Why more companies are sending new hires straight to the metaverse for improved onboarding

What will you learn on your first day at work in the metaverse? 

This year, some 150,000 joiners will begin their careers at Accenture in the company’s virtual campus, called the Nth Floor, according to Allison Horn, the company’s executive director of global talent, based in Washington DC.

The Nth Floor is where new hires and existing Accenture staff “can have a more immersive experience for learning and networking,” said Jon Ayres, U.K. managing director for talent and organization at the company. It is one of a growing list of examples showcasing how employers are using pioneering technology to attract and retain top talent. 

Given the tussle for top talent and the need for greater connection with colleagues in the age of hybrid working, Ayres predicts that companies will “experiment with new technology so employees can collaborate in a more meaningful way, which will advance the virtual working tools used widely today.” His statement is supported by new McKinsey research, published mid-June, which calculates metaverse spending will hit $5 trillion by 2030.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in June 2022 – to read the complete piece please click HERE.

Bookshelf: Lynda Gratton on why design is central to making hybrid returns work for everyone

Hundreds if not thousands of organizations have revealed their hybrid working strategies in the last few weeks, with varying volumes of fanfare. Clearly, these plans are works in progress, given the colossal shift — for many — from the old normal. And it’s also apparent that there is no blueprint for success. Or is there?

Lynda Gratton, a professor of management practice at London Business School and the founder of HSM, the future-of-work research consultancy, is known for her work on organizational behavior. And in her latest book, “Redesigning Work: How to Transform Your Organization and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone,” she offers a four-step process to success: understand what matters: reimagine the future, model and test and, finally, act and create. But perhaps the most crucial advice is delivered in the book’s dedication: “To all those who are bold enough to redesign work.” 

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in April 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

Meet Homeboy Industries: the California not-for-profit providing jobs to former gang members and incarcerated people

Jose Guevara — aka Manny — has been incarcerated five times and in all, has served about 25 years. However, in recent years, Guevara, now 62, has steered clear of trouble, which he credits to his employer, Homeboy Electronics Recycling, where he works as a long-haul driver. 

“I’m the main driver of the big truck,” he says with a grin. “I’ve been to Utah, San Francisco, and Sacramento, and I love that this company trusts me with its truck and merchandise. We are growing, and I’m so proud to be part of it. Without my work here, there is a high chance I would be back in prison right now.”

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in December 2021 – to continue reading please click here.

How companies are tapping avatars, virtual spaces to introduce new hires to their colleagues and cultures

The digital world, where hybrid working is increasingly the norm, can be a lonely place — especially when joining an organization or learning a new skill for career development. To solve this challenge, companies are reaching for their virtual and augmented reality headsets and taking the plunge with immersive training.

One such organization is HubSpot. The customer relationship management company is trialing VR remote office tours and using it to present employees with an “immersive and unique look” into HubSpot’s remote community. “The VR platform allows employees to build an avatar, walk around the virtual space, and even hear other employee voices — connecting in real-time, as you would in an office setting,” said Hubspot’s Boston-based culture manager Meaghan Williams.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in December 2021 – to continue reading please click here.

Inside the St Andrews success story: how Prince William’s university became the best in the land

There’s nothing like studying alongside a Duke for a memorable student experience – but there’s more to my alma mater than Royal approval

My alma mater, the University of St Andrews, found on a picturesque coastal stretch of east Fife, has always been my number one. But the ‘auld grey toon’ has now also been named top in a prominent university guide – bettering the Oxbridge duopoly for the first time in nearly 30 years of the award’s history.

In a stroke of incredible fortune almost exactly 20 years ago, my first tutorial group, led by the urbane Prof Brendan Cassidy, was composed of me, seven female students and a certain male Royal. We became pals; he played in my Sunday league football team (The Strokers), and I attended his 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle.

Granted, there’s nothing like studying alongside Prince William to make for a wildly enjoyable student experience, but St Andrews possesses an unparalleled allure and long history that help boost the “student satisfaction” rating as assessed by the judges.

