Nov 10

Big cheese

American inventor Charles Kettering said, “We should all be concerned about the future because we will spend the rest of our lives there.” With that, more of us are sitting up and taking note.

Technology continues to disrupt all industries and no more so than where it intersects with education. The idea of a single education followed by a single career is long in the past, so we have to take control of our portfolio of skills and continue to upgrade and refine it regardless of the work we do. We have to stay in touch, not just with gadgets and technology but what we know, as the sector we work in evolves at pace.

MOOCs such as FutureLearn are examples of technology helping us managing this requirement – short bursts of learning relevant to an immediate work need – or even an interest. Learning about photography, about wine, film or an historical event, can be the most pleasurable of all, plus it makes for a well-rounded individual.

With careers no longer linear and tenure within job roles around the 3-4 year range, we must learn to adapt, constantly learn, move sideways and even be prepared for downward steps, before we make upward moves on the long journey to the “big cheese” position.

Get ready for the ride, it will be different and is likely to be bumpy.

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Mar 15

future learning

I was delighted to be asked to present at the 2014 National Apprenticeships conference at the Film Museum last week. I talked about technology and education coming together and the inextricable link between learning and working.

I shared a story from 100+ years ago and the World Fair in St Louis. The man that was selling ice cream ran out of paper cups, and the exhibitor next to him who was selling waffles decided to roll them flat and curl them into the shape of a handheld cone. Thus the ice cream cone was born. Two distinct ‘ingredients’, no connection between the two, coming together to create something completely new.

Now I applied that connection to work and education (thanks Noel Tagoe, Executive Director at CIMA, for the inspiration). Companies have to be part of the education process and give young people a chance to get a taste of what the world of work is all about. We should all be giving apprenticeships an opportunity to sample the workplace and make working a part of the overall learning experience. Similarly, employers have to be involved in influencing education, so that what is taught in the classroom has relevance in the workplace. Then, when students start on their career path, they can make a contribution from day one. Let’s stop teaching irrelevancies, no wonder kids switch off and turn to their phones every 6 minutes.

Classroom in the workplace, workplace in the classroom – that is the future.

Mar 14

I enjoyed being a part of the ‘Voice of Apprenticeships’ Conference this week, where I presented immediately before Skills Minister Matthew Hancock MP. I shared my views on how technology is changing not just how we must think about educating the next generation but how we engage and reach these students today.

MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, are getting a lot of press currently and the UK’s FutureLearn programme led by the Open University is leading the way. Smartphones and tablets are changing how we absorb information and education must follow suit, in smaller, bite-sized chunks, when and where the learner chooses to digest it.

Education may well take the form of a pick-and-mix bag of choices, but hopefully not as expensive as the pick-and-mix outlets selling confectionery. It may be that the role of the education institution includes tracking and approving building blocks of learning that add up to a unique qualification and that very few degrees actually look the same, but are pieced together based on an individual’s requirements and more importantly, the needs of a job role and the workplace.

What are the choices? History and prestige means the top tier universities will always have a demand for places, because of the prestige of having the institution listed on one’s CV or profile on LinkedIn. But for the rest, there is no choice. The majority of learning establishments have to change their value proposition; a student in a small town in England, or even as far as Africa or Asia, won’t pay to attend a mediocre lecture, when they can learn online from world experts.

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Jan 10

Technology continues to disrupt and next in line is education. There has been a lot written about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and many renowned institutions are involved – Harvard, MIT, Stanford and more recently the Open University here in the UK with their FutureLearn model. The Khan Academy, launched by Salman Khan, delivers 200m classes via YouTube, with zero hosting costs, now that is clever.

MOOCs are still trying to establish their model and this may take some time, but what is really important is that traditional learning institutions cannot just sit back and disregard this wave of change. I accept that tier-one universities such as Harvard or Cambridge will always have demand for places due to the prestige associated with studying there. But a student in Europe or Asia will refuse to pay large sums of money to sit in a mediocre lecture in their own country when they can learn online from world class tutors and be associated with a leading university.

