Is retirement dead?

The age-old concept of a three-stage life – education, employment, and retirement – needs rethinking. To make the most of the opportunity requires a shift in mindset and a change in investment strategy

Ageing was much simpler in the olden days. For centuries – if not millennia – most people’s lives have been accomplished in three stages: learning, which leads to employment, then retirement. 

But in 2022, largely thanks to the wonders of technology and improved healthcare, the traditional notion of old age is evolving. As a result, life is all the more thrilling. Now, the supposed retirement age could – and should – be embraced as an additional phase of life, one of newfound freedoms, whether hobbies, businesses or passions. 

Retirement is no longer a period of winding down or dependence. On the contrary, the concept will soon expire, contends Andrew Scott, a world-leading expert on longevity and professor of economics at London Business School. 

There’s no need for pipe and slippers in the 21st century. The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows the number of people in the UK aged 85 and over was a record 1.7 million in 2020. That amount is projected to almost double to 3.1 million by 2045. 

Additionally, the ONS calculates that life expectancy at birth in 2020 was 87.3 years for males and 90.2 years for females. Consider, at the start of the 1980s these figures were 70.8 and 76.8 years, respectively.

Rising life expectancy and population age go hand in hand. And this trend is global: the world population’s median age in 1970 was 21.5 years, and almost 31 in 2020, according to the United Nations Population Division.

Taking actions for a more rewarding retirement

However, to make the most of the possibilities of old age, it’s critical to take action today for a more rewarding tomorrow, urges Scott.

“Now there is a greater risk you may outlive your wealth,” he says, referring to squirrelled-away savings and pension pots that have been the typical source of funds for retirees. “So you need to invest more in your future self. One of those key investments is finance, but health, relationships, and engagement – developing good health, skills and relationships all play important parts. Any financial plan, though, should be dictated around your life plan.”

In 2016, The 100-Year Life – a book authored by Scott and Lynda Gratton, a professor of management practice at London Business School – was published. And while it’s often said “age is just a number”, could it be that we have been using the wrong measurement all along?

“It was randomly decided that 65 is ‘old’,” continues Scott, “and the older I get – I’m in my 50s – the more I dislike that as a starting point. While more people live for longer, that doesn’t consider changes in how we age, either our health or our behaviour.”

The average Brit has never been so old but never had so long left to live

He believes how we define old age “requires a rethink because traditional age, measured chronologically, is confusing” and often misleading regarding life expectancy. “We need to focus on biological age rather than chronological age,” says Scott. “And we also need to consider prospective age more – that is, the number of years we have left to live. For instance, the average Brit has never been so old but never had so long left to live – this is how we have to adjust our thinking.”

Clearly, good health and good wealth are mutually reinforcing for a life lived as long and as fully as possible. But does this require both a shift in mindset and a change in investment strategy? For instance, Tony Müdd, divisional director for St. James’s Place development and technical consultancy, suggests pension schemes are a good idea, but that you can tailor contributions to match your earning potential. In your 50s, you are likely to be in a better financial position than in your 20s, so why not bump up your input?

Thinking beyond pensions

And while a pension will provide a decent chunk of income for many people in later life, it’s far from the only source. Müdd stresses the benefits of a diversified portfolio of tax-efficient investments, maybe in property or other assets.

He notes, though, that while a later life packed with adventure, excitement and new opportunities is the ultimate goal for most of us, the reality is that dream can be killed by poor health. Müdd worries people often take a “head-in-the-sand approach” to monitoring their health. He points out that a quarter of people in the UK over the age of 70 will require lengthy healthcare.

“It’s a subject that people don’t like to think about, but long-term care can be very expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds,” he warns. “Lots of people in the UK are sleepwalking into a position where they will not get the level of care they think they should receive from the local authority, so will have to pay for it themselves. That could drain their children’s inheritance. You can take out insurance, but people tend not to do that. The only way, then, to deal with long-term care is effectively to save money.”

Moving swiftly away from the gloomy topic of impending death is Michael Clinton, the longtime president and publishing director of Hearst Magazines. His book, ROAR: Into the Second Half of Your Life was recently published, in September 2021. And two years shy of becoming a septuagenarian, he is accelerating, not pumping the brakes. 

He counters the thinking that people have midlife crises but rather “awakenings”. Clinton explains: “At 50, you know a lot about yourself. Now is the time to tap into your awakened self and move forward. If you are 50 and healthy, you will have a pretty good shot of living to be 90. That will mean second and third careers, new relationships and lifestyles. Suddenly, people are saying: ‘I don’t want to retire; I want to rewire. I want to wind up, not wind down.’”