Before the heir to the throne and his future wife enrolled, people thought of St Andrews primarily as the home of golf. And before that, almost a millennium ago, it was the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland with a magnificent cathedral and one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe. The big draw was that it was supposed to be the resting place of Andrew the Apostle’s bones, from which it takes its name. 

The town flourished thanks to pilgrim footfall. Scotland’s oldest university (and third in the English-speaking world behind Oxford and Cambridge) was founded in 1413, some 341 years before The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews was established. 

However, the complexion of the town was scarred following the violent Scottish Reformation in the mid-16th century. The Martyrs Memorial stands proud on the Scores, overlooking the sea – and close to where I lived in my final year. 

One wonders what those martyrs and Saint Andrew would have made of the confident young men, with pink trousers and upturned collars, and plummy-voiced, wannabe princesses I studied with in the early noughties. 

However, on the face of it, St Andrews is a bizarre choice for further education. Firstly, it is small – students make up around half of the town’s 18,390 population – and has just three main streets. Secondly, there is no nightclub, although arguably the annual Raisin Weekend, which culminates in a drunken foam party for freshers on the main quadrangle, makes up for that. Plus there’s always Dundee for dancing – just a 30-minute taxi ride away.

But there is so much to this tiny town, which is flanked by two long, sandy beaches – West Sands (where the opening shots of Chariots of Fire were filmed) and East Sands. With its world-class teaching and stunning surroundings, the university offers a powerful proposition, according to Lord Knight – former chief education adviser to Tes Global – who adds that its diminutive size can sometimes be part of its appeal. “Students like the human scale of a small university in a small place,” he says. “St Andrews is doing well by focusing on what counts: teaching quality and student satisfaction.

“Tuition is relatively well resourced in a great environment that makes for strong engagement and excellent outcomes. Fuse that with a rich history, international outlook and subject strengths in fields that are important to the economy, and you have a winning combination.”

Indeed, the latest rankings show St Andrews tops the charts in the UK for seven subjects: computer science, business management, English (for which straight As are now required), philosophy, physics and astronomy, Middle East and African studies, and international relations. 

That the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are alumni has raised its profile and made it a more desirable place to study and teach. And despite its storied history, the university’s progressive and proactive approach to supporting the wellbeing of students has impressed. For example, its Can Do initiative – a joint strategy between the university and the Students’ Association – was started primarily to reimagine, experiment with and contribute to the St Andrews student experience.

Set up in October 2020, it has provided “space for students and staff to have normal interactions and social activities” even during the pandemic, says Lottie Doherty, president of the St Andrews Students’ Association. A marquee was set up and they organised outdoor socials such as a pier walk. Where possible, in-person teaching has happened for the past year.

Lord Knight believes this bold and brave approach to engage students, which was a stark contrast to the prison-like experiences of students at many other universities in the last year, has been rightly applauded. “The student satisfaction ratings have strengthened during Covid against a backdrop of many young people nationally struggling with mental health, and students questioning the value for money of online tuition,” he continues.

Professor Sally Mapstone, principal and vice-chancellor of the university, is revelling in the news, understandably. “As one community, we constantly strive for excellence, and have a strategy that hasn’t been afraid to believe St Andrews could challenge at the very top by combining the best teaching, world-leading research, and an unswerving commitment to student satisfaction and achievement,” she says.

Whether or not St Andrews is better than studying at Oxbridge is a moot point. Echoing Dame Mary Beard’s comments that we would do well not to be “fixated” by Oxford and Cambridge, Lord Knight adds: “Culturally, our country is over-obsessed with Oxbridge. St Andrews is an example of the strength and depth we have elsewhere in research, in teaching and in delivering for students the experience they need to be successful adults.”

The auld grey toon will always win for me. It has provided a vibrant life and career, and I’m grateful to have studied there two decades ago – not least because I wouldn’t have had the grades to attend the UK’s new top university today.

This piece was originally published in The Telegraph in September 2021

Silver surfers ride the digital learning wave

Record numbers of baby boomers and older retirees are enjoying the manifold benefits of taking online courses

The proverb “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is barking up the wrong tree in 2021. Record numbers of baby boomers, aged between 57 and 75, and older retirees, including care home residents, are taking advantage of digital technologies to acquire novel skills and develop hobbies. In droves, they are turning on, logging in and not dropping out. 

