12 December 2018 | by Heather MacLean


Skills and Talent Development – for the Future

[Note: A version of this post previously appeared on LinkedIn]

Talent development is by far the most important activity that we need to focus on, in my opinion. Talent comes in many shapes, sizes and disciplines and we need to think about life-long learning in a different way. Anyone who knows me knows that I have been a life-long learner. I love learning. I also love helping others learn and this is perhaps the biggest reason I became a Professor, in my spare time. Working with my students has been tremendously rewarding. Prior to being a Professor, I was fortunate enough to work with adults teaching them to read  and then in my day-to-day life designing and delivering training. For me, learning is a part of every day.

I must say that being exposed to university students has kept me on my toes and I learn just as much from them as they do from me. There is, however, a trend that I have noticed over the years of working with university students, however. The trend is concerning.

These days many university students are not exposed to basic and core business fundamentals that you would think would be a priority. For example, the basics in terms of how to answer a telephone, how to write an email, a letter and business reports are just not being covered the way you would think they would be. These are basic skills that when hired, employers assume or expect university graduates to have.

I have made it a priority to incorporate these basic skills into all my courses, regardless if there is or isn’t a direct connection. I believe fully that providing my students with not only theory, but real-life skills will put them in a better position when competing for a job.

Many of us believe technology is the solution for everything and because many students in college or university today are digital natives, there is the naïve assumption by business people that graduates will just know how to do things with technology.

That brings me to my next point: competition. I have seen over the last few years noticed a general misplaced belief from many students they do not have to compete for jobs. I am not sure what the driver of this is, but it is very interesting to me. I can see from the looks on their faces that positioning the job search as a competition is foreign for many. And, as I play it out for them, they move more into that realm, but it is fascinating to see how jobs have been positioned with them. Thus, preparing them for the job search, potential interviews and how to do an interview is a key component of my curricula.

I believe that some of this comes down to the fact that we now focus so heavily on technology – technology in our lives – technology in our businesses and thus, technology in our schools. Many of us believe that technology is the solution for everything and because many students in college or university today are digital natives, there is the naïve assumption by business people that graduates will just know how to do things with technology. My favourite example is social media. I wish I had a dollar for every time I had an intelligent business person say to me: ‘well, I will just hire someone out of university to manage my social media.’  While yes, it is great that they will hire fresh graduates, I must ask the following questions:

  1. Who will train them on the difference between using social media for business versus using social media to post fun cat memes or to communicate with their friends? There is a significant difference and social media done properly needs to be integrated into the overall business plan and objectives.
  2. Who will monitor and manage them to ensure that they are complying with the various privacy and anti-spam laws?
  3. What is the escalation plan for trolls, hashtag hijacking, social media hacking, etc.?

I could go on, but you get the point.

While technology is an important component of business, I believe that we can’t forget about teaching and working with students – and our colleagues – on a human level. I think Sherry Turkle said it best in her Ted Talk, and I am paraphrasing when I say that the more connected we become with technology the more disconnected we become from humanity. Essentially, we need to put technology aside at times and connect with the people sitting near us or next to us. Through human connection and interaction, we learn from others, we connect with others. This just makes us better communicators and people.

These are some of my observations and I welcome others.

Want to learn more about New Brunswick’s leading Skills and Workforce Development Strategy?

Contact our Director of Skills & Workforce Development: Heather MacLean

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