“Retirement is no longer seen as a binary outcome – namely, you don’t stop working when you retire now,” Scott says. “Retirement used to be like a cold shower, and now people want more of a warm bath. Supposed retirees often work part time with their existing employer or start up something themselves. Also, within two years of retiring, one in five people ‘un-retire’.”

He concludes by predicting the demise of retirement. “If you think about the 100-year life, there must be a movement away from a three-stage life – education, work, retirement – to a multistage life.” Scott adds: “Before long, we will reach the point where the concept of retirement itself – if you define it as the permanent cessation of work – will be retired.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Wealth & Asset Management report in May 2022

EY and others are offering employees MBAs and masters degrees – but is it a good investment?

When global accountancy firm EY discovered, through an internal survey, that almost three-quarters (74%) of its 312,000 staff in over 150 countries wanted to “participate in activities that help communities and the environment,” action was swiftly taken.

In late February, a unique course was launched: the EY Masters in Sustainability, in association with Hult International Business School in the U.K. The best part? It is free for all EY employees, regardless of rank, tenure or location.

The online-only learning program, which students can work through at their own pace, is designed to expand sustainability and climate literacy among EY workers. The hope is that these newly acquired skills will accelerate innovative sustainability services for clients.

EY’s budget for staff training is likely to be significantly larger than most other organizations. But as the Great Resignation trend drags on, more companies realize that investing in employee education – even if it’s not directly related to work – is good value. It can boost morale, generate fresh thinking, accelerate innovation, and – possibly most importantly right now – help attract and retain the best people.

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

Managers are not being trained to run hybrid teams – and it’s a big problem

Hands up, who really wants to be a manager today, in an uncertain and fast-paced, post-pandemic world, where organizations worldwide are shifting to hybrid working and struggling to attract and retain talent, plus employees are demanding more attention than ever? 

At the heart of operations, trusted to pull the strings, are managers, many of whom are promoted to their positions after excelling in non-management roles. “Managers often have the most accountability to the largest proportion of the workforce,” said Emma Price, head of customer success at management process automation company ActiveOps. “They are responsible for delivering against cost, quality, and service and managing customer outcomes.”

However, many would-be puppet masters are now tied up in additional, complex tasks that weren’t part of their already stacked workload in early 2020. They are crying out to be untangled by their bosses, yet evidence suggests the critical training and tools they require are not being made available. This lack of support is baffling when one considers the cost of the great resignation alongside the truism that “people leave managers, not companies.”

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, published in March, concluded that “managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations.” The survey, featuring responses from over 30,000 workers across 31 markets, revealed that 54% of managers say company leadership is out of touch with employees, and almost three-quarters (74%) lament not having the influence or resources to implement the necessary changes for their teams.

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

Professor Scott Galloway on why recruiters should stop ‘fetishising’ elite universities

While walking and talking on a videoconferencing call, professor Scott Galloway articulates why higher education organisations in the United States and elsewhere failed during the pandemic, and argues a more inclusive system that embraces a hybrid-teaching model is the only direction to take

Picture credit: Nick Rogers

No interviewee has accused me of being “full of shit” before. So when professor Scott Galloway, speaking to me via a transatlantic videoconferencing call while pacing around his spacious home, smartphone at arm’s length – the walking helps him articulate thoughts, he says, but the jerky, facial profile view is unorthodox and intense – labels me in those profane terms, I’m shocked.

And yet, given the 57-year old’s venerated standing as a pioneering thinker and controversial truth-speaker, his candour should have come as no surprise. Indeed, after completing an MBA from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business in 1992, Galloway has, one way or another, been calling out BS, predicting future trends, and rallying against socially damaging systems and organisations.

First, he founded Prophet, a brand and marketing consultancy firm. Then, five years later, in 1997, RedEnvelope, one of the world’s first e-commerce websites, was launched. Along the way, the entrepreneurial Galloway has also established a digital intelligence company and an activist hedge fund, among other ventures. More recently, there have been influential books, podcasts, and digital newsletters, and, in 2019, he opened an online higher education startup, Section4.

Additionally, since 2002, Galloway has been clinical professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business. There, ‘Prof G’ teaches MBA students about brand management and digital marketing. A considerable amount of his research arrows in on the ‘Big Four’ – Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon – and specifically how the ambition and rapaciousness of those tech titans have triggered a seismic social and economic change. 

Unquestionably, business leaders can learn a lot from Galloway’s forceful opinions and predictions. Today I’m seeking his latest thoughts on what’s wrong with higher education, which – as he wrote in a contentious No Mercy/No Malice newsletter post in April 2021 – is “the most important industry in America. It’s the vaccine against the inequities of capitalism, the lubricant of upward economic mobility, and the midwife of gene therapies and search engines.”

