By Pat Lucey, CEO and co-founder of Aspira, enterprise IT project specialists.

In my address at the European Regional Conference for Project Management in Athens next month, I will argue the case for strengthening the link between Project Management professional bodies and the Learning and Development industry.

In 2016/2017 the Ireland Chapter of the Project Management Institute is rolling out an initiative to teach Project Management to Transition Year Students. This is a brilliant example of how we can harness our PM skills and help our young adults understand how to structure their work, and give them practical tools to plan their career.  My view is that Project Management should be incorporated as part of a STEAM programme targeted at our secondary level students.

Project Management has become a core skillset that give young people the tools they need to plan and organize their own course of study, through the senior cycle at school, through college and into the workplace.  Project Management can be applied to any career. For example for someone who wants to study medicine, the ability to coordinate a team of people, to deliver treatment effectively, to monitor progress and take action where necessary – these are all project management skills they will need.  For aspiring musicians, the role of orchestra conductor is a great example of resource management and integration – ensuring all the elements of the team work collaboratively to deliver a result that could not be attained by parts of the team working alone.

Whether considering a career in IT, Construction, Finance, Science, Business or Art – the ability to plan, organize control and deliver is a vital life skill that needs to be taught and that should be taught in our schools.

I also believe that students should explore STEAM before settling on a career choice and filling out their CAO. We are familiar at this stage with the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.  But what about Arts – this is also an important aspect for students to consider, even if someone’s preference lies in the STEM subjects.

We need innovative, creative people capable of thinking outside the box.  Steve Jobs famous skipped technical classes to attend calligraphy class at college.  It was from this class he developed his love of drawing beautiful fonts – and changed the typeface of computing forever.

We do not want to turn out a generation of automatons, capable of speaking in ones and zeroes, but incapable of recognizing or creating a thing of beauty.  So let’s focus on STEAM, not STEM.  Let’s ensure our Transition Year students can explore each of these five areas.

I have a daughter who is a talented artist but who thinks she cannot program a computer.  I have a son who is a math whizz, but who thinks he cannot draw an apple. Why not use Transition Year to encourage all our young adults who feel they are limited in a certain sphere, to explore these areas and give them an opportunity to allow hidden talents to emerge.

The increased emphasis on STEAM will ultimately lead to improvements in the Irish economy.  Politicians have used the term “knowledge economy” for years now as a catch-phrase.  What it means is that in order to establish and maintain an advantage internationally, we need our young people to work smarter, not just harder.  Working smart does not mean being able to regurgitate stock answers that will satisfy examiners – working smart in the 21st century means being technically savvy and having the confidence to be creative.

My parents’ generation did not have the expectation of a secondary education. It was a privilege available to the minority.  My own generation saw only about 15% of us go to college. I was one of the 15% and that gave me a huge advantage.  However, while education and academic achievement go a long way to helping you get on in life, never let yourself be defined by your school results. Just because you have failed to score an A in Math does not mean you are not cut out for that career in finance you’ve dreamed of.  Likewise, if you do not attain 100% in art class, it doesn’t mean you can’t go on to have a hugely creative career in say, advertising.

By introducing a strong STEAM focus from Transition Year on in schools, we will allow our students the scope to explore some alternate paths – to explore those subjects that they may have been led to believe were unattainable for them. Students will be challenged to embrace alternative ideas and to think in more critical – and modern – ways, ultimately preparing them for greater success in the workplace, and as individuals.  By fostering Project Management skills we will help our students to plan their career path.  This will reduce the stresses and pressures they feel in the scramble to scale the direct route to the summit – a route that can have pitfalls.

To finish, I would like to wish all of our second level students luck as they embark on a new school year. My last piece of advice would simply be to enjoy it as much as you can. My generation would happily trade our supposed wisdom to be that age again.

Pat Lucey will deliver a keynote address at the European Regional Conference for Project Management in Athens, Greece on 22nd October.

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