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Skills (The Cambridge Judge Business Debate podcast series)

What skills are required for the 21st Century, and what is the role for technology and governments?

L-R: Mark Andrews, Michael Kitson, Bruno Cotta, Jaideep Prabhu

In this episode, joining podcast host Michael Kitson, University Senior Lecturer in International Macroeconomics at Cambridge Judge Business School, are Cambridge Judge colleagues Jaideep Prabhu, Professor of Marketing; Bruno Cotta, Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship Centre; and Mark Andrews, Digital Learning Programme Manager.

This is the 15th in a series of “Cambridge Judge Business Debate” podcasts featuring faculty and others associated with Cambridge Judge Business School and the broader Cambridge community.

This latest podcast focuses on skills – relearning on the job, what entrepreneurs need to know, the role of blended learning, and the part played by public policy.

Here is an edited transcript of some of the podcast discussion:

How the concept of “skills” is changing

Michael Kitson: “What are the new skills required for the digital age, an age increasingly focused on innovation and entrepreneurship? It’s an age where there may be major disruptions in how work is organised, and it could be an age when many jobs are lost. A recent study by Oxford Economics has forecast that robots could replace up to 20 million factory workers by 2030.”

Jaideep Prabhu: “In the 20th Century you typically had large corporations in the West that drove the world’s economic engine: they generated large amounts of money, employed a lot of people, and spent a lot of money on research and development to come up with next big thing. That’s changing in the 21st Century, where you have small teams of people who can now do things that only large companies or the government could do 20 years ago, not only in software but also in hardware.”

Skills learned, and relearned, on the job

Jaideep Prabhu: “People need to retrain and reskill a lot more often than before – to find a way to upgrade while at a job.”

Mark Andrews: “What digital technology allows us to do is to reach into organisations and help them with mindset changes, things like coaching.”

Michael Kitson: “Who is responsible for improving skills in a volatile world – is it the individual worker, is it the employer, is it the universities?

Mark Andrews: “It’s everybody. From an individual level you need to have the intrinsic motivation to want to make a change, and from a business perspective it’s a real issue how you upskill a workforce at scale so that workforce is ready for the new challenge presented by startups and entrepreneurs.

The skills needed for entrepreneurship

Bruno Cotta: “To encourage entrepreneurship you need to focus on mindset first: what are you trying to achieve? Entrepreneurs are achievement-oriented, and need to have a broader set of skills that are not just about producing something. It’s about taking risks in a managed and calculated way, to shape their way of looking at the uncertainty and dealing with that in a step-by-step process. Entrepreneurs can surround themselves with those sorts of skills – you don’t necessarily need to have those skills yourself.”

Michael Kitson: “That’s an important point: entrepreneurship is a team sport, it’s not an individual sport. We have this image of the sole entrepreneur, this sole innovator, but it’s really about creating a team.”

Bruno Cotta: “If you’re able to create a team that’s good in problem solving, then they can go out and find a problem to solve. The most fundamental skill we see in entrepreneurs at the early stage is the ability to deal with uncertainty, to face a risk not necessarily knowing where they will end up. It’s the ability to pivot.”

Blended learning, for students and teachers alike

Bruno Cotta: “If we’re trying to train entrepreneurs there are three pillars: one is research, one is skills, and one is practice – because entrepreneurship is about getting things done. So it’s not a theoretical sport, it’s very practical, and it’s very real when it doesn’t work.”

Jaideep Prabhu: “That’s a very import aspect of these more blended forms of learning: because you’re teaching people in work, they’re able to apply almost immediately the lessons they draw from the instructor – but equally the instructor is able to draw on their live challenge and bring that back into the classroom.”

The role of public policy

Michael Kitson: “What’s the role of public policy in all of this? Education or training or acquiring skills can often be very expensive and very uncertain, but we’re seeing many governments cutting back and putting this responsibility back on the individual.”

Jaideep Prabhu: “There’s a very important role for the state in this whole debate. The question is who pays and how much. Currently students and their parents are paying a lot. Personally I feel digital learning offers a way to reduce costs and expand the reach of education once you get over the high set-up costs.”

Mark Andrews: “Public policy can be used to turn research into really good education through digital learning and various means, as it can take high-class research and turn it into manageable educational chunks.”