Tag: skills

Skills of the present

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

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.

Something all learning pro’s should do

Learn a language.

I don’t mean a programming language (although the theory probably still holds). I mean a bone fide foreign language like French, German, Japanese or Mandarin.

By going outside of your comfort zone, you stimulate your brain into new realms. But more importantly, you experience once again what it’s like to be a novice learner.

Now YOU are the one on a steep learning curve.

It’s daunting. It’s awkward. And it’s humbling.

Language learning books.

As a teenager I developed a fascination for the German language. I think it stemmed from my love of history and my desire to understand what the enemy soldiers were saying in the movies.

Over the years I dabbled by doing a class, listening to tapes, buying an English-German dictionary and reading a few language books.

However it wasn’t until recently when I planned to revisit Germany that I made a conscious effort to give it another red hot go. I didn’t want to be one of those tourists who’s first words are inevitably: “Do you speak English?”

No, I wanted to understand – and be understood – auf Deutsch. At least enough to get by.

And I did all right. But in no uncertain terms I reminded myself of what works and what doesn’t in the learning process.

All those fundamental pedagogical principles that had faded into the background came flooding back with avengeance…

Instructivism and formal learning

When you’re a novice in a domain, the guidance of an expert is golden.

For example, the teacher at the front of a language classroom already knows the grammar, vocabulary, phrases, habits and customs that you need to know. He or she is in a prime position to provide you with a programmed sequence of knowledge.

In my opinion, there is no other way of getting up to speed so quickly.

Constructivism, connectivism and informal learning

While instructivism and formal learning are valuable, they comprise only one piece of the puzzle. Anything else you can access is invaluable – whether it be a copy of Der Spiegel, an episode of Inspector Rex, or a Twitter buddy in Berlin.

The motivated learner who extends the learning process beyond the formal curriculum is destined for mastery.

Skills development

You can learn about a language until the Friesian cows come home, but to acquire the skill you have to actually do it. From simply saying new words aloud, through role plays, to full-blown conversation cafes, the objective is to practise.

Make mistakes, improve your pronunciation, get the vocab front of mind.

OTJ, PBL and job aids

Developing a skill is a waste of time if you never apply it in the real world. At some stage you need to immerse yourself in the environment (in my case, Germany) and actively participate (eg order food, buy train tickets, ask for directions). In doing so, you continue to learn.

When you are in the moment, job aids – especially mobile job aids – become indispensable. I gave Google Translate a beating!

Use it or lose it

Repetition is key. I’m not referring to rote learning, but rather to the continual application of the knowledge.

When I was overseas, I must have looked up the same words six or seven times each; they weren’t very common.

On the other hand, other words were everywhere. I only needed to look those up once; they were naturally reinforced thereafter.

Now that I’m back in Oz, I know that I’ll lose much of my German unless I find ways to keep up the reading, writing, listening and conversing.

Someone holding a small globe of the world.

Of course, I realise I’m not telling you – a fellow learning professional – anything you don’t already know. But honestly, when was the last time you consciously used the concepts and principles I have just mentioned to inform your work?

During the daily grind it’s easy to slip into production mode and put your brain into hibernation. As a profession, we need to shock ourselves out of that state.

It’s time to put some skin back in the game, so why not learn a language?

Wer wagt, gewinnt!