Lifetime employability not lifetime employment

bowler hatI am currently preparing for a presentation that will look at how the acceleration of today’s market trends, coupled with cross-sector technology innovations, might affect the future of education and assessment. I enjoyed Richard and Daniel Susskind’s book The Future of the Professions and will be referencing some of their thoughts – I recommend it as a very good read.

The changes this is bringing the professional world is a far cry from a time when McKinsey consultants had to wear a bowler hat as part of their uniform as evidence of their professionalism. Today, with fewer jobs for life, much less security and very little predictability, we will see both disintermediation and decomposition of roles within the professions and a new emphasis on the ability to learn and adapt as roles change – in smaller, bite-sized pieces, learning and quite possibly assessing on the go.

Knowledge and information have taken on a greater importance compared to traditional assets such as physical capital and natural resources – an educated and highly skilled workforce is among the most valuable assets an organisation has today. But because of the pace of change and progression, the workforce must continually retool its skills.

The knowledge economy is also borderless and knowledge workers are not a homogenous group; they have specialised skills and perform specialised roles, and knowledge workers do not spend their careers with one company; they change jobs frequently and with future generations the likelihood is this will increase.

Therefore, lifetime employability instead of lifetime employment is the goal of knowledge workers. Yet more and more tasks that once required human beings are being performed more productively and cheaply by machines and new capabilities are emerging on an almost daily basis. Machines can look back into data, discern patterns and make predictions (Big Data). Systems such as IBM Watson, with whom we have partnered here at Pearson, can perform tasks that we normally think requires human intelligence. Machines can interact with manual skill and dexterity via robotics and systems are getting smarter at detecting and expressing emotions.

We used to believe these tasks were the sole purview of human beings – are we just training machines to make us redundant? How do we stay in the game, differentiate and compete?

Tech = Art + Science

Driving in my classic car, listening to Grover Washington Jr on cassette tape (honestly, after all this car is 30 years old), I marvelled at how reliable this car is and how little tech was involved all those years ago in these machines, but mixing old thoughts with new, I realised just how technology is both art and science today. It is worth a post.

I think the biggest opportunities lie where technology is able to span both; let me explain why and how with education in mind.

Tech is science: one of the greatest opportunities in education is where technology can create a market segment of one: the individual. Where tech can help us create personalised learning so that students can learn at their own pace and level, and achieve goals and qualifications that are unique to their requirements, career aspirations and future. Tailored learning to suit a unique need at one point in time.

Tech is art: I experienced this a second time with air travel recently, where the entire check-in process was automated and I, as the traveller, had to self-serve. This is a masterstroke. Companies putting technology in place to allow customers to check-in themselves, print out their own documents, weigh their own luggage, print their own tags and calling it improved customer service – while saving costs all along the journey. How can technology help and even encourage people to learn, test and credential themselves, consuming small modules to achieve a goal, then move on to the next one? How can we utilise technology to predict, based on past learnings, what we need to do next?

I assembled the idea for this post sitting in traffic. I wonder as we get older whether we start going back to the old days, where we can be creative and have time to think, and not worry about the InBox.

A 60-year career

Fishermen

Gladys Hooper, the oldest person in the UK, recently died at the age of 113. This raised further interest in the population living and working for longer and it seems we have the potential to live much longer than generations before us and way beyond 100 years old.

If that becomes the case and we do live to that ripe old age, then we will need work careers of 60 or so years just to be able to support ourselves. Furthermore, if technology continues to develop at the current pace, and the likelihood is it will as there are no signs of a slow down, then we will experience several cycles of work and will have to re-skill in order to keep ourselves relevant.

Throw in to the mix that by 2030 as many as one-third of jobs in the UK could be at risk of being automated, according to research by the University of Oxford, where do we turn? Our learning will be down to us as individuals to own, to continue to update our portfolio of skills, plus as companies contract at the core, people telecommute and we move from project to project and job to job, we will have to learn on an almost constant basis – for new tasks, new models and new work environments.

