While innovative talents are considered the driving force for the economy, how can we resolve Taiwan's brain drain problem? How can schools, enterprises and the government work together to cultivate innovative talents?
In iKala Future Talks this week, we invite Dr. Robin Bing-Yu Chen, Director of D-School (School of Design and Innovation) at National Taiwan University, and Neil Huang, CDO of iKala, to share their ideas of cultivating future talents.
Here are some highlights from their conversations.
Closing the Talent Gap in Contemporary Society
Neil: A survey indicates that in recent years, due to the declining birthrate, the expanding production capacity of Taiwan's local technology manufacturers and competition in the global talent market, it is estimated that by 2030, in the Information and Communication Technology industry, there will be a talent gap of 83,000 people. The Minister of Science and Technology mentioned this problem in an interview before, saying that the solution to the talent gap problem is to cultivate cross-disciplinary talents. People who major in humanities and social sciences should know more about information technology, and enhance their digital skills. On the other hand, those with engineering and manufacturing background also need to understand humanities and society, so that innovation may occur.
Robin: I think cultivating cross-disciplinary talents, or the so-called T-shaped talents is indeed a trend. What we encounter in modern society has become more complicated. When we faced problems in the past, we may be able to disassemble it into a very simple problem, and it can be solved by a single engineer. We are now facing a world of the unknown. Instead of a talent who is good at problem-solving, we need more that can define problems.
Neil: This reminds me of The Law of Raspberry Jam by Gerald Weinberg. Imagine that you dig a pile of jam and spread it on toast. The larger the area of toast you have to spread, the thinner the jam would be. In the end, it becomes so thin that the jam disappears. When we are pursuing the cultivation of cross-disciplinary talents, we may accidentally fall into this myth—Jacks of all trades and masters of none. What is your point of view to this contradiction of the breadth and depth of learning?
Robin: We are actually pursuing a diversified way of education in the future. In other words, all things in their being are good for something. There's no need to encourage every student to become a T-shaped talent. If we can make the education system more flexible and diversified, life will always find its way. I think this so-called T-shaped, instead of saying that you need to know a lot of different things, we would rather say that the horizontal bar of the T stands for the changing mindset, or the ability to communicate.
The Cultivation of Talents in Schools and Enterprises
Neil: According to the statistics from the Ministry of Education, in the past five years, the rate of drop-out has actually been at a record high, and in the past two years, about one out of every four students will take a suspension or termination of studies. The main reason for this is "Incompatible interest". Does it mean that we now have some urgent problems in higher education that need to be solved? Or should it be considered a positive phenomenon, because everyone is taking his career plan seriously, rather than blindly pursuing a diploma?
Robin: I have mixed feelings about this issue. From a positive point of view, more and more young people have their own ideas. It can be attributed to, or you can say blamed on, the current development of the media and information. They now know what the outside world looks like, so their goal is no longer "graduation", but something bigger. However, there are quite a lot of negative phenomena. Our current university education, environment, or institution cannot fit young people now and in the future. When we are asking our talents to adapt to the environment, whether our institution can keep pace with the times would be a question we need to think about when facing university education.
Neil: In terms of the industry, take iKala for example, we implement internship programs. Our first internship program last year was actually very interesting. The youngest intern is a high school third-grader, and there are also some interns from Stanford University and MIT. During their internship, they completed projects such as automatic crawling and social analysis. I think they all did a good job. In addition to internship programs, what can enterprises do to bridge the gap between industry, university and institute, and make the environment in Taiwan more friendly for our future talents?
Robin: What we talked about frequently is the university-industry gap. We hope students have more connections with the industry. There are two major benefits to this: One is shortening the so-called learning-doing gap, so that students can understand what they are learning for, or whether they can apply what they learn to their work. Another is that many students, before entering university or in the process of studying at a university, are actually very confused about their future. Therefore, we encourage them to do career exploration during university or even before university. I think this is what enterprises can help with.
Challenges of Talent Cultivation
Robin: The biggest challenge would be motivation in learning. We often say that you can simply think of one thing you want to do. It may not necessarily be related to traditional learning. It may be just a self-practice, or a self-exploration. Instead of saying what you should actually learn in university, I feel that if you can find your motivation to study, cultivate the ability to learn, and even develop a habit to learn independently, it would be helpful in the future.
Neil: What you mentioned just now is similar to the real situation in the industry. If a company has so many regulations, and an employee can only do things after the boss's approval, then he is likely to lose his motivation. At iKala, we value our people. We think the people here shape the company's culture, and the culture affects the result of our work, our business decisions, and whether we can be innovative. We also care about diversity in the workplace, including a diverse professional background, and people with different nationalities. We also want to create a free and flexible working environment, so we always talk about "freedom and responsibility" at iKala. We hope that everyone can be responsible for his work, at the same time having enough space to make decisions on their own in the front line, and the flexibility to grow and develop in the company.