When taking a ride on the London underground some time ago, I noticed a remarkable thing. Nearly all passengers were reading something, many of them educating themselves. The train was also all covered by small display ads on all kinds of part-time or evening educational programs; from the lower-level ones to prestigious business school programs. Londoners clearly have understood for some time that something is going on

We live in the age of the unfolding structural change. Even if the covid-19 crisis somewhat diverts our attention from some of these changes, advances in science and technology and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution are bringing massive innovations to the workplace. The most visible ones are those resulting in robotization and automation. These innovations combined are causing disruption in nearly all sectors of the economy worldwide.

Clearly, as a result of this disruption, some workers will have to be released from their work positions others will find it in their interest to dive deeper into their respective fields. As one of the world’s most preeminent thinkers of our age, Thomas Friedman tells us, this will mean that lifelong learning programs will gain more salience in the future and will be a key to addressing the skill gaps stemming from changes in labor market demands due to the disruption on the marketplace.

Here are some words about many roles such lifelong learning programs could play in the adjustment of the economies to the unfolding technological revolution.

First, some workers – be that for example assembly-line, lower services, or even higher-skill workers – will be released from their previous work positions. Many of them will be seeking retraining programs to resume an economic activity on a new occupation or in a new sector. Various re-training programs – at all levels to help workers of various skillsets- under the rubric of lifelong learning could conduce to such reskilling.

Second, other workers during their careers will need to specialize further and deepen their skills to keep abreast with the knowledge progress – lifelong learning provides an opportunity for such additional expert-skilling (so-called upskilling). Ensuingly, we might see substantial changes in the educational landscape worldwide; executive masters or even executive part-time doctoral programs will probably pop up in the soon future on a more massive scale than before.

Third, yet some other workers might have “missed the right career train” when they were young or at some other point in their career. Nevertheless, a well-functioning society aspiring to be creating prosperity for all should not overly penalize weakness or failure and give individuals multiple chances to succeed in the marketplace during their lifetime.

Which are the examples of policies that could help trigger massive lifelong learning in the economy?

Tax incentives such as no or reduced VAT/sales tax on textbooks and learning instruments could be one way of supporting learning in general. Individual tax credits for undertaken high-quality but oftentimes expensive executive training is another way of incentivizing more training activity taken by individuals.

Additionally, a lot of relevant education is happening within the corporate sector. Super-tax deductibility of training costs with a higher than 1.0x coefficient – thus increasing tax shield, reducing the effective cost of the trainings – would incentivize more training activity within the corporate world.

Instigating the culture of massive life-long learning in society will probably take some time. Policymakers via moral suasion or through generous budget allocations could help in this undertaking. Given that continuous re-trainings on the labor market are necessary for modern economies to be resilient, the benefits of lifelong learning programs clearly justify these efforts.

Vladimir Zlacky
January 24, 2021

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