I quite like this idea – it sounds more interesting than Nintendo brain challenges that the doctor recommends.

School as base camp

subbuteo

My team co-hosted a great seminar with the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN) this month, and it underlines what technology will never replace – the benefit that people gain from being in a room networking, asking questions and sharing best practice with each other – in other words learning in the real world.

In his book, Open, David Price talks about learning becoming authentic when it has a specific purpose, impact beyond schooling and supports a student’s communities.

What is school about, if it isn’t helping prepare young people for the real world, however small the steps of progress? My daughter returned from her Duke of Edinburgh trek this weekend tired, frazzled and aching from the backpack which stood almost as tall as her. But the experience was priceless and taught her how set up camp, prepare food and work in a team to navigate walks and hazards to reach their destination – the greatest challenge for them was the intermittent phone signal.

Education has to reflect what industry is looking for in skills. It has a tough time keeping up as it is, with first year degree material becoming out of date before graduation, so there has to be a genuine link between what is taught and its relevance to the real world – after all, kids are already more engaged via devices and the online world than we ever will be.

I do wonder, however, how these kids would have coped in the 70s; with just Subbuteo, a bicycle and local park to contend with.

Live Differently

Ignacio Cubilla Banos sits in his house during his 111th birthday celebration in Havana

I was reading with interest a claim that the first humans to live way into their hundreds are alive today, and remembered this great picture of Ignacio Cubilla Banos, around whom there was a story as he celebrated his 111th birthday at his home in Havana surrounded by his family a few years back. It made me think.

If the next generations are going to live way beyond a hundred, how many cycles of learning will they require just to stay up to date with change? Surely they will need a 50 to 60 year career, so learning will need to evolve in parallel.

What we learn today doesn’t carry for very long – we have to refresh what we know almost constantly (think of the story of the university degree, and what a student learns in year 1 is out of date by the time they graduate). As our knowledge and skills become redundant we will have to stay on the cycle of learn-and-apply just to allow us to keep up.

I have variations of this quoted on Twitter and other platforms:

My father had 1 job in his entire lifetime.

My job at Pearson is my 5th in 30 years.

My kids will quite possibly have 5 jobs at any one time.

This is the future.

Dispel the Myth

75 per cent of next gen

Within 10 years, 75% of the global workforce will be from the ‘next generation’, so are we prepared for a different style of management, perhaps a different type of human?

A number of studies have looked into the workplace needs of the next gen and it is reassuring to learn that they are not that much different to previous generations preparing for work. Yes, they have grown up in the digital era, and yes, they live and breathe social media, plus there is a new emphasis on corporate social responsibility magnified by social spaces and platforms (not such a bad thing) but are they allergic to being managed the traditional way?

In reality, the race for talent is no different than it always was, except that there will be fewer skilled people to take the ever increasing number of jobs, and the millennials’ attitudes to work are as conventional as they ever were.

They want to be given a chance and they want to be rewarded for their contributions. So what is the formula for the future? Combine the classic reward system with openness and transparency, help them attain skills that are relevant and give them the opportunity to flourish. And because they are so good with technology, allow them to be creative with it for the betterment of the business. And as my friend Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor and President of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, always told me – companies that ask, “What if I train and certify my people and they leave,” you have to reply, “What if you don’t train and certify your staff, and they stay!”

Education must be relevant

Building BlocksA number of clients are strategising around the skills gap topic – building education to meet a new-world, technology-led demand of smaller, bite-size modules of learning.

Technology allows us to read, watch videos and learn on a commute to work, so learning has to satisfy this new way that consumers digest content. But what is critical is that the outcomes of this education must be recognised by employers as having relevancy in the workplace. I recall my days at technology association CompTIA, working closely with Dell, Intel and others to build programmes that related directly to the job roles and the work – to help their people make an immediate contribution.

