Skills of the present

Posted 2 March 2021 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: skills of the future

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The meaning of the phrase skills of the future is variable. Like so many other terms in our profession, its definition depends on who you ask.

According to my own heuristic, a “skill of the future” is a capability for which demand will grow disproportionately over the next 5 years. (While the future extends beyond this timeframe, I typically see any crystal balling for it too fantastical to be useful.)

And to be scalable from an organisational development perspective, the skill needs to be transferable across roles and leadership levels, so that it’s applicable to the context in which each individual works.

Arrows in a quiver

The why for investing in skills of the future should be self-evident post Covid. Organisations that neglected basic capabilities such as web conferencing, let alone more complex ones such as remote leadership, found themselves scrambling in the wake of the pandemic.

In contrast, organisations that had already invested in such skills and were using them day to day, experienced a relatively straight-forward transition into lockdown. Moreover they found themselves with a competitive edge, after years of reaping the benefits of the skills on their own merits.

Herein lies the main point of this post: skills of the future aren’t so much about preparing for tomorrow as they are about maximising today. Waiting for the moment when an imagined skill will meet an imagined need misses that point.

Let me return to the pre-Covid environment to elaborate. An organisation that trained its people face-to-face in the classroom may very well have recognised the future need for virtual training. But since the future hadn’t arrived yet, they had no reason to challenge the status quo. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

In contrast, another organisation that also trained its people in the classroom started to diversify its approach by offering some of its training virtually. This new delivery option supported a remote working strategy, which improved employee engagement and scaled up their talent pool from local to national. The company’s smooth transition into lockdown was simply the latest win.

This mindset also applies to those uber sexy skills that seem so out of reach. For example, if data science is an aspiration, start by collecting whatever numbers you can get your hands on and analyse them however basically to inform your decision making now; and if artificial intelligence is intimidating, start by creating something simple like a branched online form to help your colleagues self-service their needs now. Your sophistication in these areas will improve over time while you ground yourself in the fundamental concepts and crystallise new opportunities to pursue.

Which leads me to the supplementary point of this post: skills of the future are a source of power. If you’re the one backing up your proposals with quantitative evidence, they’re more likely to be approved; and if you’re the one meeting the real needs of your end users, you’re more likely to receive positive appraisals from them.

And if Jim (my colleague in Double defence) didn’t like the idea of click-next online courses, he could have used his development skills to build them differently. Furthermore, he could have proved a blended solution by which the e-learning was complemented by a flipped class that drew upon his facilitation prowess.

But he did neither, and so for him the future arrived too soon.

You however have the opportunity to future proof your own career, by making the skills of the future your skills of the present.

Double defence

Posted 2 February 2021 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: skills of the future

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In a past life I worked with a fellow named Jim who was very good at what he did.

As what I would term a “trainer”, he was well versed in face-to-face delivery and widely respected in the business as a subject matter expert. He had also racked up quite a tenure at the company, so he was considered something of a stalwart.

In my own role, though, I could see what Jim couldn’t: the incoming wave of e-learning. Sooner rather than later, it was clear to me that not all our training was to be delivered to everyone in the same room at the same time. On the contrary, management’s salivation over the potential efficiency gains of online courses meant that f2f was in danger of extinction. Rightly or wrongly, this was the business reality.

We had a healthy cross-skilling culture in our team, so I actively sought opportunities to share my e-learning know-how with my colleagues. Some of them leapt at the chance to add another arrow to their quiver; but Jim wanted none of it.

I couldn’t work out whether his reluctance was due to laziness, fear, or something else. The typical excuse for this kind of thing is lack of time, however I’d wager that if I were to offer him $1000 for turning up to one of my sessions, he’d be there with bells on. In any case he never lifted a finger, despite the investment in his own career that would surely amount to many thousands of dollars.

Anyway, like clockwork, the dreaded spectre of redundancies swept through our division; and as predicted, Jim was let go.

He was shocked and bitter.

Vintage robot

I hark back to this time whenever I hear the phrase skills of the future.

Just as back then when the internet disrupted Jim’s work, so too are the likes of artificial intelligence disrupting our work today. Digitisation of the workplace is an unstoppable force, so an ability to work with emerging technology remains a skill of the future.

Working with is a critical distinction. While technology will inevitably take jobs, just as it has done in the past, in many cases it will complement them. So the trick here, if there is one, is to use technology as a tool to enhance what you do.

