Last week, Findcourses.co.uk attended the 2015 edition of what has quickly become Europe’s largest Learning & Development event: the Learning & Skills Exhibition and Conference, co-hosted with the more technical Learning & Technologies show.
With over 250 exhibitors, 7,000 visitors and hundreds of seminars, talks and workshops, it is no surprise that it creates an environment where new ideas not only thrive, but get shared, discussed and often even argued about.
So what were the hot topics and trends that dominated the agenda this year? Well, the size of the event is such that it’s impossible to name (or even know) them all, but we picked up on 6 main topics that stood out from the rest as areas of great interest for L&D in the year(s) to come.
For those who think eLearning has seen better days – think again. Yes, we are used to the concept by now. Yes, we are living in an increasingly mobile world in which the “e” part of eLearning may cease to be enough. But with many companies still sensitive to the cost of “traditional” forms of training, combined with the need to train increasingly large groups of people in geographically distant parts of the globe, eLearning continues to be a big area of interest for many L&D departments.
But the types of eLearning out there vary wildly in terms of format, content, interactivity and a whole host of other factors. So what kind of set-up reaps the best results? We are far from achieving a consensus on the matter, but what L&D practitioners and learners themselves appear to increasingly agree on is the fact that video must be an integral part of any solution that can hope to work. Be it virtual classrooms (also a popular topic), YouTube videos or user-generated videos, people seem to want to make more of them, using them in bigger and better ways than ever before.
This relates more to the focus of the training, rather than the delivery format. What skills are being prioritised as essential to the business environment? Obviously different organisations will have different requirements, but it seems that training in productivity and time management is creeping towards the top of the training agenda (again?). Perhaps the issue here is that technology has the potential to make us much more effective, but can also be hugely distracting. This fact, combined perhaps with a continued resistance to recruiting new staff during uncertain times, makes the need to “get the most” out of every employee more important than ever.
The same reasons mentioned above contribute to steady demand for solid leadership and thus, in many cases, for effective leadership development. Good leaders can manage change and guide teams through uncertain times, while bad leaders can exacerbate fragile situations and put entire companies at risk. This means two things: that companies continue to consider leadership a priority area when it comes to training, and that training providers continue to work on new solutions and products that they hope will set them apart from the competition and win them some new business.
They haven’t quite reached the same levels of hype, but neuro-scientific approaches to learning appear to be drawing more and more attention. Again, it may be the many distractions that we face in modern workplaces that is enticing L&D departments to take a closer look at how exactly the brain functions, and how learning can be constructed in such a way as to deliver the best possible results. Psychological approaches, which focus on mental functions as well as behaviours, seem to be following the same trends. Could it be that increasing pressures to measure results are pushing L&D to opt for a more scientific approach?
Last but not least, we have the biggest headache of them all: engagement. Whatever type of training you are trying to deliver and whatever the intended result, the challenge is getting learners engaged enough to actually benefit from it. In this sense, many of the technologies and solutions on display at events like Learning & Skills are ultimately means that are designed to reach this end.
As ever, the challenge is finding the right mix for your company and staff and getting the implementation right. Let’s hope that 2015 turns out to be a good year for it!
We recently wrote in this blog about several studies investigating the effects of technological advancements on the types and numbers of professions likely to exist in the future. The rather dreary conclusion appeared to be that robots would be taking over the world and making a large number of current job titles completely irrelevant in the span of just 10 to 15 years.
But every cloud has a silver lining, and a report released two days ago by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills suggests that "technology-rich" roles are actually among those that will offer the best prospects in the years to come. Entitled Careers of the Future, the purpose of the report is to provide tomorrow’s job seekers with a clearer picture of the careers offering good job prospects for the future. Analysing the three key indicators of pay, predicted job opportunities and business, it thus aimed to create a shortlist of professions "engineered to stand the test of time" across 10 sectors.
