Blog Archives

‘Trump’s wall’ can’t stop talent fleeing the US

At 6:41pm Eastern Australian time on Wednesday 9 November, within half an hour of the calling of the US Presidential election result, in came an email with a request to chat from a very highly regarded Assistant Professor at a major Californian university.

“I have been quite fulfilled at (the) University,” she said, “but the results of our election have made me seriously concerned about the future of environmental science research in the US. I now want to consider something new and somewhere new.”

In our tightly interconnected world we are vulnerable to global shockwaves: the prospect of a Trump presidency may seem ominous for the global economy, but it could also throw up opportunities. We expected that Brexit would see some international professionals seeking opportunities in Australia to the benefit of business and universities here, but this week’s US election result could have an even bigger impact.

I have been recruiting academic roles for a major Australian GO8 University of late and our search for three of that University’s schools has involved contacting academic leaders all around the world. A number have been interested to talk further, and perhaps will apply, but most prospective candidates were happy where they are.

It’s not surprising. Given the new President’s comments on climate change in the lead up to the election, further concerted action on climate change appears unlikely in the US. But what really struck me was that this academic was ready to act on her convictions and back her professional experience, to up stakes and head to ‘warmer’ climes that hopefully (we’ve also seen some of our leading scientific minds looking abroad for a more welcoming political climate) will be more compassionate and supportive of her work.

Not everyone can move countries at will of course. The Assistant Professor is fortunate that there are career pathways within her professional community that facilitate knowledge sharing amongst academics. If she is able to continue her work here, her research will lead to a better understanding of climate impacts, from changes to wetlands, arid and other landscapes (highly relevant considering the environmental challenges we face in this country), then we will all benefit from her expertise.

So while some nations are talking about building walls that may prevent workforce mobility, Australia could be holding a winning hand if we maintain open-minded policies. From an executive search perspective and as a regular international traveller for senior appointments, I’d love to be able to refer more talent both ways.

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Posted in Slade Education, The world @work

Teaching our students, schools and the Universities how to adapt with change

Have we made any progress in understanding the needs of graduates?

A growing development across the University sector has been the search for leaders who have the vision for an improved learning experience for students. From the start of their entry into university, through to graduation and beyond, there is finally a push for a greater understanding and acceptance of the importance of experiential learning within courses, for all students. This might be through effective internships and industry placements; we are now seeing many faculties and whole Universities searching for leaders who can develop and guide such programs.

Schools have recognised the benefits of a transdisciplinary approach, educating students across traditional faculty boundaries with what is known as project-based learning – learning that is based on real-world experiences. This education model encourages curiosity and creativity, while developing communication abilities.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, wrote an opinion piece in The Australian recently, suggesting that it is time society recognised “it is not a failure to progress to a job that has no obvious link to one’s degree”. Finkel said that it was our “capacity to pivot” that was probably the most reliable predictor of success in career development. Finkel described how he had successfully ‘pivoted’ professionally from one opportunity to the next on several occasions through his career. It was made possible through the mastery of multiple disciplines and drew on experience that went way beyond traditional industry sector boundaries.

Two leading school Principals, Allan Shaw at The Knox School in Melbourne, and Dr Paul Browning of St Paul’s School in Brisbane, have written about programs for entrepreneurial skills and business enterprise developed in their schools. These initiatives, and the practical skills students gain, extend well beyond the boundaries of a traditional discipline or subject area.

As Allan Shaw has reflected, the deep knowledge in a discipline developed through university education remains a significant component for career success. Nevertheless, it is increasingly being understood that there is so much more that is necessary to equip students with the skills for an ever changing future: complex problem-solving ability, critical thinking, communications skills, teamwork, people management and good decision-making are some of the key competencies.

Times are a-changin’ and the ability to pivot (ie. adapt to change) is increasingly important, not only for individuals, but for institutions as well.

Have you pivoted between industries or sector specialisations or adapted your technical skills to a different role during your career? What programs have you been involved with to address change in your world @work?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Our prized skills in education are an export opportunity

The announcement of the world’s biggest education prize, worth more than $A12 million, offered by a Chinese tech billionaire, is symbolic of the surging wave of education for next gen China.

