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Infosys research - 12 key findings about next generation skills and education

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy January 21, 2016
A lot of detail to absorb but the finding are clear - companies need to think about life long learning.

higher purpose
One of my favorite day to day experiences is  hearing about Infosys position on education.

I view the company's approach as pioneering in a world where skills learned yesterday may be rendered obsolete tomorrow and where the dehumanizing threat of robotics gives people genuine cause for concern.

This week, the company sent me a report they are presenting at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos. Entitled: Amplifying Human Potential, Education and Skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the report takes a hard look at career and education realities for people in the 16-25 age group across Europe, North America, emerging markets in both South America and Asia as well as South Africa.

The research which underpins the report found:

  1. An optimistic and pragmatic generation in the face of adversity
  2. Emerging countries are most confident in their readiness for the future
  3. In emerging markets, technological skills underpin confidence
  4. Future appetite for technology is concentrated among the already highly-skilled
  5. Advanced markets show most significant gender gap in technological skills
  6. Education is failing to prepare many young people for working life
  7. Right-brain skills need nurturing
  8. Employees fall short of employees' training expectations
  9. Industry views on the future of skills and work closely align with those of young people
  10. Stable careers are most desirable
  11. Liquid skills will be a pre-requisite for the future
  12. High awareness of radical change on the horizon

We are always skeptical about vendor driven research because we know these are motivated by an agenda that is not always immediately obvious but often has a clear marketing angle. In this case, I am more persuaded by the ideology that CEO Vishal Sikka has been following for some time where he says:

As technology continues its rise, absorbing our mundane and routinized tasks, we must understand our calling to something greater – to be better,something more. This is the promise of our great human potential – that we are more than the sum of our knowledge of the past: it is precisely our learnability, on the things we don’t know, that will open a new future for all of us.

Life long learning - are we prepared?

That plays directly to my plea about the need for proper apprenticeship and the importance of mastery. The report expands on this, noting significant gaps between expectation and reality:

Young people have high expectations of employer commitment in relation to their personal development. In all markets, at least seven in 10 agree that employers should be prepared to train employees throughout their careers. However, at the early stage in their working life, there is already a gap between young people’s training expectations and the reality of what employers have delivered.

One very interesting finding:

When it comes to the specifics of the most important skills for success in the workplace, women are much more likely than men to prioritize verbal communication, critical thinking, active listening and active learning. Men are more likely to focus on ICT, problem solving and mathematical reasoning. However both genders are focused on the need for a mix of ‘right’ and ‘left’ brain skills.

On skills specifics the survey found:

Skills required

I was surprised to see 'written expression' so low on the list. We find that on a day to day basis, much of what is written in corporate settings can be significantly improved. We believe that is because there is insufficient attention paid to critical thinking.

The gender split is particularly interesting since it may in part go towards explaining why there are reported gender issues in the workplace. One element missed in this report are employer attitudes towards topics like empathy, something Brian Sommer has spoken about in the context of the hiring process and talent retention.

Startup or stability?

Perhaps the juiciest part of the report comes in its assessment of young people's views about where they want to work. From the report:

Young people today are often percevied as being attracted to more entrepreneurial career paths, and the idea of being a self-starter is certainly attractive to this generation: at least half in all markets say they would like to start their own business one day.

However, when considering their personal situation in the here and now, a stronger aversion to risk emerges. Working for a large business is more attractive for young people than working for themselves; less than one in 10 want to work for a start up. At a global level, the prospect of working for a large business over other types of employer particularly appeals to men.

This will be a surprise to many of diginomica's core readers in the US and Europe but then it is worth considering the regional differences in the answers given. (see graphic below.)

geo split on where to work

I have long argued that the perception of millennials as fundamentally different to past cohorts is nonsense and this report confirms that perspective, although the split between different options varies wildly from country to country. Where I think the findings are most interesting is in the relatively even splits found in EU and North America. Reading the technology media, you'd be forgiven for thinking that everyone wants to work at a sexy startup or Facebook. That's clearly not the case.

Liquid learning

The question of future or 'liquid' learning turns up useful findings. For example, it seems this cohort has successfully grasped the need to place learning as a central need for a labor market that will almost certainly require workers to learn new skills and in some cases unlearn skills over their working life.

But according to Vandana Sikka, chairperson, Infosys Foundation US:

Exam grades do not automatically translate into skills. They also do not encourage continuous improvement and capability. Traditional education is heavily focused on static assessment and not on fostering the culture of ongoing learning and development that our longer generation needs.

Adapting to the new

The report findings conclude with an unsurprisingly strong focus on introducing technology at an early age. That already happens in the developed world, albeit in an informal manner. We routinely see families where the first device a young person sees is a tablet or smartphone. The developing world has challenges in this regard.

The report closes out with a plea to consider the future of education as both a political imperative requiring innovative thinking mirrored by companies taking far more responsibility for skills training and education than is the case today. One idea:

A collaborative approach between businesses that creates a talent ecosytem, allowing for movement between positions and learning programs but within an overarching business network could help to address both young people’s expectations and businesses’ need to retain talent.

My take

There is much to like in this report and plenty of scope for expanded discussion. The changes needed inside business will take significant investment and realignment of training and education programs. I still think there is a strong place for the concept of mastery and apprenticeship. I hope that isn't lost in the discussion around liquid learning.

Disclosure: Infosys is a premier partner at time of writing and consulting client of the author. 
Image credits: Top image - higher purpose via @gapingvoid, graphics from the report cited. 

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