But it’s not just that hi-tech jobs in mechanical engineering and software development are increasingly in demand. It’s that technology is creating new opportunities from old jobs. So while some jobs in the top 40 are in emerging sectors, others are in more traditional areas where economic growth and technology are serving to "future-proof" roles such as farmers, train drivers and electricians.
Other careers highlighted as offering good prospects include:
According to a recent Swiss study, the answer is no… but they are dishonest by training.
Seeking to establish whether they are the cheating, scheming scoundrels they are often made out to be, the study put the honesty of 200+ international bankers to the test. And what they found is that they are fundamentally decent human beings until they are reminded about what they do for a living.
The test consisted of a simple coin-tossing task, which required them to flip a coin 10 times and to self-report the outcomes of the flip. In order to test the honesty or dishonesty of their behaviour, the researchers gave them a financial incentive to lie about the results. For example, the bankers were told that getting heads in the first coin flip would give them $20, which meant that they could easily cheat to reach that outcome and increase their earnings. But in order to better test the relevance of their occupation to cheating behaviour, they had to go further. What they did is to split the participants into two cohorts: the first group, which was intended to act as a control, was tested after being asked a series of questions entirely unrelated to their job. Things like “how much tea do you drink on a regular day?” and “what are your favourite leisure activities?”. The experimental group was instead asked a series of questions about their careers, with the intention of “increasing the saliency of participants’ occupation and role as a bank employee”.
The results were telling. In the control condition, the bankers were very honest, which suggests that they are not inherently prone to lying or cheating as individuals. As soon as their professional role was emphasised, however, they began to cheat. Interestingly, when the same experiment was run with professionals from other occupations and industries, no significant difference was found between the two groups.
So what does this all mean? Well, there are no absolutes when it comes to this kind of research, but the results do suggest that there is something about the behaviour and atmosphere of the financial services industry that dishonest behaviour. This means that some big changes will need to be made if the culture of the banking industry (and thus the behaviour of bankers) is to change for the better. According to the researchers, this means taking a serious look at practices related to giving big bonuses for generating high profits. In addition, it means that ethics training cannot remain in the abstract – if it is to work, it needs to start placing a bigger focus on the concrete behaviour that is required to avoid seeing the industry falling into complete disrepute.
No two people are alike and a job that appeals to one person may sound like a nightmare to another. But if you were to ask the average person what they think the easiest and toughest jobs out there are, what would you expect as an answer?
Well, a recent study conducted by Samsung starts by confirming a few points that we may have predicted. Firstly, of the 1,000+ UK employees surveyed, 69% believe that long hours make a job tough while 64% point to low pay as a primary factor. This is fairly understandable – long hours mean less time to relax and disconnect from work, which we know by now can contribute to high stress levels. Similarly, low pay can lead to stress about making ends meet, which can then have repercussions on both mental and physical well-being.
On the other hand, what we may not have expected is that the average employee would rather perform a dangerous job than have to deal with a demanding boss or with difficult colleagues. More specifically, a good proportion of British workers would consider working at height (48%), deep underground (47%) or in a role that could potentially put their life at risk (47%), indicating that they somehow feel more prepared to deal with physical rather than emotional demands. In fact, almost half of all respondents indicated that having a supportive team to work with would be a benefit, while 39% said that having the backing of their boss would make their job easier.
What can managers take away from these results? It’s nothing that hasn’t been said before, but it is yet another confirmation that soft skills including emotional intelligence, leadership, motivation and conflict management are key to building strong teams that are able to give their best on a daily basis. So rather than trying to push individuals to their limit by piling on the pressure and taking an it’s-never-good-enough approach, they need to adopt a balanced management style that still challenges the team to go beyond the mediocre, but at the same time makes them feel supported in a way that makes getting there a real possibility.
Employability is a big deal when it comes to education and training.
Many options, and particularly the high-end MBA programmes offered by top universities and business schools, require a significant investment. As a result, graduates will understandably want to end up in a position that helps them launch a successful career, which in turn means that employability figures are an extremely important factor in their choice for the right school.
