How education can keep up with finance transformation
The world of work is changing. New jobs are being created at a rapid pace, and many of the future specialisations have not yet even been invented.
But how do we plan for something we can't predict? This is the challenge facing the education field today.
Financial services long had a reputation of being slow to change, but in recent times multiple forces have severely disrupted the industry.
Digital transformation, changes in regulation and evolving client expectations are just some of the developments that are pushing financial services companies to reconsider their business models.
Access to talent is often the deciding factor between those who successfully navigate this change and those who lose out to more agile rivals.
However, the skills needed to work today change so fast that educational systems find it hard to keep up with the current speed of change.
Photo 1 - Meet Prof Simon Grima, Head of the Department of Insurance and Risk Management and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Economics Management and Accountancy at the University of Malta.
"Regulators worldwide are enacting regulations at a rapid pace. Similarly, technology is disrupting our norm as we speak. However, getting a new course designed and accredited takes at least a year. It is also a challenge to find qualified lecturers to teach the new subjects," said Prof Simon Grima, Head of the Department of Insurance and Risk Management and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Economics Management and Accountancy at the University of Malta.
This situation leads to another mismatch. "At times, companies are putting people in the wrong jobs or asking for the wrong skillset, partly because the pool of professionals is limited and partly because of the employers' limited knowledge of these new educational developments.
Therefore, locally and globally, we often find that professionals are carrying out these so-called 'new jobs' without the right skills, knowledge and training," he added.
Are vocational training outlets plagued with the same problems as academic institutions?
The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) is known for establishing close connections with companies in order to cultivate talent in tune with industry demands.
Photo 2 - Meet Andrew Galea, Director of the Institute of Business Management & Commerce of the MCAST.
"The feedback we usually get is that our students are equipped with the right skills. When it comes to introducing new programmes or changing the curriculum, we work in close consultation with the finance industry," said Andrew Galea, Director of the Institute of Business Management & Commerce of the MCAST.
However, he also admits: "There is an opportunity cost in everything. The menu is so vast, and we have to choose and specialise."
Nonetheless, there is room for flexibility. "We incorporated an open element in our syllabus, which enables the lecturer to react to new developments or changing trends," explained Luke Vella, lecturer at MCAST's Institute of Business, Management & Commerce.
Meanwhile, financial institutions are increasingly looking for talent with cross-disciplinary expertise - for instance, a candidate who possesses solid knowledge in finance and is tech savvy at the same time. These candidates are difficult to recruit, in Malta as elsewhere.
To prepare their students for an increasingly tech-driven financial services industry, MCAST is looking to introduce two units: one on FinTech and one on blockchain.
Interest in topics such as the use of algorithms, big data, blockchain, peer-to-peer lending and crowdsourcing has also increased among university students aiming for a career in financial services.
However, it is no secret that we are witnessing the decreasing half-life of skills. Due to technological and regulatory change the time it takes for a learned skill to become only half as valuable is accelerating.
Eighty-five percent of the jobs that today's students will do in 2030 don't exist yet, the Institute for the Future predicted.
While this transformation presents organisations with the need to constantly upskill employees, some argue that educational institutions need to shift the focus away from learning new skills to enabling the processes that create these skills.
Soft-skills such as emotional intelligence, intercultural sensitivity, creativity, problem formulation - rather than problem solving - adaptability, resilience and the ability to question and challenge our own assumptions, are increasingly important today.
"These are skills that are difficult to teach in traditional ways," said Prof Simon Grima. At the same time, these skills are hard to automate and will become more desirable in the near future.
MCAST lecturer Luke Vella also mentioned that employers increasingly demand employees with strong soft skills, which have now been integrated into the college's curriculum.
With the economy and professions changing, MCAST also sees the need to rethink education and embrace lifelong learning. "We are envisioning more part-time courses that offer opportunities to those looking to upgrade their skills or wish to change careers," said Andrew Galea.
The good news for both the University of Malta and MCAST graduates is that jobs are almost guaranteed. Andrew Galea said: "I'd go so far as to say that 100% of our students have a job offer the moment they finish their course. Most of them are already employed part-time while studying. Once they graduate, they simply change from part-time to full-time employees."
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