Doubling down on positioning as luxury brands

Now, post-pandemic, he laments a “huge missed opportunity”. The top American universities have largely refused to pursue a hybrid-teaching model that would enable intake numbers to swell, therefore affording more students a better education and greater career opportunities. 

“The most disappointing thing is the elite universities have decided to double down on their luxury positioning, and constrained supply,” Galloway says. “If they embraced technology, they could put half of their sessions online, and theoretically multiply supply overnight. However, they found out early on that online learning looks and smells the same, meaning differentiation doesn’t exist.”

He posits that American elite universities are “the ultimate luxury brand for wealthy people in China, the Gulf, and Europe”, who will pay massive sums of money to boost their children’s chances of attending. “By creating the illusion that an association with a brand – such as Bottega Veneta, Ferrari, or Tequila Ley – makes someone a better, more successful person, you can make irrational margins. The strongest brands in the world are not Amazon or Apple, but the likes of Oxford, Stanford, or MIT, because nobody pays $300 million to put their name on the side of Apple’s headquarters.”

These munificent endowments have led to what Galloway calls the ‘Rolexification’ of some university campuses, with higher wages attracting supposedly better teaching staff and no expense spared on facilities. Further, to maintain that exclusivity, admission rates have eroded in recent years, he contends. “When I applied to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in the 1980s, the acceptance rate was 74%, and this year it is likely to be around 6%,” Galloway continues. “I thought universities would leverage their brands, resources and technology during the pandemic to soak up the market. But I could not have been more wrong.”

He points out a worrying knock-on effect. “Now, there is so much overflow from people rejected from elite universities that the second-tier universities are demanding similar prices, effectively charging a Mercedes price for a Hyundai.”

Paying a heavy price for university education

Galloway, who donates all of his NYU salary back to the university and has contributed millions of dollars to both NYU and Berkeley for immigrant student fellowships, is gathering pace, physically and mentally. His side-on head lurches from left to right on the videoconferencing screen, the background a blur. “Here’s the thing,” he says, turning slightly to his smartphone camera, mid-stride, “these universities are technically private organisations, but they are non-profits. And non-profits usually have a societal, public-serving mission. 

“I would argue that these companies no longer have a public mission because they are not growing their first-year-student intake despite the money coming in. Therefore, they should lose their non-profit status. It’s like a homeless shelter rejecting 90% of people because it’s decided to constrain the number of beds despite having the resources and skills to accommodate everyone.”

Pleasingly, with greater diversity increasingly prioritised by business leaders, a growing list of organisations, in the United States and elsewhere, have identified the modern problem with a university degree – most graduates will be laden with debt and need training up anyway – and sought alternative routes to tap into a much larger talent pool.

“The most significant thing to happen in higher education in recent years didn’t actually happen in higher education,” says Galloway. “Companies ranging from Google to Apollo, the big private equity firm, to Xerox have said: ‘We’re going to carve out a significant number of job positions for people who don’t have traditional college certification.’

“Encouragingly, a lot of great companies have recognised that if they’re only going to recruit at elite universities they have effectively decided they are not, for example, going to hire single mothers – there just aren’t a lot of single mothers collecting diplomas and walking across the stage at Harvard or MIT.”

Urging business leaders to be more open-minded about their approach to hiring, Galloway admits that he, too, was “guilty of fetishising and recruiting from the elite universities” early in his career. “We loved it, it made us feel good about ourselves. But as long as the best organisations continue to fetishise those places we are never going to break this cycle.”

Stunned to silence

At this juncture in the interview, I comment that I’m unconvinced my two young children will attend university. Suddenly, Galloway stops walking and looks directly at his phone screen. He calmly asks a series of questions, including whether I’m married and whether my wife and I attended university. Having answered “yes” to his queries, he raises the volume and picks up the pace again.

“OK,” Galloway starts, “so you’re full of shit. Both of your kids are going to university. While you pretend to be thinking avant-garde, the odds are that by the time they start secondary school, you will recognise the power of certification and begin creating landing lights and guardrails, putting your kids on track to university.”

Seeing I have been stunned to silence, he goes on. “I think you are expressing the general sentiment that university is slowly but surely not the return on investment it once was. My seven years of college education cost $7,000, so it was a no-brainer for me, the son of a single immigrant mother. It meant an unremarkable kid gained a remarkable certification and has resulted in prosperity and opportunity that I didn’t have access to previously. 

