An Old Dog Can Still Learn New Tricks

Dossier: Future Work Skills

It did not take the corona crisis long to turn our entire working world upside down: universities converted the major part of their teaching activities to digital formats practically overnight. Telework has become not only acceptable but the order of the day.

There are certainly working areas for which personal contact is indispensable such as trade, healthcare and infrastructure – and exclusive remote learning will not go on forever, either.

New Working Worlds

Yet even without the crisis, the working world is changing. New technologies, new (online) business models etc. demand more and more new skills from employees. The common saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is still valid in a way but seems a little outdated in times of lifelong learning. Grown-up employees are required to continuously develop further nowadays.

Due to this rapidly changing environment – digitalisation is the keyword here – even old dogs need to learn new tricks that they themselves as well as their teachers, university professors and mentors were not aware of decades or even only a couple of years ago. Middle-aged persons can vividly remember when they wrote their first e-mail or used their first mobile phone. Fax machines have disappeared from virtually all office rooms but instead we should know what a boomerang can do on Instagram.

Future Skills for Future Viability

Technical knowledge remains important. This has never been up for discussion. However, critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving competence, self-management, emotional intelligence, communication skills, and successful work in interdisciplinary and international teams are all key work skills for the future. The study programmes of the St. Pölten UAS promote these skills through many projects.

Due to the very nature of our institution, the study programmes of the St. Pölten UAS are close to the requirements of practical work and the requirements of the working world. This is a general quality characteristic of studying at a university of applied sciences.

Monika Vyslouzil, Chairperson of the UAS Board at the St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences

According to UAS Board Chairperson Monika Vyslouzil, the topic of future work skills is not restricted to the realm of education, let alone the universities of applied sciences.

By combining teaching with application-oriented research, the St. Pölten UAS provides its students with the best possible preparation for the future. In the context of future work skills, it is also decisive to be able to respond flexibly to changes, be it the digitalisation or climate change or – most recently – an unforeseeable health crisis situation, explains Ms Vyslouzil. Interdisciplinary collaboration in solving problem is certainly also a future work skill in such situations.

We attach great important to interdisciplinarity here. Our departments are very different, which makes for the ideal framework conditions for cross-disciplinary courses and projects that teach our students to think beyond their own horizons, thus creating a valuable basis for openness in interdisciplinary cooperation as professionals.

Monika Vyslouzil, Chairperson of the Board of the St. Pölten UAS

According to the Chairperson of the UAS Board, it takes critical minds to solve the big challenges of society – persons who follow the guidelines of the United Nations in order to achieve sustainable development goals and remain flexible in learning and acting at the same time.

Which Skills Do Employees Need? 3 Commentaries

Learning from the Crisis

The changes of the living and working environment are driven by global social, economic and technological developments. This means new and higher requirements not only regarding employees’ technological and digital skills but also in terms of their soft skills.

The increasing complexity and interdependence requires not only higher professional qualifications – in future, employees will also have to become even more adaptable, flexible, creative and team-minded. Furthermore, they will have to think in networks and have intercultural competence as well.

The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has clearly shown how strong the global ties between the economy and society are, and how important the digitalisation is for the functioning of society and the development of problem-solving strategies – Data Science is the keyword. The crisis has also made clear that the solution strategies require cooperation across national and cultural borders.

Wilhelm Brandstätter, Section for Universities (of Applied Sciences) at the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research

Teaching How to Set Your Mind on the Future

For universities (of applied sciences) to adjust to this situation and to adapt their curricula accordingly, they need new learning spaces – both virtual and physical – in addition to classroom teaching, says Mr Brandstätter. "The growing diversification of the students creates a need for diverse study offers as well as flexible programmes and the development of new teaching and learning formats that are adjusted to the different needs and living realities of the students”, explains Wilhelm Brandstätter from the Section for Universities (of Applied Sciences) at the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.

According to Mr Brandstätter, the Austrian higher education sector in general and the universities of applied sciences in particular have many best practice examples to show here. These include the development of innovative study models such as dual study programmes that feature training workplaces as educational partners offering additional learning environments, as well as innovative teaching and learning formats with project-based learning in international teams that allow the students to test and get to know real working conditions within the framework of an academic study programme. According to Mr Brandstätter, the promotion of entrepreneurial thinking and the support of start-ups are part of this development as well. 

Future Work Skills: 3 Short Interviews

Innovative Teaching Methods at the St. Pölten UAS

In all of these areas, the St. Pölten UAS is one of the pioneers among the educational institutions, for example through its own start-up programme “Creative Pre-Incubator”, the Interdisciplinary Lab (iLab, see page 17) and the use of innovative teaching methods. The Service and Competence Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (SKILL) at the St. Pölten UAS supports lecturers in putting innovative teaching methods to the test. One approach is the so-called project-oriented learning.

Project-oriented learning creates an ideal framework for two things: through teamwork, students profit from the diversity in the group and have the opportunity to contribute individual skills, learn from the team, and work on their own competencies. In addition, they realise that their learning success goes hand in hand with the ability to show own initiative, self-motivation, team spirit and a willingness to cooperate

Josef Weißenböck, Service and Competence Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (SKILL) at the St. Pölten UAS

A Look into the Future: Developing Study Programmes

The development teams for new study programmes and the Academic Directors of existing study programmes at the St. Pölten UAS attach great importance to the teaching of these so-called Future Work Skills and take them into account when it comes to study programmes and teaching methods. In this endeavour, they are supported by the St. Pölten UAS service unit Higher Education Development.

We interview companies and apprenticeship providers with regard to their demand for competencies outside the concrete professional field and ask them for an outlook on the future. The Future Work Skills are in line with the concept of competence orientation that we pursue: the curricula of all study programmes are to include competencies in their courses and modules which ultimately strengthen the graduates’ capacity to act.

Katalin Szondy, UAS service unit Higher Education Development

Apart from professional competence (technical knowledge), these skills include methodological competence (knowledge on how to acquire knowledge) as well as social skills and self-competence. The latter encompass attitudes, motifs and values on the one hand, and self-perception and self-organisation on the other.

According to Katalin Szondy of the service unit Higher Education Development at the St. Pölten UAS, dual study programmes are particularly well-suited for the teaching of Future Work Skills as students of these degree programmes profit from the close interaction of theory and practice as well as the fact that the education takes place at two learning locations.

Furthermore, the coronavirus has fuelled the discussion about which jobs are the most systemically relevant for society to continue to function at least to a certain extent. This discussion is likely to continue after the crisis is over.

UAS magazine future 12: "Future Work Skills"

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