The answers are out there - the scale of the skills challenge

It is just over thirty years since I did a presentation on the implications of “Intelligent Systems” for the 1981 Sperry annual press seminar. It was published in two versions, one by Ellis Horwood (alongside the other presentations) and one, with added political recommendations, by the Bow Group as “Learning for Change“. Both were roundly condemned by the members academic and teaching establishments for comments such as:

“It [the rise of Intelligent Systems] removes the main justification for the examination treadmill to which we chain our adolescent youth in a set of puberty rites crueller than those of primitive Africa. At least in Africa they do not label any of the participants as failures!”


“Given the PhD rat race and the scramble to publish, the effects of worldwide indexing and updating and the exchange of information over teleconference links could be interesting … “

A key message was that we would move into a world of multi-career lives for which:

“Retraining at reasonable cost, social cost as well as economic cost, should be available at any stage of life, indepenedent of the desires, means or needsof the current employers.”

The version published by the Bow Group concluded 

” … throwing money at the system will probably serve to delay those changes, while financial crisis .. may well help to promote them.”     

It sold out and was unavailable until Ian Brown at the Oxford Internet Institute kindly put it on-line as part of an exercise to look at past predictions of the future.

The long predicted financial crisis is now upon us. One of my current tasks as Executive Chairman of the Conservative Technology is to get the younger generation to look at how to build an education system fit for the 21st Century out of the detritus of one which was not fit for the latter half of the 20th Century.

One of the most interesting immediate challenges is to counter the rush to save public money money by switching to on-line examination and automated marking systems, with the results recorded in a “skills passport”. This is happening at the same time as the view is growing among those who really do need well-educated and creative talent that, “the only valid examination is an Oxbridge viva” because for everything else “the answers are out there” available to download via your smart phone.

Employers are therefore having to set up their own routines to check that recruits have the knowledge, abilities and aptitudes they need, regardless of what their CV, skills passport or other accreditation claims. This is particularly so with regard to security posts, where technical competance is only one of dimensions to be assessed 

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