Reinventing Learning for The Future of Work

Embracing cross-disciplinary thinking is key to career longevity

October 18, 2019 | By Kelsey Harris
Interdisciplinary data systems connecting people, circuit boards, and robot devices to represent the future of work.

Creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and decision-making. These are just a few of the skills that have been identified as essential for the future of work.

"Today’s workplaces need agile thinkers who can keep up with technology and navigate the changes it brings to their fields," says Nelson Baker, dean of Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE). "In addition, they need to be T-shaped thinkers who have deep expertise required for their areas of specialization but also social breadth and the ability to collaborate and make connections across disciplines."

As technology continues to reshape industries and new jobs continue to appear on the market requiring "hybrid" skills, expertise in a single domain will no longer suffice. Working professionals will need to be able to seamlessly synthesize knowledge across fields while committing to real-world, scenario-based learning that is flexible and interdisciplinary.

To meet the needs of the changing workforce, some universities have started offering interdisciplinary programs. As a shift from the "siloed" learning that has dominated education for decades, these programs integrate more than one discipline, tackling problems from both technical and non-technical angles.

Milton Mueller, director of the Public Policy Track in Georgia Tech's Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity, notes that often it takes more than a single expert to shape complex policies, no matter how expert in the field.

“Technical people may not always understand the legal and political rights that might constrain certain kinds of policies,” he explains. “Think of the encryption issue, for example. That’s a highly technical issue, but how does it break down in terms of policy? It is not just a matter of what is technically required for governments to break through encryption, it is also a matter of when should governments be allowed to break it? Those aren’t just technical questions. Those are social and political issues that have to do with people's rights, privacy, and civil liberties.”

Through exposure to interdisciplinary curriculum, learners receive a holistic approach to complex problems and are more likely to embrace the "hybrid" thinking that is necessary to thrive not only in their respective industry, but also in the modern workforce.

Just as traditional educational programs crossover learning between departments and disciplines, so too have its nontraditional counterparts. Working professionals should look for programs that balance broader learning outcomes with cross-discipline application. MOOCs or certificates, for example, are an easy alternative to gain the on-the-fly skills needed to keep pace with the unpredictability of industries and careers.

As a way to harness the growing need for these emerging skills, many educational institutions offer immersive skills-based training in the form of boot camps. These types of programs typically last less than six months and provide on-the-ground training to master a multi-faceted skill set, balancing technical skills such as data modeling with "soft skills" such as collaboration, problem solving, and data visualization.

GTPE learner, Eddie Radford, was solidly entrenched in his career when he noticed a shift in the technology services market and felt he needed to do something in order to keep pace. The world was changing, and he had to adjust. He used the Georgia Tech Cyber and Network Security Boot Camp to not only land a new job, but to also help navigate a late career transition.

Radford noted that his participation in the boot camp helped transform his competitiveness in the job market and made his skill set more relevant to employers. "The boot camp was a key ingredient to the opportunity. It accelerated the hiring process, and the cybersecurity skills had an impact on the level of position and the level of compensation."

Across the globe, we are experiencing rapid transformations across all industries and professions. To thrive in a workplace that is increasingly complex and hybridized will require cross-disciplinary thinking with an emphasis on hard and soft skills. This rate of change poses serious challenges not only for working professionals, but also for educational institutions.

Whether embedding short courses into a certificate or a pursuing a standalone degree, working professionals will need a lifetime curriculum that can evolve with them throughout their careers. By embracing an interdisciplinary approach to education, GTPE is providing more innovative, context-specific programs that better suit industry and the future of work.

"In addition to the traditional degrees we’ve been awarding for decades, we’ll be recognizing the different types of learning people do throughout their careers with new credentials that are sought after and valued by employers," reflects Baker. "As a public university, it is our duty to provide the learning opportunities and services our community needs to be able to thrive during times of change."

Georgia Tech Professional Education is a leader in innovative educational delivery, designed for working professionals in tech, business, and leadership. Our connection to the marketplace — coupled with our world-class faculty, researchers, and subject matter experts — provides an unparalleled prospective to education innovation, industry trends, future work, and lifelong learning. To uncover additional insights into the demographic, social, and technological disrupters of the 21st century workforce, visit our Future of Work page.