Tesco worked with us to develop a certification programme to upskill their store staff as part of a strategy to grab market share in the retail electronics marketplace – and they did it impressively, by building learning-plus-certification that had currency in their sector.

As we are in Wimbledon season, it is appropriate to mention the tennis. Especially in the early rounds, the tournament offers up mismatches in competition, but in the skills arena, it is as evident as it ever was – millions unemployed across Europe and yet employers have 4m vacancies that remain unfilled. We have to address it.

Everyone is worried about skills

The ShardI have traversed three continents these last few weeks, from Europe to the west coast of America, then back and across to the Middle East.

The trips all centred around assessment and skills events – culminating in apprentices week in the UK. “Everyone is worried about skills” said the BBC’s Steph McGovern at the CITB Building Futures conference. The challenges are different but the concerns are the same – whether you sit in the US or UK with their growing economies or the Middle East with their large numbers of young people, a shortage of the right skills to meet the needs of employers and their evolving industries will impact progress.

I believe technology doesn’t always help – young people make choices based on cultural changes and technological influences, and yet industries, jobs and the needs of employers are not the same. They must be aligned.

We do have a solution – young people learn from other young people, so let’s showcase our stars and use technology to promote them as case studies of success. In other words, a career in IT can mean working at Sky TV or motor racing, a career in construction might give somebody the opportunity to be in the team that builds the next Shard or Premier League football stadium. Let’s create success stories of young people who love their work and promote them as role models – then use technology to spread the word.

I close with real hope – I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and desire to succeed shown by the apprentices at the JustIT learner awards night where I shared my thoughts on the fusion of technology and education – I will continue to shout from the rooftops, that if you wake up with the attitude, desire and motivation to do a great job, invariably you will do well.

A morsel of MOOC

Big cheese

American inventor Charles Kettering said, “We should all be concerned about the future because we will spend the rest of our lives there.” With that, more of us are sitting up and taking note.

Technology continues to disrupt all industries and no more so than where it intersects with education. The idea of a single education followed by a single career is long in the past, so we have to take control of our portfolio of skills and continue to upgrade and refine it regardless of the work we do. We have to stay in touch, not just with gadgets and technology but what we know, as the sector we work in evolves at pace.

MOOCs such as FutureLearn are examples of technology helping us managing this requirement – short bursts of learning relevant to an immediate work need – or even an interest. Learning about photography, about wine, film or an historical event, can be the most pleasurable of all, plus it makes for a well-rounded individual.

With careers no longer linear and tenure within job roles around the 3-4 year range, we must learn to adapt, constantly learn, move sideways and even be prepared for downward steps, before we make upward moves on the long journey to the “big cheese” position.

Get ready for the ride, it will be different and is likely to be bumpy.

I have seen the future

I attended the Certiport Global Partner Summit and the MOS and ACA World Championships this week in California. Let me explain.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of young people enter competitions, at a national level, to see who are the most creative Adobe and most proficient Microsoft Office Specialist users. After months of competition and excitement, around 130 competitors gathered in a hotel at Disney in California this week for an intense conclusion to proceedings. As the results were announced, the young winners ran to the stage to earn their medals and prizes as family, friends and those watching from afar via live broadcast jumped into raptures. So what does this all mean?

For the winners, no doubt fame awaits them in their countries when they return home and probably a gateway to a nice job role in the near future. That is very well deserved. For the IT industry, even more. These world championships highlight everything that is good in our industry. The work the Adobe competitors delivered as part of the Kiva project, for example, could easily have been created by a professional agency. The fact that most of the kids were not native English speakers made it even more remarkable.

I saw the future. It lies with those excited kids having a fantastic time, representing the next generation of IT workers, innovators and companies. My summary of the week was that every IT vendor should have a competition, should invest in the next generation in this way, because it is some of the most powerful and compelling branding and engagement I have ever seen.