Why I work here.

It is that time of year where everyone thinks about the year ahead and what they want to do and achieve, but sometimes amongst all of these thoughts and plans it is easy to forget the why behind the things that we do.  I was reminded of that today by a post by a friend on LinkedIn.  We talk about compliance and standards, about how to improve the things that we do, about best practice, trends and new technologies.  We talk about training needs and delivery processes, how to fund and manage learning.  We talk about policy and theory and academic positions and theories, informal and formal learning, elearning, mlearning and all of the things we would like to do or try it we had the time and the resources.   While this is all fine it is very easy to lose sight of the simple facts about the sector that we all work in, it is about the participants and more importantly every single day this sector changes people’s lives. Not just the lives of individuals but of their families, those around them and their communities.

We need to remember the person who failed at school but who has learnt new skills through a well structured adult learning program

We need to remember the staff who through the things that we provide are able to life their careers and their lives to heights they never thought possible

We need to remember the clients and stakeholders who get better quality of service and outcomes and walk away happy rather than disgruntled and take that happiness into other parts of their lives

And most importantly we need to remember that working in this sector more than many others gives us such an opportunity to have a real and lasting effect on the lives of others.

And I for one and grateful to have such a wonderful opportunity.

Learning in a digital ‘cyberpunk’ world #LRN2024

A lot of you have probably come across the concept of a brain/computer (wetware/hardware) interface which allows people learn new skills, obtain knowledge and interface directly with other systems through science fiction movies and novels (William Gibson’s work for example)  and recently there was a paper published which seems to show the first documented brain to brain interface.  After my recent post for #lrn2024 and  question from a friend of mine Eric, I started to think about the effects on this kind of process on learning and the acquisition on knowledge and skills.

Let me set the scene for you first and then we can begin to discuss what impacts these ideas may have.

Think about a world where the need to learn skills and obtain knowledge in a traditional manner is no longer necessary, rather when one needs a particular set of skills or knowledge one simply ‘installs’ in much like installing a new piece of software on a computer or perhaps more like running portable apps on a computer rather than installing anything, but both ideas tend to work in the same way though as we may see there may be more permanence in case than the other.  We might call this kind of learning, if we decide that it is in fact learning and not something else, Interface Learning, that is where skills or knowledge are acquired through the utilisation of some for of interface. So if we take something simple (though in true actually quite complex) like driving a car.  I have learnt to drive an automatic vehicle, however in a particular instance I need to drive a manual  vehicle, so I simply ‘chip’ the skills and knowledge into by brain through some kind of wetware/hardware interface (think a USB port just behind my ear) and I am able to drive the manual vehicle with the skill and precision of a formula one racing driver.  So what then happens when I no longer need to driver the vehicle?  Well there would seem to be two options;

  1. I could simply remove the ‘chip’ removing the skills and knowledge from my brain much like disconnecting a usb drive running portable apps, or
  2. The skills are installed in brain by the process and thus left there, much like installing software on to a computer

both of these options would, it seems, have advantages, so lets look quickly at the two options and then we can look at what I think the real problem that exists behind this sort of technology might be.  The advantages to the first option are simple and really the same as the disadvantages, I never actually need to know very much at all, I just need to have a sufficiently large cache of ‘chips’ to provide me with the skills and knowledge that I need for particular circumstances, perhaps even being able to ‘chip’ multiple sets of skills and knowledge at once to accomplish complex tasks or tasks requiring a wide range of skills and knowledge.  The advantage would be that I could spend my time occupying my brain with whatever I chose to do with it and not need to spend multiple years learning skills and obtaining knowledge.  Of course the disadvantage is that if there is a problem with ‘chip’ then there is a severe problem with my ability to do the things that I would need to do.   So maybe this is really an augmenting technology where skills that I don’t require often, or high specialised or complex are those that I would ‘chip’ in while more basic skills were learnt in a more traditional manner.

So lets look at the second option, where I install the skills and knowledge as I need them but they remain there like programs on a computer hard drive.  There seems to be less problems with this sort of option as, as with software I would simple need to ‘click’ on it and the skills would be available to be again, or once installed they would ‘run in the background’ much as skills and knowledge tend to do now.  Think about however, what happens with computers, and we could well say already happens with our brains currently, hard drives get full and we have to delete things (we forget or lose access to our memories), software and hardware are no longer compatible, files and systems get corrupted and no long work in way they originally did, if at all, and all of the programs running in the background fill up our available ram and all of our processes slow down or blue screen.

