Le pitch: As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. Crisis, as the one we face, can provide opportunity. But we have to be willing, and able, to grasp it. Education and re-skilling will be key to ensure Luxembourg and our community – our people and our businesses – come out of this calamity ahead in the medium to long term.
L’idée: The world is changing, it is an inevitability. With a changing world, we too, as individuals, as businesses, must change to ensure our relevance, impact and usefulness to society and the economy. Right now, as we sit at home protecting ourselves and the community from the Covid-19 virus, we have a unique opportunity to invest ourselves in learning. There are a plethora of digital tools available to us to learn a new skill, to gain new knowledge. And we DO have the time; anyone who denies this is lying. How you choose to use the time is up to you.
Podcasts, e-books, video tutorials, websites, apps… there are many mediums delivering learning. You can take an online course in “negotiation” or “entrepreneurial essentials” from Harvard Business School. You can learn to programme, to code, for free, at codeacademy.com . You can browse a mind-boggling variety of certified courses on udemy.com , including digital design, art classes, photography classes or even classes on learning to learn. You can take a course on financial technology, fintech, through one of our, the Lhoft’s, partners, such as the CFTE. Or perhaps, like myself, you want to use some of this extra time we have to brush up on language skills.
“Live and learn” is a motto I have etched into my brain. A thirst for knowledge, to better myself, has always driven me and provided me with the skills and tools that have enabled my appreciation and enjoyment of life, be it professionally, socially or personally. I went “back to school” in the last crisis, 12 years ago; I did not NEED to, but WANTED to; I felt it was a great opportunity to better myself, to adapt to what I felt was an inevitable change that the financial collapse would herald. I studied, full time for a year, for a master’s degree at London Business School; at the age of 33. It gave me new perspective on my career and gave me the tools to fulfil my new vision. It is never too late, you are never too old.
We all have the capacity to learn, to adapt, to better ourselves. And we need to embrace this capacity now. We can sit around and worry about the future, complain, look to others to sort out the mess, to blame. Or we can take things into our own hands, take control, steer our own future; education is a means to do so. Aside from developing new skills; such as tech skills that surely we can clearly see the value and relevance of, sitting in our homes relying on a variety of digital tools to manage our work and lives at this time; education and learning can open our minds to new opportunities, perhaps entrepreneurial, perhaps working for others.
The “invisible hand”, the government, can play its part in helping and encouraging us to learn; it makes sense to do so as we face an undoubted global recession and the hard truth of job losses as a result of the virus. Re-skilling people to fit into new roles will help to drive recovery and future prosperity. Singapore, for example, provides admirable and, critically, easy to access subsidies for training and education, both employer and individual led. Most notable is the SkillsFuture Credit that give all residents over the age of 25 a subsidy of $500 towards training. Those aged over 40 also receive an additional $500 to help them fulfil their education objectives. Rich guidance is also key; demonstrating what skills will be most relevant and how, is very useful for those of us who are not sure what we need to achieve our personal goals.
It would be surprising if I did not bring up entrepreneurship in this text. Education and learning are key in driving entrepreneurial activity, and entrepreneurship will be a key driver of the Luxembourg economy in the years to come. Crisis and recession have set the stage for some of the greatest companies of today; Instagram, WhatsApp, Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox, Slack, Pinterest, Spotify were all founded between 2007 and 2009. I am certain that many, having investigated and learnt (I repeat, fundamental to success), will look at setting up new businesses. So let me throw a tangential idea out here to support what will possibly be a core incentive of learning; running one’s own enterprise: a national sweepstakes, a lottery, where ticket sales are used to fund new businesses, but a random winner also receives a cash prize. Let me paint the picture: if every resident of Luxembourg paid €1 for a ticket, that would be €600,000. If a draw is held monthly, give or take administration costs, a “winner” could receive €50,000 – very nice at great odds too – while €550,000 remains to invest in interesting business ideas; funding between 5-10 new businesses a month. Some will fail, some will do well, but what an incentive to kick start the economy and ensure Luxembourg grows in its competitiveness.
I feel Europe has fallen behind somewhat in its emphasis on education. We have become complacent, perhaps because we have historically advanced faster than other parts of the world and generally have a high standard of living. Complacency is another name for the devil. It is too easy to say things are good enough, to rest on our laurels and achievements. If we do, we are certain to miss the future. Lifelong learning should be a mantra for all to ensure we are prepared and agile enough to face any situation; case in point. Where was China 20 years ago? Be it that China’s astronomic economic success can be traced to reforms in 1979, GDP in 2020 v 2000 is 1,000% higher overall and almost the same per capita in USD terms. There are few that would argue that China is leading the world in terms of technology advance, in my opinion, ahead of the US. Other Asian countries likewise have grown at a phenomenal pace over the past 20-40 years, far faster than western economies and will continue to do so in years to come.
Clearly, starting from a lower base, a lower level of economic sophistication with significant spare capacity in resources and capital obviously leads to faster growth relative to countries where productivity and investment efficiency is already high. However, considering a key economic model of economic development, the Solow Growth Model, we find three key components to success; resources, capital/investment and, critically, total factor productivity (TFP); the efficient use of the core physical inputs. China’s phenomenal growth has predominantly hinged on the physical inputs – more resources, more capital. However, this is unsustainable in the long-run and the focus has shifted over recent years to increasing efficiency, and education is core to doing so. 100,000 Chinese come to study in Europe each year. They have learnt from the west, to surpass the west. We need to now learn from them; both at a macro and micro level. If we want to remain competitive, if we want to be robust in terms of crisis (and this is surely not the last one we will face), we need to put emphasis on education. We have an amazing opportunity right now to move in the right direction, and that opportunity is our own hands to grasp. We need to invest in our own education, do what we have the power to do for our own future success and, ultimately, the greater good of the Luxembourg economy. We need to live and learn.
L’auteur: Nasir Zubairi , CEO de la Lhoft
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