Let’s go hybrid with skills and education

By Richard Kirk

 It came as a shock to my two primary school age children that Disney+ has not always existed. 


Within a few years this and similar streaming services have become so entwined in our lives that we can scarcely remember what we did before their invention. My children are left with puzzled looks when I try to explain that it was not always so, sharing tales with them of a place you visited and paid £3 for each video which needed to be returned within 24 hours (re–wound, of course).

Streaming services, like any other scalable technology service e.g. Amazon, eBay, Airbnb etc, are able to create and share value because of the systems on which they are built. In short, they are designed with users in mind and infinitely more affordable than each of us trying to create that value ourselves. 


“Well thought–out systems that solve societal problems don’t require as much funding as you might think.”


As we move into election season, conversations about departmental budgets can become more heated. Understandably health has been allocated additional funds from April 2022 with remaining departments sharing the challenge of cutting their cloth to suit. A recent pertinent example of this was the evidence presented by the Department for the Economy which laid out a range of options which included reducing the number of apprenticeships and skills programmes and increasing student fees.

Government reform of education, healthcare, justice and skills are on–going across the globe. We are constantly in flux and there is no perfect system because systems are human–made and we are far from perfect! 

Currently there are Government strategic reviews underway in Northern Ireland: education (led by the Department of Education) and careers advice and skills (led by the Department for the Economy). Whilst Government and wider society will not make progress in these areas through a streaming service, there is a lot that we can learn from the Disney+ approach: user–centred, systematic and value rich.

The reality is that this is all part of one big system. Education, skills, work, career, money…none of these are an end in themselves. The end is each of us working out our gifts and talents, using them to the best of our ability and playing our part in society – that should be the focus of government.

The good news is that, like Disney+, user–centred, value–rich systems don’t have to cost the earth. What they do cost is time to listen, working together and sharing budgets which can achieve much more than siloed pots that must be spent before year end.

We need an integration of the education and skills system in NI which makes it clearer to citizens what the best options are, reduces duplication and is easier for businesses to get involved in. This will require less funding than the way we are spending today on separate systems, and will help our society and economy flourish as people take the next step on their journey.

First printed in Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday 25th January, 2022 

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