According to the 2014/2015 QS Global 200 Business Schools Report, British business schools can breathe a sigh of relief on this front. With London Business School topping the rankings, the survey found that UK-based business schools are the highest rated in Europe by MBA recruiters, including the likes of global consulting firms such as KPM and technology giants such as Google and Apple. But it wasn’t just about dethroning last year’s number-one school (French school INSEAD) – British schools have come to dominate the chart in general, with 26 out of 65 spots occupied by a UK-based institution.
Since this year’s methodology was altered to make employability count for 85% of the final ranking, this bodes well for both British schools and their graduates. It also supports calls made by the CMI for greater collaboration between business schools and employers in an effort to produce the business-ready graduates that can help British businesses emerge from the recession while fulfilling their own ambitious career goals.
How good is your company’s L&D department in making use of new technologies to achieve business objectives?
With all the talk about online courses, mobile learning, gamification and MOOCs, one may take it for granted that digital technologies have already come to dominate the learning environment. But the results of the 2014 Towards Maturity Benchmark Study, released in early November, suggest that there is still a lot of adaptation to be done. Interviewing 600 L&D professionals and over 5,000 learners in 45 countries, the study revealed that technology-driven innovation of this kind actually achieved more for business 5 years ago than it does today. More specifically, while 90% of L&D leaders described themselves as keen to modernise learning provision in their organisations, only 31% claimed to be achieving the business benefits they were after – down from 51% in 2010.
With 93% of respondents using e-learning courses, 86% using online learning, 74% using mobile devices and 50% using more than 16 technologies to support learning, it is clear that the uptake of new technologies is not really the issue. The problem is measuring results and ensuring that technology is used as a means to an end, rather than simply being an additional resource that is used for the sake of being used. And indeed, although Towards Maturity can used the data collected over 11 years to measure bottom line impact, only 15% of the organisations surveyed measure the success of L&D technologies against key performance indicators (KPIs).
But how can you focus investment in the right places when you don’t measure the effectiveness of your initiatives? Perhaps it is precisely this lack of measurement that is to blame for the fact that only 21% of L&D leaders reporting positive changes in staff behaviour as a result of technology-driven training. Businesses should be smart enough to know that what works for one company may not work for another, and that being open to the use of digital technologies in learning is only one part of the equation. The other is experimenting, trying out different solutions and focusing on what works. It is arguably only by taking such an approach that L&D departments can hope to deliver on the very high expectations they are setting for their learning strategies – responding to change; speeding up application of learning at work; improving talent & performance management; boosting job productivity.
Though we all know that advancements in technology are being made at a rapid pace, we probably don’t often take the time to stop and ponder just how much our lives are being affected by it. New gadgets, apps and devices get launched every day and many are quickly incorporated into our already high-tech existence in a way that is somehow revolutionary and unnoticeable at the same time.
But it’s one thing to appreciate that technology and automation can increasingly complement or facilitate our day-to-day activities – what would we think of a world in which they replace them entirely?
This is more or less the scenario depicted by a couple of recent studies that focus on how technology – particularly in the sense of artificial intelligence – is likely to impact the number and types of professions available in the next 10-20 years. The first of these, conducted by CBRE and Chinese property developer Genesis, suggests that the significant shifts likely to be made in terms of how workplaces operate will result in up to 50% of professions ceasing to exist by 2025. Conducted on a global scale, it suggests that professionals will look to take up more creative professions as jobs like customer work, process work and middle management gradually fade into non-existence. Moreover, the dramatic changes that will continue to affect how we work will also have a large impact on how workplaces are designed and organised. Traditional workspaces, for example, will likely become redundant as their purpose vanishes and work becomes increasingly integrated with our personal lives.
