Sharing Learning

A short story from a brilliant client of mine and Oxford Professor whose vision transformed one of the leading UK institutes. We spent lots of time talking and whether in London or New York his stories and insight were rich with poignancy and relevancy. Always memorable, you could make decisions and hang your hat on them.

He once shared a story where having graduated and read all the books about combining technical skills (in his case core accounting and financial) with business and leadership skills, he was equipped for the world of work. Within days he realised he wasn’t ready, and fortunately for him he could turn to his university professor to help him understand and complete the work he was assigned, visiting him often to ask how to tackle individual tasks.

How often have we heard versions of this tale – super smart young people qualified but not employment-ready? To get more people into jobs with the skills employers are looking for, we need to link needs with outcomes, ensuring HR departments work with academia to define the skills their companies are seeking.

Thank you Noel, best wishes for the next chapter.

It’s down to you

“Research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) showed 90% of people will need new skills by 2030.”

This is now making headline news, as was covered by Sky News recently. The need for people to own and constantly refresh and update their skills portfolio is no small issue, but how do we make sure it gets the attention it deserves?

90% of people equates to more than 29 million working folk in the UK, that is some number to get on board. Add to that what is learned at university is outdated by the time the student graduates, and we have a bit of an issue on our hands.

Apprenticeships, connecting education with employment hiring requirements and learning that meets the needs of tomorrow – smaller, faster, more applicable in the workplace. It’s time to take responsibility.

Learning: it’s personal

There is increasing value in customisation across all aspects of life. Yianni, of Yiannimise fame, has earned his reputation for the meticulous work he does customising cars, so why not learning? Why not tailor the single most important thing that will help all people for their entire careers and beyond?

An interview between Salesforce and Pearson this week highlighted that large numbers of today’s workforce not learning or being trained for tomorrow’s jobs, and that people are thinking about further study. Should that not always be the case – the concept of learn-apply, learn-apply?

We need technologies and programmes that encourage each of us to re-skill for the next role or project: modular in size and scope for us to build learning and a set of credentials based on our unique role and aspirations, essentially unbundling a curriculum into a stack that suits one individual. Not only does this fit in with lifelong learning, but it counters the shrinking shelf-life of skills, better connects learning with the workplace and is valued by employers and their HR departments by addressing the specific skills that companies are looking for.

All this and we have yet to truly come up against the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution: AI, machine learning, robotics and automation, where as Naval Ravikant so eloquently states, if you can be trained to do a job, so can a robot!

The New Classroom

Some say kids can’t focus. Of course they can focus, just not in the way that we try to interact with them. Have you seen how they concentrate when they play Fortnite or FIFA?

The future of education is where learning systems are irresistibly engaging for student and teacher alike, they are easy to use and steeped in real life problem solving. I am not surprised students switch off, especially when taking into account social media’s effect of focusing on short-term memory and ever decreasing attention spans.

The traditional model of learning was invented when your education would get you your first and last job but in the dynamic society we operate in today – and certainly tomorrow – people will needs lots of careers, because whatever is learned expires very quickly.

Introducing the internet as the new classroom. We have to take learning to the students, to engage them where they are driving the change. School will escape the classroom: the Internet has no walls and it could be that students attend classes online in other towns or possibly other countries. But the most exciting opportunity is that students will become producers. No longer do they need to sit and yawn at lectures, where they could sit for hours on end without speaking – the new classroom will mean students will learn by creating and building things. With a smartphone in their pocket and a HD camera connected to the world, they can tell their story and be as creative as their imagination allows.

Image courtesy of ‘A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000.’
https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/a-19th-century-vision-of-the-year-2000

Tsundoku

It has been a while since I posted, but we have avoided distractions to have a laser focus on our customers these past 6 months, helping them steer through unexpected change, and it was worth the effort. We have a brilliant team of people across the globe at Pearson VUE and those people have made the difference again this year. Thank you to all of them.

I want to share a term I learned from the book Hit Makers. Tsundoku means to acquire reading materials but letting them pile up without reading them. This surfeit of content is very relevant in the twenty-first century, way beyond books.

Today we all live in the shadow of a large multimedia tsundoku. I wonder if the pandemic will result in us approaching the information overload differently, to be more selective and to be more focused – the Beatles and their 10,000 hours of practice comes to mind. To concentrate on fewer things but be better at them.

Impact

This is a terrible time, challenging in almost every respect for people and companies alike, but it does also offer an opportunity to do something symbolic and high-impact to help our customers, colleagues and society at large.

I re-read this famous little story in HBR and want to relay it here, because it makes me smile but equally because it defines ambition and determination and impact.

When Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs was presented the first iPod by the designers, he said the device was too big. The designers replied that they could not fit the components into anything smaller, so Jobs took the iPod over to an aquarium and dropped it into the water, pointing to the air bubbles floating to the top and explaining that it had some air inside it, which meant that it did indeed have some free space.

To do anything show-stopping, but especially today, you need to move up and out of the normal flow of organisational life. Incidentally, I showed my kids the first iPod I bought and they were mesmerised by it. Next week I will show them a cassette tape.

43 pages

This wont take long, but I think it is an important metaphor for the world returning to some semblance of normality. If companies think everything will fall back into place, just as it all used to be, they may be in for a bumpy ride.

A friend recently left the banking world (his choice) and we talked about the bank’s dress code policy, a document of 43 pages. What does it say? Do they prescribe sock colour to tone of shoe leather? Is that the way to attract the next generation of talent, as the loosening of lockdowns around the world are gradually introduced?

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff talks not about a version (of its software) but a vision for Salesforce, and a company centred entirely around its values. No wonder there are queues of people wanting to work there.

Strange & Change

These are strange times that we live in. Technology has truly come to the fore, helping people connect, not just for work purposes, but to stay in touch with family members and those not able or allowed to travel.

I’ve said repeatedly that technology has and will continue to influence the way we live, work and learn, but nobody quite expected this; although humans are largely very good at change and we have adapted again, working from home, balancing lives and being productive. I wonder how much this unique period in history will alter work for the long-term? Will organisations eschew the large, central corporate office and branding, for a smaller core that serves only as a place to meet and strategise? Will workforces be more dispersed and will technology services like Teams and Zoom restructure how we operate forever? Aside from dealing with bandwidth and having to coordinate when kids are watching Netflix and gaming online, and waiting anxiously as our video conference meeting stutters for a minute or two, is this the new modus operandi? It wouldn’t surprise me.

I wonder also if people will question why they commute for hours each day when they can start earlier, work for longer and still accomplish more. I have talked to more customers since the lockdown than in any single month before it and we have had time to think and explore the future – in a strange way it has helped to manage the work day.

In adversity you see true colours and I close by saying I have witnessed the true essence and culture at Pearson first hand, from John at the very top putting our people first, to the testing centre team prepared and ready to go back and open the doors to allow frontline health workers to take their exams and help the nation. Technology has been a super aid in this lockdown period, but it has been about the people yet again.

Thank you to our NHS and all the care workers. You are remarkable.

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.