‘The new normal’ – this is a term you cannot help but have heard over the last two years living in a pandemic, but what does it really mean? The European Foundation for Management Development hosted a virtual panel discussion providing institutional and personal perspectives on how learning and work has and will continue to evolve in a post Covid-19 society. The discussion aimed to analyse the meso and macro elements of institutional higher learning and what comes after.
No one anticipated the changes that would come with Covid-19. As governments were imposing lockdowns and we collectively spent months indoors trying to adjust to these changes, we realised that all those reasons to be physically present for lectures or work were not that solid to begin with. Technology has allowed people to seamlessly transition from commuting daily to get to class and working in corporate offices to setting up a home office and working or learning remotely. This is perhaps the only silver lining to the Covid- 19 pandemic. Melody Xaba can attest to finding motivation from the effects of the pandemic. She saw an opportunity in the digital economy and founded “My Future Work”, a Learning and Development agency specialising in instructional design and virtual onboarding. She spoke evocatively about all the new jobs the pandemic has created and how to capitalise on the emerging trends through continuous learning. The democratisation of traditional learning has allowed her to take multiple courses on e-learning platforms and bolster her skills as a TV producer cum digital entrepreneur.
Indeed, the pandemic has thrown a lot of industries out of kilter and according to the World Economic Forum, by 2025, 85 million jobs will be displaced. These striking statistics speak to the numerous disruptions set to occur in coming decades. With that in mind, management at institutions of higher learning must change course and adapt. Professor Dima Jamali, Executive Director for Strategic Partnerships at the American University of Beirut prioritises actions that seek to improve students’ prospects post-graduation, primarily by supporting alumni through mentorship and coaching to prepare them for the new world of work. “There is a skills gap between higher education and employer expectations”, that is why Professor Jamali advocates for post graduate mentorship to help identify and fill those gaps. The millions of jobs set to be displaced is an unsettling reality, but on the other hand, as a result of this disruption from the digital economy, 97 million new jobs will emerge, creating new opportunities for workforces and independent contractors to diversify their models of work.
The World Economic Forum identified the top 10 skills of 2025 amongst which leadership and social influence; technology use, monitoring and control; creativity, originality and initiative; and resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility were listed. Interestingly, mental health prioritisation was not mentioned. Ag. Executive Dean Strathmore University Business School, Dr. Angela Ndunge provided her keen insight as an organisational psychologist from the purview of Strathmore University as a whole. Mental well-being is arguably the most important factor of being alive, and yet we tend to overlook it. Dr. Ndunge highlighted the importance of acknowledging the trauma brought about by Covid-19. Strathmore University endeavours to support learners through mentoring and coaching, and since these support structures were introduced, demand for mental health counselling has tripled. “Mental health has been institutionalised and has over time become acceptable,” said Dr. Ndunge as she expounded on the benefits of having a stable workforce stemming from talent that is appreciative of introspection and therapeutic relief from open and honest conversations.
Many academics have studied the effects of technology to the extent of assessing how impactful it is on our lives. American writer, David Wong put it best when he said “new technology is not good or evil in and of itself. It is all about how people choose to use it.” New technology is impossible to ignore and as a result it takes a toll on our mental health. In many cases, workers are unable to balance personal and professional demands and not to mention social demands, especially those that come from digital platforms. With the advent of the digital economy, mental health issues related to overstimulation have cropped up and are harder to identify and combat; digital platforms are designed to be addictive and are inherently an escapist’s coping mechanism to the pressures of the world. Although the digital economy has brought with it changes that have spurred the creator economy among other innovations, allowing people to monetize their individuality and originality, prioritisation of mental health has been sidelined. The panellists encouraged a wholesome approach of moderation to avoid the side effects of too much screen time.
Finally, Howard Thomas, Professor Emeritus of Strategic Management and Management Education at Singapore Management University, lauded the panellists for being open and sharing their thoughts on what they have encountered while working in the digital economy, and for their resolve to continuously improve the experience of learners in their institutions.
Article by Katherine Keango
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