The Future of Work: Bridging The Digital Skills Divide

Bridging the digital skills divide

Once again I seem to have found my way into an upper management summit.  I imagine I’ll be the only classroom teacher in there, but that’s no bad thing.  If more front line people were directly connected to decision makers, our policy decisions wouldn’t seem as fictional as they sometimes do.  The other nice thing about a summit like this is that I get to dust off and exercise the philosophy degree, which in a computer technology classroom sometimes lays dormant for too long.


The keynote for this summit is Cheryl Cran, an author and speaker on the future of work.  Her approach seems to be very human resources based, which is appealing to a teacher who works with those humans every day.  Digital transformation tends to diminish a company’s need for human resources since it’s really just another form of automation/mechanization.  Can digital disruption actually lead to better relationships with the humans in your organization?  Perhaps for the few that are left.  If digital disruption is going to lead to mass unemployment, then how effective our companies run is going to be the least of our problems.  Making too much of the human population redundant never ends well for the society that does it.  This is a very difficult path to tread, so I’m very curious to hear how Cheryl presents it.



Cheryl sent out a pre-summit Q&A on where attendees think the future of work lies.  Here are the questions and my responses:



1. In your opinion what does the future of work look like? 


The social contract between employers and employees will continue to deteriorate.  Private employment will be limited to short term as needed contract work for the vast majority.  This is dressed up in “always be retraining/adapting” corporate speak, but the end result is usually downward pressure on everyone’s work/life balance.  The ‘try harder’ language of private business can get hard to believe when you’ve retrained (paying for your own training) multiple times only to be be made redundant again.  Meanwhile wealth is being concentrated into an ever decreasing class of ultra-wealthy entities.


Only the management class will still consider themselves employees of a single company. A universal wage may be instituted to stabilize and pacify a large under-employed working class. Even specialized skills will increasingly become redundant under more advanced automation.  This is less about profit than it is about control.  Machines are much less demanding than people.


2. What do you think are the current challenge for employers right now in regards to attracting youth to work for their companies?


Companies tend to approach employee relations in a conservative fashion with little change in approach from previous years.  GenZ expectations around work have been formed by evolving educational experiences.  With the school system no longer holding students to deadlines and graduation standards much more flexible than they used to be, employers find dealing with young employees who have never had to work to a deadlines challenging.  Attracting youth to a company successfully would have a lot to do with clarifying expectations in the workplace and training to cover that gap between an employer’s expectations and the young employee’s experience.


3. What do you think needs to happen to prepare today’s youth for the future of work? 


Our education system (in Ontario at least) has already started moving towards a universal pay standard by moving from graduation by proven skill to graduation as a general expectation.  This was largely motivated by Ontario’s learning to 18 legislation.  As education has reorientated on a graduation for all approach, there has been increasing friction between graduates and workplace expectations.  If k-12 is an experience everyone is expected to graduate from, then it will fall to post-secondary education to provide support for students as they transition into the workplace.  That support is vital as students are not being taught that deadlines nor even attendance are mandatory.  If we can’t train to bridge that gap, then the workplace itself will have to evolve to expect employees who may or may not be there and may or may not meet deadlines.  From a social efficiency point of view, that obviously isn’t the way forward.


4. What inspires you about today’s youth? Why? 


They are as bright and capable as any other generation.  Only lowered expectations create a social perception of laziness and lack of focus.  One need only attend Skills Canada Nationals or CyberTitan to see just how capable this generation can be of mastery learning.  Whenever I hear someone slagging young people I remind myself of all the great students I’ve seen graduate who have produced world-class results in spite of a system that did not encourage it.

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