As the world-of-work continues to be exponentially reshaped by an avalanche of new technologies, while it is impossible to predict with any accuracy which skills will be needed for specific jobs in the future, what is certain, according to Natalie Chan, founder and CEO of OWN Academy, is today’s students will need a diverse toolbox of uniquely 21st century human-centric skills in order to succeed and find fulfilment. Skills that Chan believes can be acquired through authentic learning experiences that fill the gap between skills learned from traditional classroom teaching and the skills and competencies employers are increasingly looking for.
As a conduit and facilitator between students and their parents, schools, industries and entrepreneurs, OWN Academy has developed a learning ecosystem that includes internships and programmes that enable students — particularly students of secondary school age — to experience what happens behind the scenes of a wide sweep of professions and industries. “In addition to the technical aspects, students are able to find out about the lifestyle that might be associated with a particular type of work or career, and even work that matches introvert or extrovert personality traits,” says Chan, a qualified educator who studied for her masters of education at the University of Hong Kong. In recognition of her pioneering approach to education, Chan was selected as one of 40 “Global Shaper” delegates chosen from 7,000 candidates from around the world to join heads of state, distinguished business leaders and entrepreneurs at the 2018, 49th World Economic Forum Annual meeting held at Davos, in Switzerland.
Since OWN Academy was established in 2016, through different programmes, more than 3,500 students and their parents have participated in a wide range of experiential programmes. Chan explains the Academy is at the stage where it is currently scaling up by expanding its partnering activities with different industry sectors, professionals and entrepreneurs who are defined by their passion, innovative thinking and the willingness to be mentors. For example, OWN Academy is working with a major financial institution to develop a “real world” finance programme for secondary school students. Chan explains that, while the finance industry is a popular career destination for Hong Kong students, the objective is to allow students to benefit from experiences and insights before they commit to finance-related university studies and ultimately a career that may or may not suit them. “Learning from hands-on experiences in the 'real world' is just as important as studying academic topics taught within the four walls of a classroom,” notes Chan who explains that OWN Academy's philosophy is to enable students to explore different professions that feed into their strengths and curiosities and help them to cultivate their skill sets to pursue those interests.
With the benefit of first-hand experiences at an earlier age, Chan believes that students are in a stronger position to avoid situations where they find themselves asking the question, how did I end up doing this degree course or doing this job? “It's about helping young people to see the bigger picture, so they are ready to take advantage of emerging opportunities,” notes Chan. In addition, Chan believes to ensure they are empowered with the confidence and resilience to shape their own future, it is important for young people to take ownership of their learning. “We want to help young people to feel comfortable in the uncomfortable zone,” says Chan who points out as knowledge and education becomes progressively democratised through access to on-line digital channels, it is those with the ability to connect information to improve, innovate and solve problems who with be in a stronger position to. “To stand out from the crowd, individuals need to have the ability to think critically, be creative and importantly, be able to handle failure,” notes Chan.
The motivation that led Chan to establish OWN Academy came about predominately as a result of her own experiences of not being fully prepared for the transition from university to the work environment. Having studied at local and international schools in the Hong Kong, and a boarding school in the US, after graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in engineering Chan joined “big four” professional services firm Deloitte, in the US, as an IT consultant. What might seem as a coveted job to many, prompted Chan to question the meaning and purpose of the work she was doing. “I quickly realised that didn't have the passion for a long-term career in the corporate world,” says Chan who after leaving the professional services firm became a film producer before embarking on a new career as an educational entrepreneur.
As technology changes the nature of work and how work is done, Chan believes that, while parents mean well, it is important they are aware that shepherding their children towards a career through the lens of their own achievements, could result in a disappointing outcome. “The work environment is evolving at such a rapid pace that many professions will have changed completely by the time today's secondary school students enter the workplace,” says Chan.
Meanwhile, in the game-changing technology era, dubbed by some as the “fourth industrial revolution”, where traditional education syllabuses can struggle to keep pace with fast paced evolution, Own Academy is working on setting up a Nano qualification system based on bite-sized learning, which will allow students to build-up a portfolio of experiences and achievements. Similar to way that LEGO blocks can be pieced together to create different figures, Chan says Nano qualifications would allow students to build a personalised profile of future-ready competencies that would ensure they have the competitive edge necessary to thrive in the 21st century.