…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…


The Creative Workforce: How to Launch Young People into High-flying Futures by Erica McWilliam, UNSW Press, 2008, 211 pp AUD $39.95 (pbk). 
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Don’t be put off by the subtitle of this book, as it has much to say to the higher education sector.  If you are an academic or administrative leader, HR professional, manager of resources, facilities or students in a TAFE/Polytechnic or university then this book is highly recommended by the reviewer.

 

Creativity is a key literacy for the knowledge era and how ‘creatives’—young or not so young—are led, managed and taught is an emerging area of research with implications for staffing and students now and into the future. This book, by Professor Erica McWilliam, a well credentialed Australian academic, is skilfully researched, thoughtfully and passionately written and is action orientated to encourage the reader to think anew and “turn our good intentions into smart and sensible actions” (p2).

The book raises questions about what counts as education and frames creativity in education as a dynamic human enterprise that entails the nurture of risk taking as an essential means of learning to learn. In this, McWilliam describes and synthesises what we need to know about how to cultivate, nurture and assess creativity (Foreword by Pamela Bernard, p viii).

The book rests on the premise that ‘creative capital’ is no longer the preserve of creative industries and that small ‘c’ creativity is needed everywhere because novel thinking, navigation, interactivity, border-crossing, and forging new relationships have all become crucial to success and productivity in this knowledge-intensive era.  By focusing on young people (thus reading between the lines for HE policy and management) McWilliam argues that in order to successfully enter the creative workforce, young people don’t just need more education and training – they need a different sort of education and training. By using examples and case studies from the U.S., Australia, and elsewhere, McWilliam describes what creative capacities are, why they’ve become important to our work futures, and what can be done by teachers, employers, policymakers, and parents to optimize the creative capacities of young people.

Importantly, McWilliam’s notion of second generation creativity (described as small ‘c’ creativity) has a feeling of hope and inclusivity about it. There is a sense that perhaps the future is not the wicked problem it has been painted to be and that making a contribution and doing good work is actually within most people’s reach. This is because creativity is (and probably always has been) a social, iterative and imperfect process. McWilliam dispels the notion of first generation creativity made popular in an earlier era (capital ‘C’ Creativity) in that creativity is no longer about rare individual genius; it is now everyone’s business.

This book also points to the realities for young people today and this is an important reminder for administrators and academic staff when designing programs for a generation most likely not the same as their own. Whether we describe them as Generation Y, the Net Generation, the Millennials, or as McWilliam does, the “Yuk/Wows”, today’s young people have grown up in a highly technologised environment. They interact, engage, and disengage with greater speed and choice than ever before. According to McWilliam, as a generation, they already possess some naturally occurring traits ideal for future work where creativity has become the defining feature of economic life. However there are many more traits identified in the book that are being hampered by current teaching and learning experiences in primary and secondary school as well as the post-compulsory sector and also by well-meaning parents.

The discussion on second-generation creativity is as valuable now for tertiary education sector staff operating in a knowledge-intensive and globally competitive environment as it is for current and future students:

The disciplined self-management needed for second-generation creativity to flourish comes from understanding the conditions in which one can work optimally with others, based on self-knowledge about how best to contribute to a shared project or organisational goal…The big shift is from control and command from without to assessment and management from within. Just as importantly, it is about a disposition to connectivity rather than to individual egotism (p. 10).

Chapters include: creativity is everyone’s business; the Yuk/Wow generation; the creative workforce; education-important and irrelevant; teacher-sage, guide, meddler; raising the bar on risk and challenge; flying higher; measuring up; and over the horizon.

[This is a preprint of an article submitted for consideration in the JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY AND MANGEMENT [2009] ATEM. The JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY AND MANGEMENT is available online at http://journalsonline.tandf.co.uk/.%5D

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