The faith factor in employment, skills and human capital

Technology Eye | Jun. 02, 2016

The World Economic Forum’s Global Challenge Initiative on Employment, Skills, and Human Capital arises from the recognition that the links between demographic trends, economic shifts and technological innovation bring both great risk and great opportunity for hundreds of millions of people around the world who seek a better life. Educational opportunities, skills training and re-training, and increased access to employment will be crucial to taking hold of the opportunity, by raising up generations who are educated and equipped to contribute to their own flourishing and the flourishing of the communities and nations in which they live. As the Global Challenge Initiative’s overview states: “A nation’s human capital endowment – people’s skills and capacities put to productive use – can be more important for long-term economic success than almost any other source.”

The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Report helps those tackling this challenge in two ways:

1. “By providing comprehensive information on the talent base in each country, including information on education levels of the employed, unemployed and the inactive members of the population, as well as the specific qualifications of the latest entrants to the workforce.”

2. Through the Report ’s Human Capital Index, a tool for tracking “how countries are developing and deploying their human capital…over time.”

With full appreciation and support for the contribution that the Human Capital Report can make to efforts to advance opportunities through education and improved skills, I want to briefly consider the Global Challenge Initiative on Employment, Skills, and Human Capital in a somewhat different light; in the framework of faith – religious faith, faith convictions and values, and faith communities.

Taking faith into account

The people of the world are overwhelmingly religious, and, for the vast majority, their religious faith and convictions have a profound influence in shaping their views of themselves and their futures. Faith – religious faith – is for billions a foundation for their sense of history and identity and community, which informs:

– their sense of dignity and worth and meaning;

– their identification of their gifts and talents and potential;

– their attitudes toward education and work;

– their moral and ethical convictions and practices;

– their priorities: what they will sacrifice for what ;

– their definitions of well-being and success;

– their expectations and hopes for their children and their children’s children.

Certainly the religions of the world differ significantly in how they articulate and demonstrate these characteristics, and in the distinctive manifestations in their followers. We must also acknowledge that religion has had negative as well as positive impacts on the promotion of educational and employment opportunities and on economic and social advance.

But faith matters, and people’s faith matters to them.

As we consider, then, the challenge of employment, skills, and human capital, we have to take faith into account. How people view and pursue education; how they regard work and its value; what their hopes are and what they are willing to sacrifice to reach them – these are just a few of the factors, powerfully influenced by faith, that will affect how people will respond to efforts to provide education, skills training, and job opportunities.

Yes, the “human capital” challenge for the coming decades must focus on skills and job creation. But it must also recognize the force of faith in people’s lives, and intentionally and positively connect educational and professional opportunities to the religious worldviews and values which shape people’s identities, inform their choices, and motivate them toward their futures.

What faith can contribute

Not only must we acknowledge that faith matters in our efforts to provide educational and work opportunities, but we should also recognize the contributions that faith makes to these efforts.

Crucial to transformational education – education that not only transfers knowledge but also develops individuals who influence communities and nations – are values that are commonly found in faith communities and faith systems:

– a sense of personhood from which critical and creative thinking springs;

– an emphasis on community and cooperation, which are essential to effective educational contexts;

– a framework of duty and responsibility that validates the value of work and promotes effort;

– a conviction about rights and wrongs -- that some things help and others hurt;

– in many religions, a hope for final reward that gives direction and spurs motivation;

– a respect and search for wisdom, enriching the means and ends of education beyond the merely technical and instrumental.

These values, commonly rooted in faith, and flowing through educational settings where they shape the minds and hearts of students, also shape workplace skills and the people who exercise them:

– creativity and problem-solving capabilities that enable new and more beneficial products and services;

– the ability to connect and cooperate with others, for both local and global teamwork;

– a sound work ethic, with the willingness to accept responsibility and accountability;

– a sense of right and wrong, and justice and injustice, that actively improves workplaces and work conditions;

– the capacity to envision and pursue long-term goals, with commitment and perseverance;

– wisdom and judgment for decision-making, applying knowledge and know-how in positive and beneficial ways.

Whatever one’s attitude toward faith and faith communities, the future of the world will be shaped by faith, faiths, and people of faith. As we seek to expand people’s skills and capabilities, through education and training, so that they contribute to, and benefit from, the flourishing of communities and nations and the world, we must take faith into account.

Faith and faith communities shape identity, values, and hope. Faith and faith communities encourage cooperation, duty, and the pursuit of wisdom. Faith and faith communities will be formidable forces in developing and guiding the human capital of the future.

SOURCE: World Economic Forum

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