Currently the MOOC interest is more about bridging the gap between current knowledge and acquiring new skills in order to do a better job, or find a new one. These modular, bite-sized chunks of learning are possibly the icing on the cake. If 5 candidates interview for one role and have a similar degree and one has an additional 20 certificates of mastery in a specific area of study, it is likely that their CV will stand out. In today’s world, it is all about differentiation. The modules offered by MOOCs not only allow an individual to keep up with changes in the business world but possibly in future even anticipate how market sectors will evolve.

This is just one example. Technology is breaking up the majority, the mainstream and the mundane. Which sector is next?

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Sep 26

Having spent time with some very inspirational people at a conference recently, I recalled something Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of the Open University, shared more than 10 years ago. I have never forgotten it and it holds true today more than ever before.

Employers are concerned that if they invest in, train and certify their staff, those individuals may leave the company to grab an opportunity to earn more money elsewhere. Yet money is not the number one motivator, as we have seen over and over again from numerous people studies.

“What if I train and certify my staff, and they leave?” asked one employer.

“What if you don’t train and certify your staff, and they stay?” was the quite brilliant reply?

The shortest messages are usually those with the greatest impact.

We must dispel the myth.

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Apr 28

A few years ago, my wife was attempting to take my son’s Nintendo DS away from him as a form of punishment for not listening to her. It was the toy he loved the most and like most kids that age, he was glued to the device. He was 8. He screamed “I am nothing without my Nintendo DS.” I was in my office shrieking with laughter at the dramatics. As I reflect today, there is a lesson there.

In Korea, families spend more of their disposable income (22%) than any other nation on their family’s education. Within 2 years, all elementary school education in Korea will be delivered via tablet or other device. In Kent in the South East of England, the Longfield Academy school has provided their students with an iPad (not entirely free, but that is besides the point). I think it goes without saying what has happened to the levels of immersion and concentration in the classroom in those institutions that have adopted the technology that kids were born with – they are digital natives after all.

I have talked before about technology, gadgetry and the internet being the ‘oxygen’ for our youngsters – for them a computer or smartphone is a gateway to a world of communications. So, let’s start building lessons and assignments on these devices, give them the gadgets so that the kids are learning via the tools they are so comfortable with. As Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, said earlier this year, a Victorian schoolteacher could quite easily pick up where she left off in delivering a class in today’s school.

The problem is more ours than theirs – give the kids the tools and technologies that they devour each day, and I think we will be pleasantly surprised by the levels of creativity and engagement.

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Oct 29

As a young man growing up, I followed many sports stars – Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalgish, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but my sporting inspiration was Zinedine Zidane. He was so naturally gifted and so intelligent with the ball. This week, I found inspiration not with footballers, but at youngsters no more than 18 years old who won the apprentice of the year awards at the Zenos annual conference, where I also had the pleasure of presenting my view on the ‘Evolution of IT, Jobs and Learning’.

Zenos is a quite amazing company. 400 staff, mostly young and very dynamic, but what really stands out is the camaraderie, the culture and the ethos that drives this team of people led by Jason Moss and his management team. They live to help the next generation acquire the skills that will set them on the road to a new chapter in their lives, a career IT.

I selected Ashleigh Carr as the Zenos-CompTIA apprentice of the year.  He is 18 years-old. He has Crohn’s disease. Our CompTIA A+ certification helped him find himself and a job at the Royal Bank of Scotland in IT Support. Most of 400+ audience were in tears as I presented the award to him (and we gave Ashleigh a 3D LED TV as a cool gift to go along with his award). We must never forget, this is why we exist, helping Ashleigh and others like him to get a job and make progress in the world of technology.

I will always love football, basketball and most other sports, and I will always enjoy watching the best talent grace our stadia. But this week has taught me that our inspiration comes from these youngsters, who overcome adversity to achieve results and aim high, and get the jobs they apply for. If that is our future, there is hope. Presenting at Zenos this week, and handing out this award, was my finest hour at CompTIA. Thank you Jason, Claire, Nicky, Richard and all the fantastic Zenos team.