There is however to my mind another issue with all of these ideas and that is what happens to our skills and knowledge over time and where do new skills and knowledge come from.  If I no longer have to practice a skill or utilise my knowledge then it is liable I think to stagnate.  Take again the example of driving a car I have been driving a car for nearly 30 years, and my driving has changed substantially over that time, I am a far more competent driver now in a wider range of vehicles than I was when I was 18, and I have learnt things about driving in particular areas or circumstances which are particular to that area or circumstance.  If however, all I had ever done when I needed to drive a car was to chip the skills and knowledge, drive the car and then turn the knowledge off when I was finished, my knowledge of driving a car may be the same for the most part every time I drove, year after year, particularly if I only drive on limited occasions.  I am also faced with the issue of skills upgrades what if I want to drive better, drive a truck as well as a car, or a wide range of cars, with changing configurations, will the chip that I have be able to cope with all of these permutations, or will I need and upgrade as the years pass by to cope with the changing world.  There in also lies the other issue, if this ‘chipped’ learning becomes the predominant means of obtaining the skills to achieve tasks, then where will these skill upgrade come from, will there be artisans who specialise in developing skill sets in more traditional ways, so that this skill and knowledge can be copied and transferred to others.

I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this as it has started some deeper thinking for me on this idea of interface learning and skill acquisition.


On workforce participation and cycling to work

Now I freely admit that the title of this post might seen a bit strange at first, but bear with me as I am definitely  going somewhere with this

As a lot of my readers know I recently changed jobs and as part of this process was ‘unemployed’ for a short period of time.  One of the things about my new role is that it is substantially closer to home than my previous one was (under half the distance).  What this has allowed me to do is to begin to integrate some exercise back into my work day by riding to and from work.  Now I have driven the route that I take from home to work more times than I can count (some friends of ours live very near where I now work) and not once in all those drives did I ever take any notice of the fact that there are a number of long inclines along the way.  In the car I simply just didn’t notice them.  However the first time I rode to work I definitely did notice them.

So what does this all have to do with workforce participation and unemployment.  Well as I was riding along this morning I realised that my recent and fairly short lived, ‘between jobs’ time was in comparison to the experience of unemployment that a lot of people, particularly young people have, very much like the difference between driving a car and riding a bicycle to work.

My experience was very much like that of driving a good quality car, I had a strong engine (my qualifications, skills, experience), I was protected from the elements and comfortable (I own a house and have money in the bank and I got a pay out from my previous employment) and had plenty of room in the car for others (family, friend, referees, my network).  Riding a bike however is quite different, the engine is you and there is not additional horse power you can call upon to get up the hill, there is no protection from the elements (if it rains you are going to get wet), parts of you are always sore, and you really can’t fit anyone else on the bike with you, you are essentially all on your own.

This is unfortunately the experience of unemployment or looking for work that faces a lot of people, in particular those from generationally unemployed, very low socio-economic or low qualification households and even when they get a job, in a lot of cases the situation doesn’t change that much, they are still pedalling away on their bikes while you and I cruise past in our cars.

So as I rode along this morning I struggled to think  of some answers or suggestions to this problem (I don’t listen to music when I exercise I use the time to thing about things like this, weird isn’t it) while also thinking about what we are currently doing with our job services and employment agencies.  We can provide people with things like petrol or public transport funds to get to interviews, assist them with clothes to look the part and skills to meet the needs of the employer, but if working or becoming educated is not something that is reinforced at home, either actively or passively then even the most motivated person is still just pedalling away, sure they are going forward, but now where near as fast or a comfortably as I am in my car.

The problem is of course that , if it is raining, I am running late, or I just simply don’t feel like, I don’t have to ride, I have a choice.  I just grab my keys, jump in my car, and enjoy a relatively stress free drive to work.  However for others this is not the case, if it is raining they are going to get wet and there are only so many times people are going to get wet, particularly when there is not someone at home waiting for them with towel, before they decided to put the bike in the garage and give up on riding altogether.

You can take your Resilience and shove it!

Or how small things can radically alter training outcomes.

