The most visible ones are those resulting in robotisation and automation. The combination of these innovations is disrupting nearly all sectors of the economy worldwide.
Lifelong learning key to prosperity
Clearly, as a result of this disruption, some workers will have to be released from their work positions; others will find it in their interest to dive deeper into their respective fields. As one of the world’s most preeminent thinkers of our age, Thomas Friedman, tells us, lifelong learning programmes will gain more prominence in the future as a result. They will be key to addressing the skill gaps that stem from changes in labour market demands.
Lifelong learning programmes could play many roles in the adjustment of global economies to the unfolding technological revolution.
First, some workers, such as those working on assembly lines and in lower services, or even highly-skilled workers, will be released from their previous work positions. Many of them will seek training programmes to enter a new occupation or new sector. Various retraining programmes, offered for all levels, will help reskill workers of different skill sets.
Second, given the fast technological progress, other workers will need to specialise further and deepen their skills to keep abreast with the advances in knowledge, known as upskilling. Lifelong learning provides an opportunity for this as well.
As a result, we might see substantial changes in the educational landscape worldwide; master's or even part-time doctoral programmes for executives will probably pop up in the near future on a more massive scale than before.
Some other workers might have missed the right career train when they were young or at some other point in their career. Nevertheless, a well-functioning society pursuing prosperity for all should not penalise weakness or failure and give individuals multiple chances to succeed in the marketplace during their lifetime.
The power of incentives
Which policies could help trigger massive lifelong learning in the economy?
Tax incentives such as the reduction or elimination of VAT/sales tax on textbooks and learning instruments could be one way to support learning. Individual tax credits for those who undertake high-quality but oftentimes expensive executive training is another way to make trainings more attractive.
Additionally, the corporate sector provides a lot of relevant educational opportunities. The super-tax deductibility of training costs with a higher than 1.0x coefficient – thus increasing the tax shield and reducing the effective cost of the trainings – would incentivise more training activity within the corporate world. This could be aimed particularly at the SME (Small and medium-sized enterprises) sector.
Fostering a culture of massive, lifelong learning in society will probably take some time. Policymakers could help with this undertaking through generous budget allocations and by persuading their partners. Given that continuous re-trainings on the labour market are necessary for modern economies to be resilient, the benefits of lifelong learning programmes clearly justify these efforts.
3. Feb 2021 at 17:22 | Vladimír Zlacký