Our appeal: turn our youth into Mars travelers

According to recent studies, one million extra jobs for highly skilled talent will be created in the course of the next decade. No less than 40 percent of these jobs will be functions that don’t even exist today. Labour market specialists predict that we will have to look outside of our borders for a substantial part of these new jobs. Belgium doesn’t seem to be able to groom enough local talent for tomorrow’s labour market. Do we teach our youngsters the skills required to program robots, to develop self-driving cars or to prepare for an expedition to Mars? To meet these challenges, they require more skills need more than just sending emails or using a word processor.

Co-authors: Jeroen Van Godtsenhoven, Managing Director SAS Belux, Thierry Geerts, Country Manager Google Belgium, Bob Vanstraelen, Area Vice President Benelux Salesforce

It’s not for want of good intentions - teachers, schools, voluntary organisations as well as the business world have launched several new initiatives in the course of the past years. CoderDojo is teaching youngsters how to write programs, the online SCRATCH platform enables children and youngsters to get started with easy and creative programming, and businesses free up employees’ time for training purposes. 

But best intentions and voluntarism will not be sufficient to reach our ambitions. What we need is an integrated approach. The available education programs do not keep up with the fast evolving technology, let alone with future expectations. Application A, B or C or technologie X, Y or Z that we teach today will probably be outdated by the time the students have graduated. Therefore it is important that students not only acquire technical knowledge but also get taught creativity, mental agility and critical thinking. These skills are not only urgently needed in tomorrow’s world which is evolving at lightning speed, they are also developed through interaction with technology. Also, there is an important social aspect to the equation. Anyone who has acquired a certain level of technological skills significantly increases their chances of getting hired in tomorrow’s labour market. By integrating technology sessions in the education program we ensure that no one is left out. The required hardware and software have become really cheap so that should be no impediment.

The digital world mostly needs creativity and skills. Attracting foreign talent definitely brings some added value, nevertheless we should fully invest in our own young talent which is currently in our classrooms. The building blocks are all there: the digital know-how, the extensive language skills and the quality of our education in general. The vision and the best intentions are already there, all we need is a firm decision and a structured framework for each child to fully savor technology and thus to get the passion started.

Hence our joint call to action: get working on an intuitive integration of digital education in the curriculum, starting from September 1st 2018, support schools and teachers who are already contributing today, coordinate the various volunteers’ initiatives, and use the technological and digital expertise available in Belgium today. We are ready to take on the challenge from our end by sharing our expertise with today’s students. Let’s not hesitate any longer, because our children’s education is far too important. Let’s help Belgium fill those one million future vacancies with highly skilled local talent. Let’s turn our current generation of students into tomorrow’s Mars travelers.

This opinion piece originally appeared on vrtnws.be