The Business Chat: Elon Musk, Māori innovation, and the worth of a university degree

Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. In our monthly Business Chat special, Simon Pound speaks with Maria Slade of Callaghan Innovation and Duncan Greive, managing editor of The Spinoff, about the business stories making the news that month.

This month Simon, Maria and Duncan chat about Elon Musk and how he is perceived; the sold out SaaS (Software as a Service) conference in New Zealand; and why university degrees are becoming less relevant to certain industries.

Download this episode (right click and save), have a listen below or via Spotifysubscribe through iTunes (RSS feed) or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

Maria: Personally, I get really worried when I read statistics like 11% of 15-24 year-olds are not in employment education or training. That’s more than one in ten and it’s higher for Māori and Pasifika. Duncan disagrees with me but I find it really scary that we’re not producing the people we need for the future workplace.

Duncan: I guess some of the reason that I’m not as perturbed by the neat figure is the idea that education and training as we currently practise them in New Zealand are producing those multi-disciplinary workers to me – I don’t know if I necessarily buy it. I look at university and technical college curricula at the moment and they don’t seem to have moved at anywhere near the pace of the imminent demands of the workforce.

I was listening to Frances Valintine on Business is Boring a few weeks back and she spoke to that, the challenges of educating like that, and the way that primary schools have moved pretty well in that direction but our high schools haven’t. That’s why I love the No Degree No Problem initiative that now I think over half of our employers by volume have signed up to. It says that the best, or some of the best, learning you can do is on a job, and not necessarily the fine detail of education.

Placing the huge bet that a degree is… it’s tens of thousands of dollars of debt that you have to carry around. The likelihood of that degree being well matched to the workforce and its demands? I can’t see that being the case. The employment thing matters and yes, you do want people in the right kind of training but I also do worry that people are training hard for things that aren’t necessarily even going to be there.

Maria: I think that’s true, It’s certainly not always about going to university. A lot of people go to university unnecessarily these days. We did a thing at Callaghan Innovation called the ‘innovation challenge’ and we went to a bunch of thought leaders and asked them ‘what should the New Zealand of 2040 be?’ A lot of the things they said were about education and one of the things was that we should adopt a system of lifelong learning, where people can pop in and out of education and work and thus build up some sort of a qualification.

Simon: It does sound like a great idea, especially seeing so much of the value of someone going and doing further education is to show a future employer that they can suck eggs and they’ll follow through on something and do what’s put in front of them. You can probably just do that by working and picking up problem solving tasks so people know you have some kind of applicable skill.

The idea of going to university for four years and doing 12 hours of contact time with three months of holidays in between doesn’t seem wildly efficient a way to spend some of the most energetic years of your life.

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