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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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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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Hope I live to 100 to see how all this pans out

In that all too classic podium moment the technology went down. Without missing a beat, and even referring to the irony of the moment, Kim Williams continued with his compelling speech on technology disruption and transformation. He simply reverted to old-school print on paper as the audience remained transfixed at the VTA State Conference dinner.

If you read only one speech this year, read this one: The Incumbent’s Dilemma – “Fortune favours the bold”

Education goes hand in glove with innovation. Academics have been at the forefront of critical and scientific thinking for centuries. And now the TAFE sector, at the grass roots of higher education, is paving the way for experienced commercial leaders to begin a new knowledge partnership with private industry.

Not only is the education sector broadening its horizons through commercial focus, those institutions are actively seeking the participation of high performers from the business sphere and it’s starting at executive level. Slade Executive Education is increasingly commissioned to source talent for that difficult transformation. From a wider business perspective, it’s a global trend, which has greater implications for transforming traditionally separate candidate markets.

In the private sector, it’s a rare invitation to participate in the transformation of organisations in a non-commercial environment. I’m a non-academic, but as a major sponsor, was asked to bring my outside experience to the fore in discussions with delegates at this year’s Victorian TAFE Association State Conference. I know through these conversations that commercial KPIs, productivity measurement and ROI are of increasing interest in the education sector.

Australian education providers are experiencing unprecedented competition for students and other revenue streams, such as research grants. Globalisation now means they are not only competing with national institutions, just as a range of industries have learned to adapt after previously enjoying years of growth and prosperity in a relatively protected local market.

With the impact of the GFC still being felt, a tougher EU focusing on austerity, a stronger USD and declining demand for our commodities in Asia, the need for commercially focused leaders in education is stronger than ever.

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The noble heart of a hard-headed leader

Seeing Jeff Kennett up close and personal headlining the 2015 Deakin University David Parkin Oration for Sport and Social Change, is an opportunity to see a leader in action. He’s animated, engaging and at times a little embarrassing.

Speaking on professionalism in sport and its effect on workplace health, Kennett’s words are prophetic, delivered just hours ahead of the tragic events at Adelaide FC.

Kennett says we’re not well equipped to deal with the pressures of everyday life in modern society. Stress, change and anxiety can get the better of us because we haven’t been taught to deal with these issues. Despite being more connected than ever before in the digital age, social media can have the opposite effect, causing social isolation.

He talks about elite sports people living in a cocoon, out of touch with the real world, empathising with the likes of Ian Thorpe, unable to come out and reveal his true self until well into retirement.

Passing under the red and yellow beams on the Citylink freeway into Melbourne CBD, or attending a conference at the Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre (colloquially known as Jeff’s Shed), you cannot help be reminded of some of the legacy infrastructure from former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett.

In government Kennett was a polarising figure, and to get ‘Jeffed’ didn’t always have positive connotations. His vision for a Greater South East State remains understandably unpopular, and in my local community we’re still hopeful for a new high school to replace Richmond Secondary College, closed by the Kennett Government in the 1990s.

I lived in Sydney for the most part of that decade and I don’t know a lot about AFL, so while Kennett’s achievements as President of the Hawthorn Football Club (including a Premiership) may qualify him to talk about sport, it’s his work as founding Chairman of beyondblue, an organisation raising awareness of mental health, which is a real crowd-puller these days.

Over the course of the David Parkin Oration, Kennett offers personal advice from the perspective of a learned professional with many years of experience at the top of his game. His universal wisdoms, in the form of parental guidance and family stories, are also put forward, which makes him authentic and even endearing. He’s certainly charming and knows how to work an audience.

Deakin University awarded Kennett an honorary Doctor of Laws for distinguished services to business and the community, so it’s fitting that he’s a strong advocate for education as one strategy to meet life’s challenges. In fact he’s equally passionate about education and sport, suggesting ongoing learning as a pathway to equip young people for life after professional sport.

But what Kennett said that really hit home with me was this: “Professionalism does not yet recognise the human frailty of those in a profession.”

In our pursuit of professionalism, to excel in our career and to be the best that we can in our field of expertise, too often we lose sight of our humanity. There’s a body, without which there’s no brain. Athletes are reminded by injury. In the corporate sector, often we’ll wait until it’s too late to take care of our physical and mental health.

To be capable of great things, we need to play fair with ourselves too. Kennett says the second most important function of any leadership group, after good governance, is health and wellbeing of its members. This month beyondblue launches a series of projects aimed to reduce stigma around mental health conditions in men. It’s a timely reminder for professionals to check in with our team mates on and off the field.