I am often amazed by how what seem like quite small things to us can be absolute deal breakers when it comes to student outcomes in training programs.  Let me give you an example we use the word Resilience, in a lot of our training and workshops, because well a lot of the work that we do is about or with people in crisis and how to assist them while at the same time looking after yourself appropriately.  This could be in the context of mental health, suicide, natural disasters anything really and up until recently the word resilience has never caused us any issues, or adversely effected the outcomes of training.  While working a group of people recently the word resilience and what it meant became a bit of a focal point and as a result we have altered a range of our training programs in response.

So what was the problem?  The problem was that this group and now several others has seen the word resilience as a cop-out, a way of saying, we are not going to actually do anything to help you because we you are ‘resilient’ enough to help yourselves.  The groups had heard the word so often and in so many context where it resulted in no assistance for them, that they had attached a very negative connotation to the word.  So much so in fact that a number of people who would have come to and greatly benefited from the workshop didn’t attend because the work resilience was used in the flyers and promotional materials.

This has really got me wondering though.  How often, despite our best efforts do the words we use in our promotional materials and our training and workshops, have a very different meaning for other, than they do for us and is there any way for us deal with this.  I am not suggesting that we should try and craft the universal, inoffensive language for training, because usually where I have seen attempts at this (read most things written with extreme political correctness) the meaning and importance is lost and I think even less people end up being engaged.  What I am suggesting though is that I think this happens more often than we think, it is just that most of the time people dont say anything at least not publicly, they just say to themselves and their friends, ‘Ah they just banged on about resilience again, same as the last lot,’ and they and their friends and acquaintances never come back.

I would be really interested in hearing if anyone else has had a similar experience.  it would also be great to hear any ideas that people have about how they got over this type of thing.

Workforce participation, Training for the long term unemployed and the needs of industry.

I attended a very interesting breakfast earlier in the week, (thanks to the wonderful people at Busy@work)  where the central topic of discussion was around the subject of how to better unemployed and underemployed people with industry needs in order to facilitate meaningful return to employment.  Aside from a range of other issues that were discussed one thing that was raised a number of times was the gap between the skill level of, in particular long-term unemployed, and to be even more particular long-term unemployed youth, and the skill needs of industry and business.

So I got to thinking what are those basic skills that employers, large or small, need job seekers, particularly those coming from medium to long-term unemployment to have, in order for the employer to feel comfortable employing them initially and to retain them.  so I have come up with a list of what I think those really, really basic skills are, so here goes:

  1. Punctuality – The ability to be at work and ready to start work, at the time their day/shift/whatever begins.  I was always taught when I was young and in my first couple of jobs, both when I was at high school and in the workforce, that you should be there 10-15 minutes before your starting time so that you were ready and able to start work on time.
  2. Appropriate clothing and accessory choices – All work places have rules and expectations, some safety related, some organisational and culturally related.  Insisting that you wear a long sleeve shirt,  that your uniform is clean and or ironed, that you removed some of your piercings, are not unreasonable requests.  when I was in the police force in the very early days of my career (it was my first job) our Senior Sargent used to check our uniforms, shoes etc, to make sure that we looked professional and well turned out before we went out in public, representing the organisation.
  3. Basic maths – If you cant figure out that $1.60 is the out of $10.00 when I purchase an $8.40 item, without the use of a cash register or calculator, then you probably shouldn’t be working in a role that requires basic maths, and it shouldn’t be up to an employer to give you training in basic maths.
  4. Basic appropriate communication/language skills – I am not suggesting that new job seekers  or those returning from long-term unemployment need to have the communications skills of senior executive or master facilitator, but they do need to be able to talk to customers, in a polite, respectful, understandable manner.
  5. Basic customer service skills – I don’t care what job you are in, you have customers, they might be internal or external, but you have them, everyone needs to have some level of customer service skills, even if it is don’t swear at the customer when they ask you a question, because it drags you away from your txt/facebook conversation.
  6. Basic understanding of business – Really all I am saying here is understand that a business is not going to change its policy on facial piercing, simply because it is your preference to have a three-inch, pointed, metal stud protruding from the center of your forehead.  It is an understanding that they work for someone else and that working there comes with a set of rules and expectations,both from the business and from the clients of the business.

Now certainly there are going to be roles out there that are appropriate for the groups of people that I am talking about here that require, different or higher levels of skills to the ones listed, but for most entry-level positions, having these six basic skills, place those candidates head and shoulders above all of the others.