The second study, which was conducted by Deloitte in collaboration with Oxford University professors Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, supports these findings with the claim that 35% of jobs in the UK are at risk of being replaced by robots in the next 20 years, including office & administrative support, sales & services and transportation & construction. These kinds of jobs will gradually fade away, the report argues, while roles requiring creative, digital and management skills will grow in demand.
To some extent, the revolution is already underway. The Deloitte research points out that some sectors have already seen drastic declines in job numbers, with library assistant jobs, sales-related occupations and travel agency roles at -48%, -40% and -44% with respect to 2001. A big worry is that it is the lowest paid workers and jobs that are showing the greatest likelihood of being replaced, which will potentially lead to a situation in which the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” will continue to grow.
At the same time, there are 199 times more Android developers now than in 2008, as well as 396 times more zumba instructors. This may not console you much if you aren’t a developer or a dancer, but it does mean that the overall number of jobs will not necessarily decrease – they will just require different skills with respect to those you have now. And this is why the authors of both reports point to the need for both businesses and individuals to start adapting to these changes sooner rather later. Businesses need to start thinking about the innovative workplace strategies and designs will serve them well, while professionals will benefit from focusing on the digital, creative and social skills that are likely to be in high demand in the future.
In this sense, far from making talent irrelevant, technology will only serve to make it an even more critical issue, enhancing the competitive advantage it can create for individuals and businesses alike.
Tesco has been through some difficult times in the last couple of months. Following an accounting scandal that uncovered a huge hole in expected company profits – to the tune of around £250m – plummeting share value, falling sales and the full-scale investigation launched by the Financial Conduct Authority are all taking their toll on the world’s second-largest retailer.
We know by now that ethics in business matter. They matter to consumers, who are becoming increasingly selective on the basis of companies’ commitment to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policies and measures, and they matter to employees. Research recently conducted by the CMI has illustrated this point extensively, showing that staff satisfaction is significantly higher in organisations scoring higher on the ethic of care. What it also shows is that a large number of managers (particularly in large organisations) are aware that ethical behaviour in their organisation is poor.
The interesting question to pose is: why do they tolerate poor ethical behaviour, when we have consistently seen that good ethical behaviour produces winning results all-round?
The question is certainly a complex one that can’t be answered within the scope of this blog post. But Tesco’s reaction to their recent troubles can perhaps give us some interesting insights. More specifically, what Tesco boss Dave Lewis decided to do earlier this month was to decree that thousands of office staff, including senior executives, go to the shop floor as part of an initiative dubbed "Feet on the Floor". This initiative is an acceleration of their annual "helping hands" initiative and designed to see office colleagues work one day per fortnight in store during the runup to Christmas, either stacking shelves or working the tills in Tesco shops across the country.
"Understanding customers even better is critical to our future success and there is no better opportunity for office colleagues than by supporting our stores in the run-up to Christmas", said Lewis.
And I think he’s right. Though it may well be intended as more of a PR stunt than a business strategy, it is interesting to consider the role that "distance" plays in business ethics. What I mean by this is that it is easy for professionals who work in an office role to become, or in fact always be, very much detached from the product or service they are selling, as well as from their customers. And perhaps this distance continues to grow the further up the food chain you go, with top-level managers highly involved and concerned with the performance of the business, but hopelessly uninvolved when it comes to understanding their employees’ and indeed their customers’ concerns. Is it the case, then, that managers just don’t "get" how ethics affect staff productivity as well as customer satisfaction?
I don’t have an answer to this question, but I think it is definitely one worth considering. Perhaps all managers in all sectors should be encouraged to get their hands dirty every once in a while to gain critical insights into how their brand and company are perceived on a human level. Who knows what kind of business decisions they would make then…
Logistics underpins the operation of a great number of businesses across the UK, and it is perhaps because of this very reason that it is often not thought about as a sector in and of itself.