What lessons can business leaders learn from professional sport? What’s your game plan for a healthy body and mind?

Featured image: Jeff Kennett by Craig Sillitoe Photography, Creative Commons Attribution

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Are you a badger or a fox?

There’s no way to dodge the digital evolution. Like winter, it’s a’coming. Our foxes know a little about a lot and badgers know a lot about a little. As organisations riding the tsunami wave of digital integration, we need badgers and foxes onboard. Those solid badgers with their deep knowledge and the agile foxes with the run of the landscape make for a healthy workplace environment.

You can probably pick the badgers from the foxes, but even the experts struggle to define digital and what qualifies subject matter experts varies greatly between organisations. The digital enabled workplace is here for you whether you’re a talented specialist with deep technical expertise or the generalist with a broad view of all areas of your organisation.

This week Slade Group brought business leaders together for a boardroom lunch to discuss Our Workplace and this Digital Economy. We presented the findings of The Australian Slade Digital Skills and Salary Survey 2015, which was the result of a year-long process conducted by Sweeney Research and involved 150 business from a broad range of sectors. At our table, executives representing banking & finance, consumer, education, professional services, marketing & advertising, news media, software development, and industrial provided some amazing insights on the digital knowledge and capability of Australian’s at work.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by new technology, take heart. We heard even the experts find it hard to keep up. In fact business is struggling to keep up with consumers, who are ahead of the game in entertainment, buying behaviours and their social networks, often at home with multiple devices watching TV, shopping online, and interacting via social media all at once! Is getting up at 5am every day or working 80 hours per week the answer? It’s ironic that the technology designed to simplify our lives has made it infinitely more complicated, while we’re drowning in electronic noise.

The Slade survey clearly indicates a digital skills shortage will affect the competitiveness of Australian companies if we don’t act now. While others play catch up, some businesses are sourcing talent from overseas. An increasingly agile global workforce presents further challenges. Taking an open door approach is one solution to higher mobile amongst technical specialists. It’s better to train someone who leaves, than not train someone who stays.  Innovative approaches, such as encouraging employees to pursue overseas opportunities, remaining connected to alumni and fostering a culture where ‘boomerang’ hires are actively pursued are some of the solutions our participants explored.

Education and upskilling is certainly required to keep pace. Typically this is occurring organically in SMEs, who have less resources available for training. Opinion in our boardroom was changing job descriptions and roles titles are make recruiting digital talent difficult. Universities cannot change course content quick enough to capture the latest digital trends. Meanwhile, the new generation of digital natives need to be nurtured from school towards Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) if we want to improve capability as well as see diversity in our organisations in the future.

When you’re building your digital team, let alone general teams, you need to be sure you’re hiring the right people. You’ll need some badgers and a few foxes. Making sure you have the right tools to assess digital talent also takes a subject matter expert.

How is your executive addressing the digital gap? What about your Board? What strategies have you implemented to future-proof your business?

Please contact me, Sally Powell, to find out more about Slade’s research and to receive a copy of The Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey Report.

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9 chilling facts about your workplace and this digital economy

You’re not alone – we’re all alert and slightly alarmed. Just take a look at the summary findings from The Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey 2015, and our original article below.

Where digital skills fall short:

  • 80% of managers describe staff as being weak in some or several areas of digital expertise; 70% believe a digital skills gap is taking a moderate or heavy toll on their business.
  • Even though over two thirds of respondents say it’s critical that new employees are able to demonstrate digital expertise, only 12% conduct internal or external testing during recruiting.
  • Only 9% think recent university graduates are equipped to undertake digital role requirements.
  • A quarter (25%) of the 150 businesses surveyed find it difficult to source digital employees because they believe not enough talent is available.
  • Respondents believe that 40% of senior managers in their organisations have ‘only a moderate understanding of the importance of digital skills’ while 20% had ‘little understanding’ at all.
  • Over 30% of respondents have brought in digital staff from overseas and will do so again, despite higher costs associated with sponsorship and relocation. Another 26% will consider it.
  • Over half (56%) of businesses surveyed anticipated hiring more digital specialists over the coming 12 months.
  • Mobile devices took over PCs for the first time in 20141, but only 9% of organisations believe they are ahead of the competition in mobile/SMS marketing today.
  • 98% of respondents feel it’s important to continually train their digital staff, yet over 60% rely on employee feedback and ‘observation’ to identify areas requiring development.

Since last month when we reported Digital Skills Fall Short the news media is all over it too.