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Sep 19

The problem with IT’s image is not just that the opportunities aren’t well represented, but also that routes in are poorly understood. People assume they need an IT degree, then hear that lots of IT graduates (amongst other graduates) are struggling to find jobs.

I believe the focus on academia is misplaced for IT. IT degrees are good for some but are not the only way. For many organisations, hands on experience gained through IT trainers (eg QA, Just IT, Firebrand, Zenos) and backed by industry certifications count for much more.

CompTIA designs certifications with industry to identify the skills they need. Companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, etc, take much the same approach. Students we speak to who take certifications, such as CompTIA A+ followed by their vendor certification of choice, consistently land rewarding jobs.

When discussing IT careers – in IT lessons, careers advice sessions or the media – we should be clearer about how students can get in, and shift the focus away from IT degrees as the de facto route. This may work to our advantage – as education costs soar, a professional career with a recognised industry certification track may become very attractive.

Furthermore, we’d like to see this real-world focused approach throughout IT education, particularly GCSEs and beyond. We need to teach IT in a practical, exciting way which relates to how it is used in real life, as the aforementioned IT trainers do with great success. This will not only inspire more young people into IT and increase understanding of how to get there, it will also ensure they have the skills to get the jobs they want.

CompTIA has just completed a guide which hopes to help young people understand the many exciting options that a career in IT offers and can be viewed here. This blog post first appeared in Computer Weekly magazine.

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Sep 09

It’s all very well talking about how IT is an exciting career, but unless we start telling people about it, we’re not going to attract the people we need.

This all starts with education. Too many secondary schools have an IT curriculum which teaches Word and Excel and other subjects pupils already know about. This is boring.

We don’t teach 14 year old English students how to read, we teach an understanding of literature and use it to cultivate analytical, evaluation and communication skills. Similarly, IT should give students an understanding of how technology works and the tools to use it in productive and creative ways. It should teach subjects which, for those who enjoy IT, can be developed into relevant career skills.

Once students are excited about IT, we need to ensure that when they look for advice – from careers advisors, parents or teachers – these people have the materials to explain what IT can offer. The IT industry can help by providing these materials. CompTIA, for example has just completed a guide for use by such people to explain careers in IT and how we can help. Those interested can download the guide, called Be Part of the Future, from www.comptia.org/uk.

We also need people who will fly the flag in the media. Perhaps we could even find a champion who can do for IT what James Dyson did for engineering. An even better result would be for IT professionals to volunteer to visit their local schools or college and tell students why they love their career.

It’s a big job, but as an industry we need to find ways to share our love of IT with young people. As appeared in Computer Weekly magazine.

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Jun 27

Now some may interpret the headline as nerves getting the better of a kid on his first day at school! But this is something entirely different.

The Financial Times was recently quoted as saying more than 86m units of the Wii have been shipped, so why aren’t we using these consoles in the classroom? The president of Nintendo is keen for the new Wii U “to fundamentally change the structure of entertainment.” Pictured to the right, the Wii U controller has a touchscreen as well as the traditional controls which can create different interactions between players. Its ability to help retain focus is another interesting point.

Because kids are seen to have a multitude of applications on the go at once – Messenger, music/radio, Facebook, school homework and more – we think they can’t focus. Nonsense I say. These kids have a laser focus, just not with the boring stuff their schools feed them. I think the time has come to fully integrate these consoles into the learning process and just watch the results. The University of Wolverhampton in the Midlands of the UK has been doing this for a couple of years with tremendous outcomes of inclusion and benefits to all parties.

Which brings me on to another timely area of debate, and that is graduation time. With so many students happy and hopeful their studies are over and looking forward to the wide world of work, have we prepared them well? Students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills and then cast out into a different world requiring a totally different skill set, left alone of course to work this out for themselves! Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and purse their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live it, but as we know, very few people at graduate age can take an inward journey and instead need to encounter the experience to truly define the path they ultimately take – and these days, it isn’t just one path, but a series of very different walkways and careers on the way to wisdom.

Did I really plan a career in the IT arena with a ‘major’ in certification – no chance. Do I love the experience today, no question. Some call it the cart before the horse.

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