Editorial: the only constant is change

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Photo: Laura Oks / Postimees

Those predicting labour market changes and deciding state orders to universities always seem to be preparing for the last war. Whatever the market needed yesterday, it may not need today; smaller yet the chance the need is there tomorrow. Still, this is an important question every spring as those about to graduate are thinking which sector would be their future.

The picture gets somewhat clearer as we look at a longer period of labour-force market change, over a decade for instance. This won’t grant confidence in predictions, but does point out trends to be considered. Changes in society do affect labour market with a certain delay, only evident in hindsight as one compared the decades. 

Beholding the change in Estonia, over this past decade, we may say some of that was predictable. More and more people have swapped working benches for office tables. The remarkable growth in computer and electronics industry, information/communications, and in tourism, as well as the considerable shrinkage in agriculture do stand out – characteristic of the shift in society.

Even so, there are changes on the labour market not depending on general developments; rather, these are linked to other factors and therefore are hard to foresee. Trade movement with Russia hit after the Bronze Night of 2007, and the steep drop following real estate boom cutting into the building sector – to bring a few examples. 

But even a decade worth of data will not be sufficient for predictions, being collected in a single country. To grasp ongoing change, comparisons with other developed countries are needed, and analysis of tendencies elsewhere.

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, underlying importance of education in his Anniversary of the Republic speech, on February 24th, characterised the speed of education/labour changes by Moore’s law, more easily explained by the chess board and grain of rice. Placing twice the amount of rice unto every next field on the board, the scale of the change is minimal in the beginning: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 grains of rice... no big deal. Only at the centre of the board, the speed of change will become evident – enormous at the end.

Whatever the predictions, one constant always remains. Change. As also noted by the President, some societies cope with changes drastically altering the labour landscape – large part of current jobs disappearing or undergoing total metamorphosis – and some don’t. No need to ask which we would choose to be. What we do with the knowledge, is largely up to those providing education. In spite of everything, the ranks of educators haven’t been thinned over the decade – so let’s take courage.