The Big Bang Theory and The Big Skills Gap

Big Bang Talent

Modern employers are demanding when hiring new people – they have to be, if they are to succeed in business. Academic knowledge and achievement is no longer enough; the inadequacy of formal learning systems is apparent; and the skills gap widens. The popular show “The Big Bang Theory” paints a perfect picture of super smart people and their everyday clashes with life. But do Sheldon & Co. exist in real life?

It was a Saturday in May and I was taking the train into London, to meet up with friends. Unbeknownst to me, it was also the day of the Rugby Union final, in Twickenham.

My train goes through Twickenham...

Once the hoards of supporters left the train at Twickenham station, I finally got to sit down. Three men in their early twenties sat next to me – they looked quite a bit like the gang from The Big Bang Theory, I thought. One of them picked up a newspaper that had been left on a seat, packed with rugby news and including photos of all the players in the final.

"We could look like this too," he said, showing the paper to the others "if we worked out every day."

There followed nods and agreeing guttural noises.

"Yes, if we wanted to. And besides, they aren't doing particle physics!" said another.
"Neither are we, at this pace" said the third one.
"Well, I bet they don’t have a radio show."

More nods followed, quickly moving on to a conversation on the Higgs boson.

Seriously, it was as if I was watching a British version of The Big Bang Theory playing around me; and I quickly made a note on my phone of the precious one-liners.

Entertaining as it was, this short encounter made me wonder about the education system – not only here in the UK, but around the World – and how it prepares people (or not) for work life.

  • Are universities, colleges and schools filling the heads of students with knowledge, but little practical common sense?
  • Are they creating “machines”, who can recite the Fibonacci series or excerpts from Homer’s Odyssey, but who struggle to relate to others in a team or present coherent arguments?

To a large extent, yes.

The business world has changed dramatically in the last twenty years or so, much of it due to technology advancements. Nowadays, employers look for both brainpower and soft skills – of course, the balance will depend on the industry and the individual organization.

In a fast-moving world of constant Twitter updates and a barrage of professional blogs and meetups, most employers expect their people to keep up with the latest trends and best practices. They expect short learning curves when faced with new domains or technologies. They expect their people to be brand ambassadors.

However, formal education on the whole has barely changed, despite the growing use of computer equipment and Internet access in classrooms; and the growing use of social media outside ...and often inside... the classroom. Formal education simply seems unable to prepare students for what’s coming next in their lives.

As a result, a gap has been created between what formal education systems produce and what employers need and want. That skills gap is big and possibly growing wider by the day. Changing the education system will be hard. In fact, one could argue that without heavy industry involvement, it will never change enough to close the gap.

An option for closing "The Big Skills Gap" is to have informal learning systems for professionals; a bit like vocational training, but in the workplace, for and often by the workforce. This is happening already – check the blog post from my colleague Jean here for some interesting insights.

Just like on Big Bang Theory, where the characters support one another, share ideas and learn from everyone, social and informal professional learning communities are bound to play a vital role in our professional lives and in closing The Big Skills Gap. And in my opinion, platforms like BraveNewTalent are the perfect conduit for that.

Sonia Araujo