The enforced lockdowns of the last year have accelerated this trend. Silver web surfers, unable to hug friends and family, have had the time, confidence and access to technology to embrace digital learning. Indeed, 41 per cent of people in the UK over 55 said they were comfortable learning a new digital skill during lockdown, according to BT research. 

Moreover, older generations are expressing a greater thirst for knowledge when compared to younger cohorts. The 2020 LinkedIn Opportunity Index suggested that not only are baby boomers more willing to welcome change (84 per cent) than millennials (74 per cent) and members of Generation Z (72 per cent), they are also more likely to invest time in learning transferable skills (78 per cent) than the two other groups (72 and 74 per cent, respectively).

Rocketing interest in online groups provided by the University of the Third Age (u3a), whose network has expanded to almost 500,000 older adults no longer working full time, supports this data. A year ago, with members forced to stay at home in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus, the UK-wide charity, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2022, pivoted online, establishing Trust u3a. 

“We’ve been excited to see huge numbers of members embracing digital learning and turning to online and social media, sometimes for the first time, to keep their interest groups going,” says Sam Mauger, chief executive of u3a.

Online learning opens minds and virtual doors

Trust u3a’s online offering has attracted hundreds of new members and spawned more than 80 online groups and courses, ranging from Japanese to birds of prey, from cooking to painting. “Digital technology has empowered us to keep learning and active, and allowed us to remain connected with one other,” says Mauger. 

“Instead of meeting face to face, photography groups can share images on WhatsApp, ukulele players have turned to Twitch to make music together and ballroom dancers are using Zoom to show off their moves.”

She plans to adopt a blended learning model when lockdown restrictions lift, as going digital has opened minds and virtual doors. “It has removed geographical barriers and enabled members to expand their learning and forge new relationships across the movement, from Scotland to Cornwall,” she says.

Discovering new interests and friends is one of the biggest pluses of digital learning for retirees, according to Amanda Rosewarne, business psychologist and co-founder of the Professional Development Consortium, which accredits online courses. “By learning via live online classes, you can interact with others who may also be feeling isolated and lonely,” she says. 

Elderly students enjoy several other benefits. “Studies show that learning new things triggers serotonin release in the brain, which is akin to the effect of antidepressants,” says Rosewarne. 

Further, a 2017 study for Age UK, Europe’s largest charity supporting older people, found that keeping the mind active can prevent age-related conditions, such as dementia. Committed learning, rather than crosswords or sudoku puzzles, is most effective, though.

Thanks to a variety of user-friendly devices and online courses, picking up a language, for instance, has never been easier or more convenient for retirees willing to enter the digital classroom. 

Trust issues: beware scammers

Birmingham-based septuagenarian John Bishop has attended a Greek class for years. Soon after his course went online in the autumn, with lessons conducted on Zoom, he “took the plunge” and bought a smartphone. Technology is not all Greek to Bishop now; all that is required to join his group is the click of a hotlink. “The ease of access and ease of use are key for my generation when it comes to online learning,” he says. “My advice is keep it simple and provide non-bot help.”

While Bishop is delighted that his lessons can continue online, he is looking forward to returning to in-person sessions. “Zoom is not superior to live lessons,” he says. “Video conferencing requires more concentrated eye focus, because all you are seeing is the screen rather than a room, and student interaction is less fluid. It also lacks the ancillary benefits, like the exercise of walking to and from the class.”

Sarah-Jane McQueen, general manager of CoursesOnline.co.uk, argues the convenience of online learning is hugely appealing to elderly students. “Rather than having to get up early and travel a sizeable distance to learn,” she says, “users can now get the same experience from the comfort of their own home and at a time that suits them, allowing them to easily balance learning around their daily schedules.”

However, McQueen notes the surging popularity of online courses for retirees has not gone unnoticed by those seeking to make quick money. “Particularly since lockdown, there has been a rise in the number of fraudulent courses being offered by scammers who are looking to profit from people’s willingness to learn,” she warns. 

