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?

Does your company have a fusbol table?

fusbol

I read a stat recently that said 24.1 per cent of start-ups have a fusbol (football) table in their office. Is this the new silver bullet, the difference between company success and failure? Are we missing out?

We have all seen the images of the coolest offices in Silicon Valley or Old Street with young hipsters in torn jeans and suede boots, mismatched colours painted on the walls and a corner set aside for unpronounceable coffees, portrayed as the best places to work, fuelled by leading-edge technology. But how real is this?

Does a fusbol table really attract the right people? I don’t think so. Aren’t the old values of making a genuine contribution and a clear career plan still the most important factors, regardless of generation? I believe they are.

Technology and impatience

Girl magazine iPadWe are losing patience with technology and it is putting pressure on companies to provide services at record speeds, yet it seems as though it is never enough.

I always felt one of the greatest wonders of technological change was how organisations put services into the hands of the customer and we marvelled at this as great service – for example, checking ourselves in for a flight and printing our own boarding passes. They made us do the work and we thanked them for it.

I use a 10-second video to make my case of a young girl less than a year old who is given a copy of a magazine to keep her occupied. Within moments she is swiping the magazine because she thinks it operates like an iPad and when the magazine shows no sign of responding, the girl is crawling away having lost interest.

Today, the tables are turning on technology and we are becoming ever more unsatisfied – I thought technology was supposed to be the next utility but when Wifi was down for a while at the house this weekend it caused much consternation and one of kids declared they “couldn’t function.” When networks are down, we criticise the technology, when a store runs out of a product, we complain that they haven’t mastered big data and when online banking is not available we ask why they couldn’t update their systems when we are asleep.

I have seen “internet”, “wifi” and “phone battery” all added to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and it isn’t always in jest. It is one thing technology progressing leaps and bounds to give us new ways of working and shopping and learning – but can it match our ever-increasing standards?

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.

These kids operate differently! How many times have we heard that?

We know that mobiles and smart devices are transforming how we shop and communicate today, and how we will learn in the future. Generation Y has mastered the art of mobility and will not want to be tied to one office, nor one company, as they seek varied and interesting employment in future.

What remains is that our role as educators is to transform these learners to earners – to give them the skills to embark on career pathways to suit their needs, to give them a platform to upskill or change direction as they see fit – but importantly to furnish them with the skills for the world of work.

It is important we understand how they operate, for they are both our workforce and our customer of tomorrow. How do we offer this to them? How do we engage them to shape how learning meets their needs in future? With things evolving faster than ever before, how can we stop for long enough to make impact?

In permanent beta mode

I recently finished reading Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It focused on a model of continuous improvement, but in short bursts, via what he called a ‘minimum viable product’.

In other words, we shouldn’t wait for version 10 of our product or service before we go to market, but release a product where members of our core audience can start to use and provide good feedback that allows us to make small improvements and re-release very quickly, over and over again. We have an aversion to taking risks for fear of how the market may react, but the best technology companies have perfected their business by being in permanent beta mode, always looking for change and improvement. It is the way forward. We have been raised not to screw up, but technology allows us to try things and correct course along the way.

When you consider a history of great success, normally that success has a shadow of spectacular failure behind it, from which the company has learned and benefited. Famed Canon company President Hajime Mitari was quoted as saying, “We should do something when people say it is crazy. If people say something is good, it means someone is already doing it.” I like that. Take a chance and try things.

Making friends

friends-fingers

The CEO of one of our clients retired recently, and I heard both sides of an incredible story of partnership and friendship that was built up over many years of our companies working together. It was truly impressive and reminded me of a story.

My dad used to say, “You can count your real friends on one hand.” Today, kids add friends to their Facebook pages in an instant, because technology makes us think we can shortcut the process to making friends. This is not true.

One of biggest mistakes about building relationships is trying to build a rich experience to win people over very quickly by using technology, and for those people with the greatest influence – I have called them the ‘one-percenters’ in the past – to share your message or story across their network so that it goes viral.

But in real life, and in business especially, relationships form via many lightweight interactions over a period of time, and usually with your customer getting to know the person first of all and gradually building trust.

So despite the speed of interactions that technology brings to the table, when you meet somebody for the first time and have a conversation, you are not suddenly best friends.

Pictures and Words

fresh guacamole

A picture speaks a thousand words. Today, people multitask and run 5 windows on their machines and tablets concurrently and we have even less time to grab their attention with our message.

I think text is yesterday’s business and to engage we need pictures and headlines. If I created slides that were made up only of bullet points, what would the audience think? Would anybody concentrate for longer than a minute or two, before switching to reading messages on their phones, surf the web or look at what was happening on social platforms and completely ignore my presentation, no matter how compelling?

People respond to images, they like short videos and their brains are like filters. They block out the majority of information, so why do we send our customers and prospects long emails, pages of text and documents, and expect them to respond?

Take note how the market for short films is booming. At this year’s Oscars, “Fresh Guacamole”, at 1-minute-41-seconds, was the shortest movie ever to receive a nomination. It has no real characters, no dialogue, no traditional storyline, but got 8 million viewers on YouTube. There is a message in there for all of us.

Knowledge Economy to a Thinking Economy

ThinkingThere is an increasing emphasis on collecting and deciphering data and I read an inspiring story recently about a slum in Calcutta whose school kids have put them on the government map in a clever utilisation of data (more of that next time). Data alone, however, will never be enough.

We can collect all the data we want but we still have to connect with our customers on an emotional level. If our product or service isn’t humanised, it will not sell. A customer doesn’t go through a process of saying this might just be useful for me, a customer says to himself, I want this.

Moreover, while individuals are willing to buy consumer products online (books, electronics, laptops) without talking to a salesperson, a recent survey highlighted that 95% of corporate buyers want a salesperson to be involved in the process. They want to engage with people. It is important to balance this with salespeople who help the buyer make better decisions, not be the subject of monotonous sales pitches.

One of my favourite messages is describing how we have moved from a knowledge economy to a thinking economy, because we can find everything we need by searching on Google. But we mustn’t forget that the sparkle in a deal coming together for the benefit of both parties is always underpinned by good relations between the partners.