Skills not just degrees

I want to make a triangle of points and echo what Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said earlier this month: the future of work is about skills not just degrees.

Mr Dimon claims this is one of the reasons young people are held back and not progressing. The next point of this is that employers’ needs are not being met and as we well know a team is made up of diverse people and skill sets.

But technology is shifting everything, especially in the pace and ways of conducting business, which creates a pressure on companies to stay in touch with change, so we need to open the doors to everybody, not just the degree students.

The third point in the triangle is the role that universities have to play, because that is critical to this – the Higher Education sector is perfectly positioned to interpret employer needs and to help develop curriculum and training programmes that meet the on-the-job needs, even and especially as they change. As non-technology companies emerge as the source of many new technology roles – automotive, aerospace, retail, healthcare – Higher Education will have an opportunity to build more industry ties with vocational offerings, as employees and their employers will look for proof of their skills, which in turn will lead to more demand for continuing education.

It may not be a triangle but a circle that is ongoing, with opportunities for employers to get the skills they need, for the education providers to play a pivotal role in teaching and for people to find work in an area that suits their skills and helps them flourish.

Connecting not Cocooning

Technology is a tool that should empower us to reach more people and bind us together, connecting communities, workplaces and ideas. Although technology helps create great individual experiences, social interaction is a basic need and fundamental part of humanity, and we must encourage against people locking themselves away in their rooms for hours on end, especially at meal times.

As part of this humanisation endeavour, here is an interesting story to share: a law firm research revealed that the senior management profile pages (usually found under About Us) of its website were the most visited. So the firm decided to turn up the spotlight, including the addition of video interviews with its lawyers which included answering unconventional questions!

The message was: you wont find corporate stuffed shirts here; we are real people who value relationships with other real people. I like that. Put technology to use as a platform to inject some personality into our companies and humanise what we do. It’s about people. It always is.

Naivety and inexperience are essential

I came across an enlightening interview with Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei where he was asked how young people affect his work.

Rather than turn his nose up or scoff at the question, he replied that the young generation is amazing. He said “they have less of the burden of history, but a clear sense of right and wrong.” He went on to say that they have more imagination than their parents and they are naive and full of inexperience – but it is this naivety and inexperience that are essential for creativity and being brave. Isn’t that refreshing?

By 2025, this generation will make up 75% of the workforce and the important thing is not just that they might bring new ideas and values, it’s that there are going to be so many of them. They will be the largest generation ever to enter the workforce – so how do we make our products, our services and our companies attractive enough so they choose us?

The best technology of all

At an industry event I attended recently, industry stalwart Amy Cardel shared her views on the changes and impact of technology on doing business, but one simple statement has stuck – that the best technology of all is face to face.

Despite the overload of information, the bombardment of news and the almost permanent connectivity, building relationships with other human beings, talking through issues and needs and resolving them together, remain the best partnerships of all. Somewhere in my early blogs I wrote about similar things that the Tupperware company emphasised back in 1953, and the principles remain today. Sitting across a table, reading and reacting to body language, smiling. It isn’t rocket science.

At the same event I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal – he was inspirational, he was very funny and entertaining, but most of all he was a normal guy with good values. It’s about people, it always is.

What we can learn from an ice cream cone

ice cream coneIn a previous job role, we didn’t have the funds to hire the most senior sales people, so I took the approach of hiring graduates with the attitude and drive to succeed, targeting a variety of new market segments for growth. Not everybody worked out, but several members of the team are Directors there or elsewhere, of which I am very proud. I had the opportunity to meet up with one of the team recently, and he reminded me of a story I used to share which is worth retelling.

At the 1904 World Fair in St Louis, the gentleman selling ice cream ran out of paper cups. He talked to the person next to him selling waffles, who then proceeded to flatten and roll them diagonally to form cones, thus creating the ice cream cone I grew up with in the 1970s (in the UK it was known as the ‘99’ and you could add a small chocolate flake as an extra treat – oh the memories).

The lesson in this? Look away from the obvious and consider the ingredients or components, partnerships or alliances outside of the norm, to create the new future.

We are in a new era of collaboration and partnerships facilitated with or without technology – who or what can we learn from, that sits outside our traditional sector and every day activities?

