24 November 2022

Leigh-Ann Hayward (LH) – CCO, Milpark Education and Head: Corporate Education in conversation with (Dr) Cobus Oosthuizen (CO) – Dean, Milpark Business School

What are future-fit skills and why are they important? Dr Cobus Oosthuizen, Dean of Milpark Business School, has been researching future-fit skills for more than five years. Cobus and Leigh-Ann Hayward, both seasoned experts on where L&D meets business, explore the way the corporate learning space is evolving. Milpark may not have all the answers, but we are paving the way for the future of L&D. 

LH: Hello Cobus, I’ve been wanting to discuss this topic with you for a long time. Future-fit skills: they’re needed to manage a complex world and an unfolding ambiguous future, a topic you’ve been researching for many years. We’re impacted by a number of drivers in business and society, which also affect the way we educate and learn. Once we know what these are, we can better grasp why we need to consider soft skills. Perhaps, Cobus, we can start with outlining what those drivers are in the L&D space?

CO: Thank you, Leigh-Ann. I think the key drivers of change in education today are technological and societal and, as you’ve said, they’re closely linked to the educational domain. Firstly, there is the exponential progress of technology – things like digitalisation, AI, AR and robotics. The speed and scale at which technology is advancing is challenging organisations to decide what tech will make them market leaders – continuously. Then, secondly, there are the social drivers: factors such as urbanisation, geopolitics and environmental, social and governance principles. These provide the broad context in which we find ourselves trying to navigate the world.

LH: At Milpark, we are committed to our vision of empowering people to become more than they dared imagine, unlocking their potential to help shape our collective future. And you are part of the discussions we are having at top management level as to how we can better hone future-fit skills and further embed them in our programmes. Just quickly, for those new to the topic, what is an easy definition of future-fit skills?

CO: For me, future-fit skills are partly practical, hard ‘nails and hammers’ skills; but they are also – and, I think, mostly – softer, more conceptual skills. Things that allow people to question the world around them, absorb a range of views and then form their own opinion: in other words, critical thinking. Drilling deeper into more detail, my research has shown that there are essentially three skill sets that will matter most into the future: the first are the analytical skills that help us learn, think, reflect on and solve problems; the second focuses on the inventive ability to inspire creative ideas, change and, ultimately, strategy; while the third speaks to the synergistic ability to manage emotion positively in ourselves and others, promote ethical conduct and create hope for the future. Although my research focused primarily on leadership skills, I believe the findings are equally applicable across the L&D space.  

LH: At Milpark, we have a comprehensive portfolio of programmes, courses and case studies that we draw on to promote these skills, in different formats and combinations. In other words, we already tap into softer skills without explicitly naming or perhaps even appreciating them. People are also learning these skills in other spaces and we are continually fine-tuning and integrating them. What is your take on this?

CO: The L&D landscape is constantly shifting and I believe the answer lies in the need to engage the heart and the head Just as technology is compelling us to adapt ever faster to new ways of doing business, so the same applies to education. That might mean using virtual or augmented reality (AR) tools such as gamification, where virtual factory tours can give you a very real sense of what happens on site. It might mean a greater focus on experiential learning, such as the social responsibility module in our MBA programme, where students partner with a township-based NGO and are required to go there in person to gain a full 360-degree sense-based view of the challenges they face.

LH: That sounds exciting! For me, the co-curated learning solutions, the tailoring of programmes for corporate clients, always start with a holistic, appreciative enquiry of what will work best for the organisation, the teams and the individuals they are seeking to reskill, upskill and cross-skill. We can work with teams across borders, use company-specific case studies and different formats for delivery – all to provide a high-performance learning experience. This is no small task. I believe learning journeys that enable immersive learning are the way ahead, also when it comes to fostering future-fit skills. And talking about what lies ahead, here’s a final question to round off. What, for now, are the L&D trends that you are excited about?

CO: Largely, it’s what we’ve talked about: tech for teaching and learning, plus remote and hybrid studies. Online learning is a great format: it’s convenient and comparatively affordable for students and adaptable in terms of content and format. However, I believe direct contact, human to human, is also essential. My recent experience of engaging with our Milpark students is a case in point. Meeting, speaking with and listening to their positivity gives me hope for the future… and what better L&D outcome could there be than that?