“Now, an outrageous cost is attached to attending an elite university, but the certification that sets you up for life, making you more attractive to potential mates and employers, is still very powerful. And while people like you are starting to do the math, statistics based on your demographic, your profession, and the home environment you will create, your kids are college-bound, full stop.”

Mindset change required by those in charge

Desperate to shift the conversation, I ask whether Section4, which provides “unlimited, MBA-quality online business education”, according to its website, could be a viable and cheaper alternative to university. Certainly, it scores well on the cost and acceptance fronts, says Galloway, offering “courses at 10% of the price of an MBA, and with 1% of the friction, as there is no complicated application process”. 

And although Section4 thrived during the pandemic, when people had more time to study online, he concedes that the platform has become more suited to “mid-career professionals” looking to expand their skills alongside colleagues, virtually. “We’ve transitioned from a B2C to B2B company, and have found, post-pandemic, that universities have become more proprietary about their professors doing talks for us.”

Bracing myself for more Prof G profanity, I pose a final question. What is Galloway’s key message? “There is a larger issue here in the US and Europe about whether we want to continue to embrace this rejectionist – almost nimbyist – mindset,” he says. “Regulators and university leaders need to start planting trees the shade of which we might not enjoy. Admission rates must be expanded, as must housing opportunities for young people.”

Turning to the camera once more and slowing his walk, he adds: “My generation has decided that it’s awesome not to provide younger people with the opportunities we had because it makes our assets, our houses, our diplomas, our shares all more valuable. It is bad for society and reflects poorly on the generation in charge. What’s happening in higher education is just a manifestation of that selfish mindset.” 

Business leaders would do well to heed Galloway’s warning.

A (sanitised) version of this article was published by Raconteur in July 2022 – you can read that here

WTF is well-being debt?

The gut punches just keep coming. War in Ukraine, women’s rights under fire in the U.S. where a potential recession also darkens the horizon, and a cost-of-living crisis in the U.K. Add in the trauma of enduring two years of an unprecedented global pandemic and the climate crisis, and it’s no surprise many people feel their mental well-being is at an all-time low.

And while many employers are stepping up to the plate with financial assistance and additional benefits, much more investment is needed to bolster employee well-being, experts say. To help employers better understand the financial impact that having an exhausted and unhappy workforce has on the bottom line, a new term has been coined and is starting to be used more broadly: “well-being debt.”

But WTF is it?

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

‘I was thrown off a project because I misheard’: Deaf inclusivity in the workplace still an issue

The LinkedIn profile image of culture and behavioral change consultant Simon Houghton, shows him wearing a black mask with white writing that reads: “I’m deaf. I can’t read your lips with your mask on.”

Houghton, based in Reading in the U.K., has significant hearing loss so relies heavily on lipreading when communicating – a skill which became even harder to use during the pandemic when everyone wore masks. And while the rise of virtual meetings has helped to some extent (people still turn their cameras off blocking lipreading), workplaces still don’t cater well enough to people with hidden conditions like deafness or severe hearing loss.

To boost awareness Houghton launched social enterprise WeSupportDeafAwareness during the pandemic. His message is clear: not enough is being done to support deaf workers, who make up a large chunk of the population. Consider that 1.5 billion people – almost 20% of the global population – live with a degree of hearing loss, according to the latest World Health Organization calculations

Houghton has had to pay a heavy price for this lack of inclusivity at work. One of his worst memories he still recalls. “I was working for a big-four management consultancy firm and was thrown off a project because I misheard an action during a client meeting,” he said. 

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

What does the advent of sentient AI really mean for businesses and the workforce?

The futuristic notion that a machine will one day become self-aware, for good and evil, has been a staple of science fiction. So when a Google engineer reckoned the company’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) program had achieved “sentience” in mid-June, it triggered both alarm and glee.

A fortnight before Lemoine’s claim, Elon Musk announced that a prototype of Tesla’s humanoid robot, “Optimus,” would be unveiled in September. Last August, the billionaire suggested the 173-cm, general-purpose bot would have “profound implications for the economy” and be capable of carrying out everyday tasks, including supermarket shopping. 

So, how significant are these two headline-grabbing development for businesses? What, back in the realms of science fact and reality, could the advent of sentient AI mean for the future of work? And what should business leaders be doing, if anything, to prepare for this challenge and opportunity?

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

How companies are attempting to tackle diversity ‘blind spots’ at the hiring stage

In an attempt to root out all biases – conscious or unconscious – at the hiring stage, more organizations are overhauling their recruitment processes.

For many, that’s meant stripping their recruitment methods to the bare bones and examining everything from how language in job ads can influence who applies, to improving interview questions so they focus on a person’s aptitude and skill, rather than background and experience.

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

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, 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”.


“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.


“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.”


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