Working with a group of schools myself in China recently, I have seen firsthand there’s a great desire for change. Support for a broadening of the educational curriculum, processes and pedagogy to embrace such change has been furthered by a serious degree of investment growth in education both from the public and private sectors, parents and students themselves.

The Yidan Prize, named after its initiator, Charles Chen Yidan, will recognise outstanding individuals, such as teachers, or teams of people working in education, providing them with substantial investment to fund their projects. According to the Times Educational Supplement, the award aims to become the Nobel Prize for education. Yidan says one of the aims for the prize is to support “agents of change” in education.

The Chinese desire to bring big ideas to education is obvious. Encouraging creativity and innovation amongst students as well as the teaching profession broadly reflects their desire to be internationally competitive. Too often elsewhere, pressure to maintain high scores in assessments such as PISA tests (the OCED’s international tests in Maths, Science and Reading) are often seen at odds with the pursuit of creativity and imaginative thinking. Interestingly, PISA tests are soon to include “global skills” and cultural awareness for their next round of tests in 2018. Considering that in many parts of China, the results in those PISA scores are 30 per cent higher than those of Australian children in the same age group, there’s much our two countries could learn from each other.

On my recent visit to Beijing, Chongqing and Hong Kong, I saw wonderful opportunities for Australian educators and all others with specialist abilities associated with education. Working overseas for a period of time in any profession is an opportunity to gain experiences that shape and enhance your world view, with flow-on benefits to the development of your industry, both locally and abroad. But it’s not only our teachers who can realise these opportunities. In the education sector in China, associated technical professionals such as the architects who design school buildings and the engineers who construct them are also keenly sought after.

Australian investment in China and other rapidly developing nations in South East Asia means we are well placed to help lead innovation and drive ongoing change. Education is one area where we enjoy a high reputation internationally, with a strong track record in teaching and learning, as well as a growing export market for our skills and experience in the field.

What opportunities have you seen in the domestic or global market for your organisation that could advocate for positive change?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Are you hiring to fit today or tomorrow?

When you see candidates, do you imagine the possibilities and give them scope to realise their potential?

In recent weeks leading universities have advocated strongly for the removal of the traditional means by which students are selected for tertiary places – the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), describing the existing process as “out-of-date”, “irrelevant” and “meaningless”[1].

As the Vice-Chancellor of Swinburne University, Professor Linda Kristjanson, said this week, universities are very experienced at assessing student potential. Indeed it is the potential for learning and developing in a chosen field of endeavour that is so important to nurture and encourage in a young person (or a mature aged student); rankings only provide a narrow assessment of a student’s capability.

Of course for higher education providers, an assessment of academic ability is necessary, but it should be accompanied by evaluating a broader set of needs. In business, hiring organisations are most interested in an individual’s potential for growth.

Undertaking tertiary study is just as important and as potentially exciting as beginning a new career (or a new position within a chosen career), so why be restricted by a narrow measure of suitability? To encourage people to be successful, institutions should be supporting them through coaching and mentoring, nurturing their passions. As they advance, they need to display a humble willingness and desire for ongoing learning, while honing an industry sector, role or technical specialisation that’s appropriate to the workplace and aligned to the future employment market.

Universities, and employers, have always looked for motivation, sound communication skills and evidence from applicants that they can look beyond themselves to positively contribute to the wider community. Candidates, therefore, need to be able to show initiative, adaptability, creativity and teamwork. These indicators of a person’s potential are certainly assessable from a recruitment perspective, but not by some narrow measure.

While universities continue to debate the assessment of students, recruiters and hiring managers recognise a close fit between the needs of an organisation and the potential of a candidate is vitally important. For employers to achieve a more productive, dynamic workforce and be competitive in the international marketplace, a focus on potential as well as ongoing collaborative learning for all employees is required.

High-performing organisations will always emphasise professional development and executive recruitment should reflect that too. When you see candidates, imagine the possibilities and give them scope to realise their potential.

Is your organisation looking to the future in this way?

  1. ATARs are irrelevant, vice-chancellors say‘, The Age, 8 February 2016
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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work