“To help address these concerns, providers should make a concerted effort to highlight the feedback and reviews they’ve obtained from previous users that can work as testimonials which assure new users they are legitimate.”

Building trust so older people feel comfortable online, and don’t get left in the wake of technology, is vital. Pleasingly, there is now a vast number of online resources and initiatives designed to boost digital literacy among the elderly. For example, Barclays’ Digital Eagles scheme, launched in 2013, has delivered digital skills training to staff and residents in more than 500 UK care homes.

“There are many retirees who have achieved great things thanks to digital learning, often in fields that were perhaps far removed from what their previous careers encompassed,” McQueen adds. 

Clearly, a more apposite idiom for 2021 is “you are never too old to learn” and, with easy-to-use digital technology, there is no obstacle to becoming a very mature student.

This article first appeared in Raconteur’s Digital Learning report, published as a supplement in The Times in March 2021

Are boring jobs a thing of the past thanks to technology?

Technology has the ability to rid employees of repetitive, mind-numbing tasks, but it will be up to organisations to ensure workers’ adapted roles are challenging and rewarding enough to keep them engaged

Will it soon be impossible to have a wholly boring job, given the gallop of automation and artificial intelligence? Already, technological capabilities enable workers, across the gamut of business sectors, to relinquish repetitive, menial tasks and use that clawed-back time to focus on more exciting and engaging endeavours.

Perhaps it was a surprise when, in June, a French court ruled that Frédéric Desnard’s former employer, a perfume business, should pay him €40,000 after his mental health deteriorated due to “boreout”, the antithesis of burnout. Under closer inspection, though, Desnard’s unfortunate mismanagement was the result of strict legislation that complicates the redundancy process in France. French employment law needs updating, evidently.

Consider that by 2030 up to one fifth of the global workforce, or 800 million people, will see their jobs replaced by robotic automation, according to an oft-quoted McKinsey & Company report from November 2017.

This headline figure fails to account for all the new, and more exciting, roles that technology will create in the coming decade. The key takeaway for business leaders, though, should be that it is crucial to invest in employees or risk paying a higher price for not evolving boring jobs. Employers that narrow the digital skills gap and help human and machine work side by side will gain a competitive advantage.

Autonomy is critical to interesting jobs 

Psychologist Portia Hickey, co-creator of the Smart Collaboration Accelerator, posits the model presented in the mid-1970s by organisational psychologists Greg Oldham and Richard Hackman still remains the blueprint for job design today. “They identified the significance of the job, being able to see the outcome of their work, variety, autonomy and feedback were all key,” she says.

“Jobs are generally becoming more interesting, partly because organisations are more aware of job design, but also because technology can take over highly repetitive, lower-skilled work. However, what makes a job more enjoyable is autonomy.”

The gathering of knowledge allied with autonomy is the perfect combination to motivate workers, according to Karthik Krishnan, chief executive of Britannica Group. “Learning happens when one is stretched outside one’s comfort zone,” he says. “Dopamine is the brain’s reward system and is secreted when accomplishing a challenging task. If the task is too challenging or not challenging enough, negative emotions set in, such as stress, apathy and boredom.”

Krishnan, who lists TikTok content creator, drone operator and driverless car engineer among the most exciting jobs spawned by tech recently, also notes that people’s boredom threshold has never been lower. “The ‘always-on’ mode, the 24/7 information flow and stimulation lead to constant distraction and craving for newness,” he says.

Employers should “design jobs and identify the right talent to be successful”, says Krishnan, adding that it is vital to understand a worker’s ikigai – a Japanese expression that translates loosely as “reason for being” – to keep them engaged and happy.

How tech is improving employee happiness

He says the ultimate goal is to create a culture where employees feel inspired, challenged and empowered. “The good news is that today, technology increasingly performs jobs that are well-defined, regimented and repetitive, thus reducing boring and risky jobs. From taxi drivers to shop workers to soldiers, the range of traditional jobs that will decline or disappear is huge,” says Krishnan.

Research published in September by multinational software company Pegasystems suggests intelligent automation has a critical role to play in crafting a new, tech-enabled, post-pandemic future of work. The global study surveyed more than 3,000 global senior managers and frontline IT staff, and 76 per cent agreed that increased use of tech is improving employee satisfaction, says Pegasystems’ chief technology officer Don Schuerman.