For example, the deployment of machine learning in medical imaging is unlikely to replace doctors; rather, it’s a tool the doctor can use to improve the efficacy of diagnosis. Similarly, robo-advice is unlikely to replace financial planners; rather, it frees up the planner to focus on complex portfolios and provide other value added services.

In other words, the future of work isn’t so much about competing against the robots as it is about leveraging your human talents to do what the robots can’t. The software can crunch the numbers in a heartbeat… it’s up to you to interpret what they mean (critical thinking) and use them to inform a course of action (decision making).

Moreover it’s not just about interacting with technology; it’s also about interacting with people. I’m referring to “soft skills” such as communicating your findings to your target audience (storytelling), hitting your mark (empathy) and motivating them to change (influencing).

And of course it’s about your own innate ability to handle change (eg adaptivity, resilience and active learning).

Robots - You - Humans

Of course, even if Jim did upskill himself in online course development, the company may very well have ended up outsourcing that work to an offshore provider. So the question isn’t merely whether the work you do can be automated, but also if it can be done by someone else at a fraction of the cost.

Hence ongoing employability demands lifelong learning to continue to do what other people can’t.

Skills of the future aren’t just your defence against the robots. They’re also your defence against other humans.

Digital Learning conferences in Australia in 2021

Posted 5 January 2021 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: conference

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Let’s try that again.

Just as we were gearing up for another year’s worth of cutting edge insights and showcases, the coronavirus had other ideas.

While some of the digital learning conferences I had listed for 2020 went ahead as planned, others pivoted to virtual delivery, while the rest were ironically postponed or cancelled.

Although in this country we remain confident in vaccination and elimination, the genie is out of the bottle and this year we’ll see an unprecedented number of events offered virtually or via a hybrid format.

Coffee mug next to a laptop featuring numerous attendees in an online meeting

Virtual, 24-25 February 2021

Disruptive Innovation Summit
Sydney, 17-19 March 2021

International Conference on Virtual and Augmented Reality Simulations
Melbourne, 20-22 March 2021

Learning & Development Leadership Summit
Sydney, 23-24 March 2021

AITD Conference
Postponed (TBA)

Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Conference
Brisbane, 7-10 July 2021

Learning & Development Leadership Summit
Melbourne, 27-28 July 2021

EduTECH / Learn@Work
Melbourne, 17-18 August 2021

Sydney, 25-26 August 2021

Eportfolio Forum
Sydney, 20-21 October 2021

HR Innovation & Tech Fest
Sydney, 9-10 November 2021

Armidale, TBA December 2021

This list will grow over time as more events are announced.

If you become aware of one, let me know and I’ll add it in!

Semantics, semantics

Posted 8 December 2020 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: blogging, learning & development

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I dislike grammar jokes, pedants, and Oxford commas.

That’s my jovial way to end a year that will be remembered as a tough one for a long time to come.

I found blogging a welcome distraction, so much so that in addition to my annual list of e-learning conferences in Australia (which took a beating!) I churned out no fewer than ten thought pieces.

My joke at the start of this summary is a nod to the theme of semantics, which I maintain are important in the L&D profession. Because it is with shared meaning that we do our best work.

I invite you to share your own views on each piece, so feel free to drop me a like and contribute a comment or two…

A vintage poster depicting a group of dogs of different breeds

I hope you find my articulations helpful.

In the meantime, I wish that for you and your family the Christmas season will be a time of healing, rest and renewal.

Scaling up

Posted 1 December 2020 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: assessment, capability framework, evaluation

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In Roses are red, I proposed definitions for oft-used yet ambiguous terms such as “competency” and “capability”.

Not only did I suggest a competency be considered a task, but also that its measurement be binary: competent or not yet competent.

As a more general construct, a capability is not so readily measured in a binary fashion. For instance, the question is unlikely to be whether you can analyse data, but the degree to which you can do so. Hence capabilities are preferably measured via a proficiency scale.

Feet on scales

Of course numerous proficiency scales exist. For example:

No doubt each of these scales aligns to the purpose for which it was defined. So I wonder if a scale for the purpose of organisational development might align to the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation:

 Level  Label  Evidence 
0 Not Yet Assessed  None
1 Self Rater Self rated
2 Knower Passes an assessment
3 Doer Observed by others
4 Performer Meets relevant KPIs
5 Collaborator Teaches others

Table 1. Tracey Proficiency Scale (CC BY-NC-SA)

I contend that such a scale simplifies the measurement of proficiency for L&D professionals, and is presented in a language that is clear and self-evident for our target audience.

Hence it is ahem scalable across the organisation.