Secret Weapon

old_cincinnati_library_smallThis is a little story about the secret weapon of a specialist independent bookshop in London. It was shared with me by an individual passionate about books and life in general, and that alone means it’s worth relaying – but beneath lies an important statement about our future.

Today where most things are instant and short-term, where we consume online and read on smart devices, what chance has a small book shop against the giant online stores and discounters? There is not a single book in the store that customers cannot buy cheaper elsewhere.

But the store has a secret weapon. Her name is Claire. She works there and she knows most of the books that pass through the front door – her product knowledge, her people skills and service means people go back and buy again, having decided their loyalty means something to the bookshop.

People continue to make a difference, whether an independent bookshop or an enterprise that spans the globe. With automation on the increase, great people stand out more than ever. It’s about people – it always is.

PS. The little photo is the old public library of Cincinnati, with cast-iron book alcoves, spiral staircases several stories high and marble floors. Sadly it was demolished and the stunning building is worth remembering.

Fine Margins

I harp on about the importance data, how it is the oil of the twenty-first century, but here is a quick story about just how fine the margins have become.

At the end of a winter Olympics, one national team – renowned for its skiers – won zero gold medals. Post-event the management team sat down to undertake the deepest analysis based on all the data it could muster.

They figured out that with just a 5% improvement in performance, they would have won almost every gold medal they competed in. That level of competition represents just how tough the modern world is out there – and how fine the margins are between great success and miserable failure.

From Mad Men to Math Men

2022 Skills OutlookI had a lot of fun presenting at an uplifting Pearson event in London recently and we talked a lot about millennials, their expectations, work styles and torn jeans!

The World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs Report underlines the need for analytical thinking, innovation and creativity, but I sense it is important not to run down a path that promotes only the STEM subjects and instead also takes into account the significance of humanities and soft skills as part of our well-rounded future workers. Data crunching isn’t much good if the individual cannot articulate the findings with her colleagues.

I stand by what I said at the session – I don’t think the needs of millennials are wildly different to when I was searching for work in the mid-1980s. Yes, they operate slightly differently; yes, the major shift is that there are so many of them entering the workforce at once so there will be style changes (no 9-5 is one example), but the good old-fashioned needs of making a contribution to something important and a career in which they can visualise growing and succeeding remain the major motivators.

I recognise that the Don Draper character from the Mad Men world of advertising in the 1960s isn’t well placed for our times, but we don’t all have to be brilliant mathematicians like John Nash from the movie A Beautiful Mind either. There is a place for all of us.

Automate the work – humanise the jobs

Let’s make a further case for humans: there was a great feature in this week’s Sunday Times on President and CEO of Hewlett Packard, Antonio Neri. Talking about artificial intelligence and how it relates to his business, he said, “AI will not replace human beings, but will enable human beings.” He goes on to say they are making their infrastructure more intelligent and reliable, thus allowing humans to focus on innovation.

I truly endorse this and want to underline that we need to automate the work and humanise the jobs – let the machines do the mundane and our teams add value to our customers.

It will help give purpose back to our people.

Everyone has to be a technology company

ChangeAgent_oilingthewheelsofchange500pxI have been following a story of two companies and how their brands are playing in almost completely different arenas and yet for the same customer.

One, let’s call them Goliath, has decided to change the colour of their product in order to reinvigorate sales. Same basis of the product, same distribution channel, same target audience.

David, our little guy, sells a similar product but not through stores. Instead he sells it online. Customers can’t touch or handle the product, but they can follow it on Instagram and Facebook pages and be part of a community of likeminded users. David still has a minority market share, but he is growing at a handsome rate. He also has a far lower cost base and is therefore more profitable. Rather than targeting only the audiences of the stores that sell his products, David can reach millions.

Goliath knows very little about their customer as all sales are through stores and usually in baskets full of other products. David knows everything about his customers. I see only one way out for Goliath; the smarter companies are going to be the ones that go out and buy the technology and engineers needed to drive disruption.

Every company has to be a technology company: if you are at the top of your sector today and you are not a technology company, you wont be at the top of your sector for long.