We’ve linked the current commentary for your interest:

What are implications for us in the new digital economy, if “Australian businesses lag behind US and UK in competitive digital skills,” as International Business Times says? Locally, a skills crunch is a threat. It’s confirmed by a report in The Australian. And addressing that skills gap will be a challenge.

We’re not making it easy for ourselves either. CMO Magazine highlights a common conundrum: “Australian employers under-invest in skill development even as they struggle to find talent.”

The recruitment and training industries concur. According to training.com.au, “Australian businesses are struggling to match digital business needs with adequately skilled employees.”

Shortlist observes it’s “funding issues, not skills shortages”, which “stymie digital recruitment”, endorsing our prediction that the demand for digitally savvy executives will grow.

For a full copy of the report, please contact Slade Executive Recruitment on +613 9235 5100.

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Digital skills fall short

Australia is facing a major digital skills-shortage.

A new study suggests Australian employers are under-investing in the skills development of current employees, as well as struggling to find new digital talent. With the growing importance of digital in today’s business landscape, a lag in digital expertise in Australia is a major concern – one that has the potential to hinder the ability for growth and innovation.

First alert of a digital skills shortfall, highlighted in Quizzed About Digital on The Slade Report, came when we reported the findings of a US survey of 750 Fortune 500 and ad agency execs, The State of Digital Marketing Talent conducted by The Online Marketing Institute. The US report found that when asked about the expertise in their digital teams, company executives revealed that only 8% were strong across all digital areas.

Commissioned in response to the US study, The Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey, undertaken by Sweeney Research for the Slade Group Digital Practice and NET:101, was conducted across 150 small to large Australian businesses from a range of sectors.

We know the need for digital talent in Australia is widespread. Now it’s revealed that Australian companies find it difficult to identify and develop talent because of both subjectivity in the hiring process and the lack of on-going training and development.

So how did we compare with the US? Amongst brands and agencies alike, there appears to be insufficient focus on grooming talent, training and formally assessing skills. In the US study 75% of companies relied on referrals from their peers to meet their hiring needs. Comparatively, in Australia only 66% of respondents relied on employee referrals. Considering formal assessment during the recruitment process, just 10% of US respondents used some form of testing to measure employee’s skills or knowledge, compared to Australia’s marginally improved 12%.

The study also reveals leading companies digitise more business practices and processes. Therefore, opportunities for investment in digital specific skill-based assessment and training represent a significant opportunity for external providers to provide high-level education to the workforce.

Other key survey findings were:

  • A quarter of the businesses surveyed found it difficult to source digital employees because they thought not enough talent was available (25%); they could not compete with high salaries offered elsewhere (22%); or they lacked the funds and specialist recruitment expertise to source the right candidate (18%).
  • Just over 30% of respondents had brought in digital staff from overseas and would do so again, despite higher costs associated with sponsorship and relocation. Another 26% would consider it.
  • Over half (56%) of businesses surveyed anticipated hiring more digital specialists over the coming 12 months.
  • Whilst over two thirds of respondents said it was critical that new employees were able to demonstrate digital expertise, only 12% conducted internal or external testing during recruiting.
  • Only 9% thought recent university graduates were equipped to undertake digital role requirements.
  • 80% of managers described staff as being weak in some or several areas of digital expertise; 70% thought a digital skills gap was taking a moderate or heavy toll on their business.
  • Mobile devices took over PCs for the first time in 20141, but only 9% of organisations believed they were ahead of the competition in mobile/SMS marketing today.
  • 98% of respondents thought it was important to continually train their digital staff, yet over 60% relied on employee feedback and ‘observation’ to identify areas requiring development.
  • Respondents believed that 40% of senior managers in their organisations had ‘only a moderate understanding of the importance of digital skills’ while 20% had ‘little understanding’ at all.

The majority of comments that emerged from the survey focused on the urgent need for increased staff training, however the skills gap is magnified by the inability of businesses to source the talent they need from the talent pool. Alarmingly, very few in industry currently use digital skills assessments as part of the recruitment process and on-going training, leading to the downward spiral of digital skills.

High competition for good digital professionals has seen 22% of respondents indicate that they unable to compete with the cash incentives of larger companies – they’re missing out on talent as a result. A quarter (25%) believe there is not enough experience and skill in the market, and 18% feel they are not equipped with the expertise to find the right candidate. Australian organisations should heed these figures; there is an opportunity for talent finders.

If you would like to receive a copy of the full survey report, please contact Slade Executive Recruitment on (03) 9235 5100.

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