While preparing the lectures for the current term, I came to think of the economic value of different skills.
The first question to answer would be “how to measure the value of a skill?”. Possible criteria could be:
- economic relevance (does it help to sell my service or product?)
- lifetime of relevance (will it be outdated tomorrow or will it still feed me when I am 64?)
- age of the user (can I reach a usefull level of aptitude within the time I’ve left to live and if so: will the time left after acquiring this level be worth the effort?)
Though the majority of the economic relevant skills are certainly subject to specialication, there are obviously some skills of general relevance. Among these are, in my opinion:
- Foreign Languages
I’ll regard point 1 as agreed upon, since anyone not able to calculate properly will have a really bad time living in any society that has already invented money.
Point 2 is a bit less self-evident than it appears at first glance. A network effect seems to apply to languages, though with an economic twist. The more people speaking a certain language the more useful it is … right? Does anybody here speak ancient Greek?
Seriously: this would render Latin and ancient Greek useless, but for some professions (or anyone pursuing a humanistic approach to education) these languages are still highly relevant. And a language spoken by a lot of (living) people doesn’t need to be automatically valuable to everybody, since this depends on the languages spoken by his or her business contacts.
As far as I am concerned the next point is ambivalent. A profession, which has really nothing to do with computers, is rather seldom nowadays. Yet, the problem with a lot of computer-related skills is: they are becoming useless breathtakingly fast.
As long as one stays in userland (read: is dependend on ready made applications) the changes within a new version of an application will almost always wield a bunch of rather unpleasant surprises: menuitems aren’t where they were in the earlier version, hotkeys have changed (especially nasty if no external, transferable config file exists), interoperability with other programs or operating systems (!) are not yet sufficiently testet and the resulting incompatibilities lead to crashes … I assume we all know the tragedy.
On the other hand, if you invested some time in the 70ies learning the C programming language, you are still able to use this knowledge to your advance. While the language itself has developed throughout the years, the concepts and syntax have been adopted by a lot of newer languages . And if you invested the time to learn object oriented programming (okay, C++) and mayhaps delved into design patterns, you’ll very likely have found these to be even more useful – since these principles are applicable to a whole class of languages (anything OOP).
This leads to the following assumption: if a skill is of a very abstract nature, it’s likely that it will keep on being useful for a long time.
Still, the points left on the list are more concrete in nature. Presentational skill, i. e. being able to copy information from one brain to several others (plus a lot of watzlawickian interaction), is rather concrete or even artistic (btw.: have you seen Steve Jobs presenting the iPhone? Amazing!) and anyone who tried to negotiate with a really tough business-man will tell you that abstract thinking has very little to do with the way of the world.
What do you think on the matter?