Technology increasingly performs jobs that are well-defined, regimented and repetitive, thus reducing boring and risky jobs

Further, more than half of the surveyed UK businesses (51 per cent) say intelligent automation currently saves them over ten working hours per person a week, freeing up roughly a quarter of their time. And with that available time, the top-three activities are working alongside machines, engaging more with customers and innovating. “What this study makes clear is that technology is one of the top trends shaping the future of work,” says author and futurist Jacob Morgan.

Research presented by robotic process automation (RPA) leader UiPath supports this insight. “Some 35 per cent of UK workers believed that automation would deliver more interesting and creative jobs for future generations,” says Chris Duddridge, UiPath area vice president and managing director in the UK and Ireland. He offers UiPath’s work with Brent Council’s housing benefits departments as an example to highlight how RPA “cuts out the dull parts”.

Making ‘mind-numbing’ tasks history

Before embracing RPA, all rent adjustments had to be uploaded manually on to the system. “It was described as ‘mind numbing’,” says Duddridge. “A single rent change that could take a staff member over four minutes manually now takes fewer than 40 seconds. The council estimates that this automation alone has saved it over £32,000 in the overtime costs needed to ensure deadlines were hit.”

Having the right tech is paramount for workers’ happiness. In a new Freshworks study, some 82 per cent of business leaders around the world acknowledge that how their workplace tech performs is imperative to engage employees. “This is especially true now in the time of home working,” says Arun Mani, president of Freshworks Europe. “Not having the necessary IT services on hand in the same building means businesses need to ensure their technology works and provides a flawless experience for users.”

Alarmingly, the Freshworks research also found 77 per cent of employees will look for a new employer if their current job does not provide the tools, technology or information they need to perform.

Workplace tech

It’s not all about tech, though. A balance must be struck and leaders have to understand what motivates individuals. “You have to foster a culture where employees feel comfortable talking about what they need and want,” says Nabila Salem, president at Revolent Group, who recommends holding regular one-to-one meetings.

Organisations unprepared for mass remote working when lockdown was enforced in March are playing catch up in terms of engaging staff, particularly new hires, says Charlie Johnson, founder and chief executive of BrighterBox, a London-based recruitment firm. “A lack of contact time or on-the-fly coaching has left a few joiners feeling lost, unable to ask simple questions,” he says.

Creating the best environment for employee success

Janine Chamberlin, director at LinkedIn, agrees and points to her company’s research that shows 75 per cent of UK C-level executives say workers now expect greater availability and transparency from leaders. “This closer connection is a great way to engage employees, motivate them to achieve their potential and keep them focused on business goals,” she says.

You have to foster a culture where employees feel comfortable talking about what they need and want

“Great employers recognise the importance of change and present opportunities for internal mobility and skills development so employees can benefit from a new experience and progress in their career.”

This chimes with Erica Brescia, chief operating officer of leading software development platform GitHub. “Forward-thinking companies have found new ways to drive employee engagement beyond activities and modes of working that are tied to physical offices,” she says. “They adapt how they operate to support a distributed team, from changing how they communicate to how they track, manage and report on projects.

“They move from highly synchronous ways of working to more asynchronous and collaborative work. And they encourage team camaraderie through virtual activities, such as quizzes, scavenger hunts, cooking classes and happy hours.”

Looking ahead, Brescia concludes: “The new future of work is not dependent on office locations or physical workspaces, but rather on adapting to new ways of getting work done to provide employees with the best environment for their success.”

The article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Work and Collaboration report in September 2020

Educating children for the jobs of the future

In an uncertain world, the only certainty is change, so young people should be taught how to adapt in a constantly changing working environment

By 2030, robots, artificial intelligence, automatons, call them what you like, will have displaced up to 800 million workers or one fifth of the global workforce, according to McKinsey Global Institute. The inexorable and exponential march of technology will create new jobs, experts assure us, but what are those roles likely to be and how should we prepare?

