“The war for talent”, Vlassis Korovilos

mεlite hosts once a month inspiring stories from friends and colleagues, who apart from being ultra-cool, they in their own way offer something special to Education.  This month, Vlasis Korovilos, a colleague, who has been a real change agent especially in the higher education field, shares with us his views on the “war for talent”. Enjoy!

Vlasis currently works for Cedefop, the European Center for the Development of Vocational Training. He is part of the VET Policy and Systems team, responsible for monitoring developments in VET in various European countries.
In the past he has worked in various organizational development projects in Higher Education (Athens University of Economics and Business). He has also worked as a Business Consultant in his own small consulting firm.

So, straight to the point: Vlasi, which are the skills and competencies that you think are most required now and will be in the future that our youth need to be educated/trained on?

It is true that we represent the better educated and most qualified generations that ever existed in Europe. It is also true that the numbers of highly-qualified employees exceed the current employers’ needs, and we keep producing even more high-qualified individuals. In other words, when it comes to professional or job-specific skills, we have done very well.

On the contrary, it is argued that our focus in terms of skills development should shift towards the basic and the transversal skills. Employers and recruiters highlight the absence of key general competencies among their staff and job candidates. These ‘soft skills’, as they were mentioned in the past, are the most difficult for a company to develop to its staff. These key competencies may include problem solving, analytical thinking, teamwork, leadership and initiative, creative thinking, responsibility, communication skills etc. At some extent, entrepreneurial skills represent a similar skill set, necessary not only for future company owners but for employees at any organization. In this sense, transferable or transversal skills can be our anchor in a complex career path that may include several jobs or major changes and transformation within a job.

These general abilities are also essential for our more complex everyday life. The basic or transversal skills refer directly to our ability to collect the right information, analyse it, shape our opinions on evidence rather than mere intuition or tradition, collaborate with others to solve more complex problems, identify opportunities, communicate effectively etc.

Apart from the key and transversal competences, I’d also like to highlight the need to focus on green skills, which may apply to lots of different occupations (from cleaning ladies to renewable energy sources engineers) and on language skills, that will increase significantly the mobility of students, employees or the unemployed across Europe.

How do you see the role of Business developing in the future in the higher education area?

The need for closer cooperation between higher education institutions and the business world has not been answered sufficiently in most European countries. In this context, companies should be given stable mechanisms and opportunities to regularly inform the universities about the developments in each sector and how these may affect employment. But companies should also improve their ability to articulate their needs into clear job specifications based on useful description of the required professional or general competences. In this way, Higher Education providers may facilitate their students to develop the right skills.

If the last comment seems quite cliché, what still remains less explored is the responsibility of the business world to make full use of the best educated generation ever existed in Europe. So far we thought it was the individual’s responsibility to be employable. Now we realize that we have plenty of high-qualified job candidates or employees, but the companies fail to make proper use of their knowledge and expertise. The persistent skills mismatch in Europe is not only a result of rapid technological developments, but also seems to be connected to a lower demand from companies for high-skilled workforce. Even worst, during the crisis many companies had the opportunity to hire fired high-qualified employees for less demanding jobs at lower wages than normal. This now may lead to a new type of skills obsolescence, are the employees often are not given the chance to apply their advanced knowledge for 3-4 years.

What is for you the disruption key, i.e. the factor that with the minimum reaction will bring more impact in transforming the Greek public higher education area?

The Greek higher education area could benefit from a number of reforms that address the issues of its efficiency, self-dependency, governance etc. For me a pressing challenge about higher education is its relevance and therefore its effectiveness. In some cases HE in Greece seems to produce passive and indecisive individuals with knowledge from the past decades but limited ability to understand the present and shape the future. These individuals will have a limited capacity to analyze information and make rational and beneficial decisions whether in everyday life issues or at company level or even in major politic decisions and public issues. In order to improve this relevance, we need to ensure that education responds to the current needs of the society and the labor market. To have that, we need to set specific learning outcomes for every single course provided at HE level, and explain how these outcomes foster the personal and professional development of our students. Each program should consist of courses that combine not only specialized and job-specific learning outcomes, but also horizontal, basic and transversal skills. In this context, the question is not what the professor taught, but what the student has learned and what he/she could use in the future.

The alignment of courses to society needs may seem a bit theoretical, if we see these needs as abstract concepts. But these concepts lead to specific attitudes and behaviours, such as accountability, teamwork, problem solving, leadership, out-of-the-box thinking, extroversion, quality-orientation etc. HE providers should acknowledge their responsibility in developing such attitudes and relevant skills and include relevant educational elements and experiences in their curriculum.

This is a subtle and discreet shift in the core of higher education that requires resources and expertise. This nature of such an initiative is what keeps it outside the existing agenda of nagging, protests and conflicts and that’s might be a decisive factor for its successful implementation without serious reaction.

Last but not least. My favorite question: ff you were to start from scratch, how does your vision about school look like?

School should recover two of its major roles: (a) to foster individual personal development, but not through grades and evaluation, and (b) to facilitate the cohesion and the growth of the society, but not through leveling and conformism.

In this context, school should be:

  • more about experiencing and less about theory;
  • more about teamwork and collaboration and less about competitiveness and comparison;
  • more about exploring and questioning and less about accepting norms and repeating failed recipes
  • more about empowering the student and less about showing him/her the power of society upon him/her
  • more about understanding his/her responsibilities as an independent person and less about effortless and irresponsible ways to do the task ahead
  • more about seeking for information, analyzing and shaping an opinion and less about ‘being taught what is the right for you’
  • more about persuading through arguments and less about dominate through bullying or intimidation
  • more about understanding the benefits of a common future and less about the irresponsible pursuit of selfish goals

These goals are not new, but they have a new context in a more complex and interconnected world. How can they be implemented? I’m sure there are people more experienced who could elaborate on this subject. For me, it’s interesting how breakthrough – but still not large-scale, school reforms in Europe and in America re-introduce these elements to school reality by totally reshaping the role of the teacher, the curriculum provided , the training methods but even the shape and structure of the facilities.

Thank you Vlasi!

You can find him in LinkedIn or reach him by e-mail at vlasiskor@gmail.com.

One comment

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