Students must broaden their soft skills and gain experience across as many fields as possible in preparation for working life, according to leadership experts speaking at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) in Al Ain. In a series of lectures on the future of education held at the university’s Science and Innovation Park, Sallyann Della Casa of Gleac, which specialises in matching skills to jobs, urged students to do as much as possible to broaden soft skills and work experience before committing to a career path, in an age where adaptability is becoming even more vital than academics in a rapidly changing workplace.
She was joined by Alexander Scheirle, executive director for NYC’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra - which with its conductor-less orchestra, has become a business model for Harvard Business School. Scheirle spoke of its relevance in the workplace, where top-down leadership can be oppressive and stifle creativity and character.
The event was part of the Ed Talk lecture series which aims to spark inspiration in students as to the education and career paths of the future, the theme of the UAEU pavilion at the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai.
Ms Della Casa - who has multiple degrees including urban planning and French - shared her own experience about resulting disengagement in the workplace for those not encouraged to “sample” during their 20s, allowed to find their true path, having spent eight tough years as an unhappy lawyer. “Fifty per cent of the workforce in the next decade will be freelance,” she said, encouraging students to understand the importance of workplace adaptability, not only relying on the strength of their degree.
Those who experiment will have more job opportunities and more chance of finding a career in alignment with their personality, she said, in addition to broadening knowledge and skills. “Abstract thinking is critical and you have to learn how to learn. Learning is not what your grade is today. Many of us confuse this. Nothing is wrong with depth but breadth trumps depth. Those with range can career swerve easily, problem solve and add value very easily.”
She urged against the current trend of personality testing which she says “can be how you see yourself for the rest of your life”, instead suggesting they are only useful if done regularly, to take into account constant growth and evolution. “If we’re using it for hiring purposes, are you going to be the same person six months from now? Would you be the same as a year ago? You’d probably have to be doing these every six months to see new interests or hobbies you’ve picked up, new influences. Nothing is wrong with the tool, we’ve just started using it incorrectly,” she said.
Not every person is suited to every career, or company either, she said. “Certain job roles and culture, just won’t suit every person’s natural inclination. You don’t know who you are unless you see what you will do.”
Scheirle, from the multi-Grammy Award winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in NYC showed the relevance of a new way of leadership, away from the confines of top-end management, where inclusivity offers a space for all to flourish, where “team roles are purpose driven rather than status driven” and people feel responsible for each other and the collective output.
Before playing with the UAEU orchestra, he said: “Our musicians wanted to get together where everyone’s voice could be heard. It was seen as a naive dream nobody imagined would be an enduring success and now it is seen as one of the most amazing orchestras of our time and has been used as a case study of Harvard Business School,” he told students, explaining the rotating leadership approach.
Students accustomed to being pushed to achieve top grades and aspire for managerial positions were fascinated by the new approaches shared by the speakers. Emirati Eman Al Farsi, 18, a business studies student in her first year, said: “It is very different to what we are told at school and university here. She [Ms Della Cassa] encouraged me to work more on my skills and get out of my comfort zone. She was very convincing. I feel here she shared the truth and connected the reality with what we need to do. It really encouraged me to go out and try new things.”