It’s important to equip young people with foundational skills that will stand them in good stead regardless of what jobs they end up taking on

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018, estimates that by 2022 “no less than 54 per cent of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling”. The report adds: “Human skills, such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving.”

What skills should we be teaching children in schools? 

How about in 2032, or 2042, and beyond? What tools should we be arming today’s children with so they stand a chance of surviving the world or work in one or two decades from now? “Many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching ‘the four Cs’ – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity,” Yuval Noah Harari writes in his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

In a chapter entitled Education: Change is the only constant, Professor Harari continues: “More broadly, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasise general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations.”

Lord Jim Knight, chief education adviser at Tes Global, a network for educational professionals, strongly believes traditional curricula need to be overhauled in the UK. Moreover, young people should be allowed to play for as many years as possible because they will learn and develop skills that will be essential to flourish at work and home in the coming years.

“In Scandinavia, children attend school from the age of six and in many ways I think that is the sensible thing to do,” he says. “In Britain, we have a parental expectation for our children to be taught formal skills, such as reading and writing, earlier.”

Lord Knight contends that many secondary schools “are stuck in formal pedagogies” and must introduce more play-based learning, through projects. He asks: “Why wouldn’t we want kids to learn by building stuff, making things and being assessed by exhibiting work, rather than doing everything through formal desk-based exams?”

New schools teaching children to be ready for change 

Attitudes are changing, albeit slowly. Lord Knight welcomes the opening of two free schools, in Bournemouth and west London, that are the brainchild of Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and the inventor of Lara Croft of the video game franchise Tomb Raider. They offer “a groundbreaking curriculum relevant to the digital age,” according to the Livingston Academy’s website. Elsewhere, Gever Tulley’s Brightworks in San Francisco is a school that “reimagines education by taking the best practices from both early-childhood education and hands-on, project-based experiential learning”.

“We can’t know for sure what skills children will require for the future, but what we can be confident of is that change, and thus the need to adapt, will be an ongoing and increasingly important aspect,” says Peter Twining, professor of education futures at The Open University.

“Flexibility and resilience, and learning to learn will all be critical. Therefore, play – an important element of how humans, and other mammals, learn – is vital. Digital technology can be a powerful tool to support children’s learning if used appropriately, too.”

The amount of device screen time youngsters should be afforded for learning is hotly debated, however. “In Silicon Valley, there are boutique schools attended by the princes and princesses of tech giants that keep the children away from anything digital,” says Sir Nigel Shadbolt, co-founder and chairman of the Open Data Institute.

Tech and play could be the secret to equipping children for future jobs

Efforts have been made to gamify learning for digital natives in recent times, with varying degrees of success, but one standout triumph is Raspberry Pi Foundation, which has developed a series of small, single-board computers to promote teaching of basic computer science, as well as innovation in schools and developing countries.

Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi’s Cambridge University-educated chief executive, believes introducing children to tech, ideally through play, is critical to their future success. “You don’t make a concert pianist by sitting someone down at a piano at the age of 18,” he argues. “It’s important to reach children as early as possible, while their brains are still flexible.

“At school, the emphasis needs to be on foundational skills: numeracy, literacy and critical thinking. We advocate for computing education in part because it’s a great way for students to gain those foundational skills in an enjoyable, relevant way.

“It’s absolutely not about trying to guess which programming language is going to be required by employers in 20 years’ time and drilling children in that; cross-training to specific technology is down to employers and employees.

“It’s a truism that in the future workers will have to be prepared for roles to change radically over the course of a career. The days of a job for life, and of a single programme of education and training that fits you for that job, are gone. This is why it’s important to equip young people with foundational skills that will stand them in good stead regardless of what jobs they end up taking on.”

Learning through play

It is not just children who learn through play; adults do as well. In this period of seismic workforce transformation, wrought by technology’s unstoppable progression, retraining and mastering new skills will be imperative – and not just in the future, but now.

Indeed, data literacy is fast becoming a desirable facet for members of the C-suite and business leaders of the near future. “Half of the world’s data to ever exist was created in 2017 and only 0.8 per cent of it was analysed,” says Amanda Clack, head of strategic consulting at real estate group CBRE. “The potential is huge. We are only limited by our imagination.”