But new findings published earlier this month by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) suggest that this attitude needs to change… and fast. The report, entitled Understanding skills and performance challenges in the logistics sector, highlights that the sector contributes over £90 billion to the UK economy each year, and warns that it faces severe skills shortages in the years to come. With over 1.2m extra jobs said to be required by 2022, one of the main problems is the lack of "young blood" entering the industry, with only 9% of the current workforce aged under 25. As suggested by Michael Davis, chief executive at UKCES, this situation entails "a very real risk that the talent pool will dry up – causing serious consequences for the rest of the economy as a whole."
Taking on new talent is particularly important when considering the rapid rise of technology, which has quickly led to multi-skilled roles being the norm. What is thus needed is a "steady stream of skilled workers" entering the industry with the necessary combination of IT, customer service and communication skills needed to meet the challenges of the years ahead. And this means that employers need to be prepared to make the investments needed in terms of training and recruitment, finding ways of making the sector more appealing and more accessible to the younger generations.
A failure to do so will translate into potentially disastrous consequences for the rest of the economy, with businesses of all kinds unable to support their operations and thus potentially choosing to take their activities elsewhere. In fact, a recent article published in The Economist highlighted that Heathrow, which is by far the country’s busiest hub for freight, has reached bursting point. Unless new investments are made, the airport – which ferried goods worth £133 billion in 2013 – is thus likely to lose business to other European countries, causing further damage to the logistics sector and the economy as a whole.
I’ve come across several articles recently that have made me stop to ponder the issue of hiring really smart people in your organisation. Logically speaking, it seems natural to assume that you, as a business, want to hire the most talented people out there. The more brilliant the individual, so the theory goes, the more he or she can contribute in terms of ideas, expertise and ultimately growth and success.
But is there a sort of line beyond which intelligence actually becomes a curse?
According to some, there definitely is. Citing examples such as the Enron scandal, caused by a group of people considered to be "the smartest guys in the room", they argue that intelligence is often accompanied by a range of traits that actually make hiring such individuals a risky business. For starters, they argue, smart people are often keenly aware of their own intelligence, which can translate into arrogance and the automatic assumption that their opinions should be accepted without question. This means that they don’t tend to be particularly good at taking direction or working together with others – and they are often pretty lousy communicators, too.
A second and related issue is that being very gifted in terms of technical knowledge doesn’t necessarily make them skilled from a managerial point of view. But alas, the nature of career progression in most fields and companies means that talented individuals often end up being "rewarded" by being given management responsibilities. The result is that teams end up being led by individuals with no aptitude – and in many cases actually no interest – in being responsible for others and working in areas such as team-building, motivation and performance management. Using the example of retired sports superstars who try their hand at coaching, often with little success, some argue that highly skilled individuals are unable to bring themselves down to the level of the “lesser mortals”. This makes them unable to transfer useful knowledge, advice and skills to the individuals they are coaching, which translates into little difference being made to performance.
And retaining smart people can be a real headache too. They know they are considered highly attractive employees by other companies, which makes them think (perhaps rightly so) that they can expect better pay than others, as well as more benefits and higher bonuses. Now, this makes a lot of sense if their contribution to the company justifies that kind of payback. Or at least as much sense as the fact that CEOs have seen pay increase by 937% since 1978 while the typical worker has seen an increase of 10.2%. But if their superior brainpower translates into an uncommunicative, dictatorial approach that focuses purely on numbers and data, without being able to comprehend the more human aspects of consumer behaviour, is it really worth it? Some data would suggest that it is actually the less-confident among us who end up being more productive and successful.
On a slightly unrelated note, another article I recently came across has made me wonder whether a little laziness could actually help me reach my goals more effectively. What I mean is that I grew up being told that hard work pays off, which has made me a fairly committed and dedicated worker. But apparently that may not be a particularly good thing either, because it means that I’m not afraid of having to do a lot of work to get somewhere. On the other hand, a lazy person tries to find the quickest way possible, which actually means they end up reaching the goal sooner. A little someone named Bill Gates actually famously said: "I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it".
And if it works for Gates, who are we to disagree?