How do we give youth, long-term unemployed and other groups, these skills.  Is it something that young people should have been taught at school,  (particularly maths and communications), or come from parents and role models (punctuality and politeness), some of it should and for those that have it, it probably has.  Unfortunately though, for some long-term unemployed, whether they are in the youth demographic or not, even if they did have these skills at some point (and a lot of them probably didn’t), they have dissipated with lack of use over time.

The bigger issue for me, (and this seemed to be a bit of a theme at the breakfast) is how do we teach these people these skills.  In Australia we have government-funded organisations, whose roll it is to assist people with entering or reentering the workforce, particularly those who have been unemployed for a significant period of time, but still we seem to have this situation where candidates turn up for interviews and ongoing employment without even the basic skills i have listed and then we wonder why business and employers either don’ take them on in the first place or only retain them for a short period of time.

I would really like to hear what people think, both about my basics skills list and any ideas about how we might better be able to increase these skills in the people that need them most.

Mobile Learning; Some thoughts and conversation

I seem to be having a lot of conversations with people about mobile learning recently. 

Everyone seems to be saying it is the next big thing, it will change the way in which we learn and organisations need to embrace it.  Seems a lot like the same language people are using about MOOC’s and that e-learning evangelists have been banging on with for what seems for ever now.  Sorry but I do get a little bit tired of people banging on endlessly about how this new great thing is going to change the way in which we train people, that traditional face to face learning is dead and we need to embrace whatever this new thing is.

Now don’t get me wrong I love technology, probably more than I should, I have a house full of apple, android and windows devices, desktops, laptops, tablets and phones all of which I use continually for various purposes, including online and mobile learning, both synchronous and asynchronous.   I love the idea of I-tunes U and the like which gives me the ability to download and listen or watch a course or lecture when I want.  But, that is my personal learning and I going to sit on the train or the bus into work and watch some organisational training on my iPad or my android phone, ummmmm probably not, because I would rather sit at my desk with my headphone and substantially larger than 10 inch monitor and comfortable chair.  Am I going to access it at home, again probably not, for the same reasons and more, namely I am at home with my family and relaxing.  If I didn’t have a desktop or laptop would that change things, to some extent, but I would still primarily only access the training at work.

Another issue raised time and time again in organisations (non-technology based ones at least) is that of why should I use my data to access organisational training.  Now if we were somewhere where there was less limited/costly mobile data or more widespread easily accessible and free wifi, this may not be the case, but we aren’t.  Even if we were however the questions still to me has some validity, why should I utilise a data connection that I pay for to access training provided by the organisation I work for.  Should it not be the case that the organisation has a responsibility to provide me with the tools necessary to access the training within work time from work equipment.

And finally, despite what the evangelists will try and tell us, there are some things you simply can’t deliver in an online environment.  It just doesn’t work for everything and further does watching a quick simulation of how to do a task on my smartphone, just before I actually have to undertake the task actually teach me anything, or am I just going to have to watch it again the next time I want to do the same task.

Anyway Just some thoughts.

Accountability, Innovation, Agility and the skills Gap

So yesterday I went to a fantastic presentation from Denise Myerson and the MCI Team including the wonderful Natasha Wright about their recent

trip to the recent SHRM Conference in the US and the themes and trends that came out of it.  The four major themes (see the title of this blog post) were

  1. Accountability
  2. Innovation
  3. Agility
  4. Skills Gap

Now what I found really interesting about the afternoon was the fact that these four issues or challenges if you will resonate quite strongly both personally and organisationally, in particularly agility and the skills gaps.  When I look at the way the landscape has changed over the last few years, in the not-for-profit and government sectors, in Learning and Development and HR and in the business world in general, Accountability and the ability to respond in an Agile manner to the myriad of challenges which face us every day do call for innovative solutions.  The real problem I see is the skills gap, when I look at the health and community services sector, the mining and industry sectors we are all crying out for staff who have the right skills, attributes and behaviours to meet the needs of industry, particularly at entry level positions, and in highly technical areas.

We seem to have a situation at least in my opinion where we have plenty of  people who skills that are not relevant to the needs of industry, who aren’t interested in entry level positions, who are unwilling to do something that is outside of their vocation or to be retrained and we seem to pander to these attitudes.   If we don’t find ways to address the skills gap, if we don’t have people with the right skills and behaviours in the right roles then how can we possibly hope to respond in Accountable, innovative and agile ways to the next challenge that comes along.

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