The Open Data Institute (ODI) has created an educational strategy board game to help people, old and young, better understand data and open their minds to data-driven innovation. Datopolis is the brainchild of ODI chief executive Jeni Tennison and former ODI colleague Ellen Broad.

“We wanted to build a game about data and data infrastructure, and help people understand their roles in making the most of data,” Dr Tennison says. “Players need to work together in Datopolis – negotiate whether to open or close data – to achieve common and individual goals. In addition to learning about data, players are encouraged to collaborate and communicate – both essential skills for the future. It’s great fun, too.”

Dr Tennison spent 18 months fine-tuning the game with her team, which included the ODI’s ex-head of learning Simon Bullmore, before launching in 2016. Mr Bullmore has since founded a data literacy and digital marketing organisation, Mission Drive, and regularly uses Datopolis as a learning tool.

“Whether it’s travelling to work or analysing sales performance, we rely on data to get answers to complex problems and make better decisions,” he says. “To thrive in an increasingly data-driven world, leaders need to understand important concepts like data strategy and data infrastructure. But these concepts are abstract, difficult to grasp, let alone take action on.

Datopolis gives people the experience of creating economic, social and environmental value with data. Participants of all ages and all levels of experience tell us it has helped them understand data concepts they had previously had difficulty grasping, for example that data infrastructure is about the data itself, not the cables and computers that connect data together.”

Stressing how learning through play is effective for everyone, he concludes: “Research shows that, at any age, games do a better job of activating the cognitive functions that help us learn than standard approaches to training. This gets people engaged and ready to learn, which in itself is valuable, but for data literacy it’s essential, because getting value from data requires people to think and do things differently.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Work report in December 2018

Invest in employee training before it’s too late

The nationwide lockdowns, enforced to limit the deadly dissemination of COVID-19, sparked explosions in digital transformation and home-working trends across the globe. Digital transformation, though, is not deployed once: it’s an ongoing strategic campaign.

Technology and people are the two drivers powering successful digital transformation. Yet myopic business leaders, bedazzled by tech, risk forgetting the latter. Investing in staff training is critical. Moreover, it’s a win-win situation.

“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” Henry Ford, the founder of the eponymous automotive giant and architect of the assembly line technique of mass production, died 73 years ago, but his words live on with matured meaning.

Encouraging employees to re-skill, or up-skill, emphasises a level of care and commitment towards them, at this time of acute vulnerability. If left unchecked, automation advancements and coronavirus’ long shadow are enough to disable anyone’s career. While investment in staff training boosts morale and, in turn, productivity, it also helps better future-proof an organisation and narrows the chasmal skills gap.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018 laid bare the need to learn new talents to thrive in tomorrow’s workplace. Analytical thinking and innovation will be most desired in the 2022 skills outlook; manual dexterity, endurance and precision will be the first shown the door.

Further, the researchers calculated that on average employees will require 101 days of retraining and upskilling from 2018 to 2022 as “emerging skills gaps – both among individual workers and among companies’ senior leadership – may significantly obstruct [organisations’] transformation management”.

MANIFOLD BENEFITS OF INVESTING IN EMPLOYEE TRAINING

“On the one hand, businesses must retain and retrain their workforce to keep up with as well as take advantage of a constant stream of innovations,” says Anthony Tattersall, head of EMEA at online learning platform Coursera, which has generated more than 25 million enrolments since mid-March – a 520 per cent rise from the same period last year. “On the other hand, individuals must keep pace with a constant stream of innovations that hybridise and alter jobs.”

Last year the Office for National Statistics predicted 1.5 million jobs in England are at “high risk of being automated in the future”. Mr Tattersall continues: “Many jobs will slip away, but increased productivity will mean that many more new jobs will replace them – across all industries. These jobs are at risk of going unfilled if we don’t adapt to a new way of thinking about education and learning new skills throughout a lifetime.”

There are manifold benefits of investing in employee training, states Mr Tattersall. Funded learning improves staff engagement and empowerment, and helps facilitate the transition to remote working. It also enhances the emotional wellbeing of employees. “The act of learning helps cope with stress,” he says, noting the average age of a learner on the Coursera enterprise platform globally is 29.

But with business leaders struggling to cope with the onslaught of disruption wrought by COVID-19, is enough being done to protect future careers?

D2L published research in June that showed almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of learning and development (L&D) professionals believe the rise of automation and artificial intelligence is having “a serious effect on their workforce”. While 59 per cent have subsequently evolved their L&D programmes, the same percentage of employees don’t believe these challenges can be met with the current offering.

COLLABORATION AND A CONTINUOUS LEARNING CULTURE

“There is not only a mismatch between employees’ and L&D leaders’ views on the skills crisis,” says Alan Hiddleston, D2L’s director of corporate learning EMEA, “but it would seem that many organisations do not offer engaging learning opportunities that actively encourage personal development and ‘enable’ their workforce to continue to test themselves.

“To deliver effective L&D solutions, there needs to be greater collaboration among departments. Establishing a continuous learning culture is key.”

LinkedIn’s Leading with Learning report, also launched in June, presents a more positive conclusion. Some 76 per cent of L&D professionals in the United Kingdom say that more chief executives are now “actively championing the development of their workforce” since the COVID-19 outbreak – up from 28 per cent in a comparable study conducted in October.

“The coronavirus pandemic has forced many companies to pause hiring,” says Namrata Murlidhar, director at LinkedIn Learning, “and instead focus on helping their existing employees adapt to the ‘new normal’ and develop skills that will be crucial to future growth.”

So-called MOOCs (massive online course platforms) – including Mr Tattersall’s Coursera and Udemy – have stepped up. “The online learning world is now overflowing with courses on pretty much any topic from a professional or personal standpoint,” says Amanda Rosewarne, business psychologist and co-founder of the Professional Development Consortium, which accredits online courses. “Cost-effective online training is disrupting the world of education. Prior to COVID-19, it was estimated that the e-learning industry would be worth $325 billion by 2025. This is likely to have quadrupled since lockdown.”

Ms Rosewarne urges caution when selecting online courses, as many are scams, but says: “With barriers to entry being low, millions of people across the globe are beginning to share their knowledge with the world. The online learning boom shows that people are thirsty for knowledge.”

RISE OF BLENDED LEARNING FOR A LIFE-JOURNEY

Martin Raymond, co-founder of strategic foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory, argues that learning was due a shakeup. “If you could time-port a university professor from the 19th century to today they would think few things have changed,” he says, referencing the youth of students and the hierarchical system. “Prior to COVID-19, this was changing, especially for those in their 50s and 60s, millennials and members of Generation Z.

“We understand that new skills, disciples, and insights are needed to accommodate this multifaceted life-journey we are on. And since universities are still trying to accommodate the single career path, many organisations – recognising that their employees will stay with them, our research shows, for 2.3 years maximum, unless there is a wider prize to be won – are becoming educators in their own right.”

Mr Raymond celebrates the surge of blended learning – “part digital, part remote, part face-to-face” – and traces the trend for lifelong learning back to 2008, and the global financial crash, “when jobs became more precarious”.

It’s a time Lord Jim Knight, chief education and external officer at Tes Global, well remembers. “I was employment minister in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, and was part of preventing the scarring effect on young people of long-term unemployment,” the 55-year old says. “Right now, we are in a deeper economic crisis than anything in my lifetime. I hope a similar focus can help this time, but individuals also have a responsibility.”

Can organisations survive if they fail to invest in their staff? “Frankly no, not in the longer term,” continues Lord Knight. “Technological change and globalisation are redefining work and the wider economy constantly. The only answer is more individual and corporate agility – that is only possible through a deep-rooted, lifelong-learning culture.”

Hackathons, brown bag sharing sessions, and “coffee roulette” on Slack have been embraced to improve the learning culture within Tes, and break down siloes, reveals Lord Knight. “Right now people need to feel active and valued, even when isolated,” he adds. “Investing in them through learning and in making it easier to work remotely is just non-negotiable.”

It’s imperative that business leaders heed these lessons, and invest in their employees.

This article was originally published in Raconteur’s Digital Transformation report in June 2020