It's time to re-educate our approach to education & training

All forms of education and training add to the diversity of skills and capabilities that make up a technology or leadership team

lightbulb brainstorming creative idea abstract icon on business hand
Shutterstock / NaMong Productions

The older I get, the more interested I get in education and training. Sadly most discourse on the topic is, like so much in our society, polarised with divisive vernacular. As a result, the debate lurches from side to side, with one camp and then another claiming to be the answer. In education and training, there is no single answer.

If a broad debate and approach towards education and training is not adopted - and fast - then the current skills shortage and productivity challenges that the western world faces will not be dusted off the blackboard any time soon. 

The noise surrounding the great resignation and the skills shortage masks the fact that CIOs and CTOs can source talent and training from a broad and diverse landscape. Apprenticeships enable the retraining of existing staff members, new recruits that may or may not have been to university and are a long way from the apprenticeship some of our classmates did when we left school in the 1980s and 1990s. Identifying gaps in the market, a number of organisations have pivoted from traditional recruitment practices to training and deploying teams, and academia remains valuable and many institutions are modifying their courses and processes to meet the needs of today.

Over the last decade, I have met CIOs and CTOs whose career journeys demonstrated that there is no set path into technology or business leadership. An education in history does not mean that you have to be a historian, when as a technologist or business leader, you can be creating the future - which in technology circles quickly becomes history. What the diverse range of educational and training starting points of today's cadre of business technology leaders shows, is that if we don't know the path forwards. All forms of education and training add to the diversity of skills and capabilities that make up a technology or leadership team.

Focusing on one type of education and training type risks depleting diversity of thought and ability at the very time when both are vital. Studying one topic and then moving to work in what may seem to be an unrelated area fosters the creativity and innovation we so desperately need in organisations. Being able to take the ideas and lessons from history and chemistry and then apply them to a thorny business challenge has the potential to reveal a new and alternative way to solve a problem. This has been the case for many CIOs and CTOs. Therefore the community must not be persuaded by those that use divisive language to polarise education and training; all forms of education and all forms of skills development are essential and must be valued. 

Learning and skills development is a personalised experience. Each and every one of us have learning styles that suit us - often a number of different types of learning styles depending on whether it is skills or knowledge that is required. Therefore understanding and embracing the route a colleague or candidate took to develop their capabilities is key. CIOs and CTOs will also need to focus on personal learning styles in order to retain and foster the abilities of team members.

Organisations that celebrate and embrace apprenticeships, university graduates, returning to work parents, career changers, boot camps and training service providers will inevitably have a wider pool from which to catch the talent they require. Recent engagements have brought me into contact with all of the above, and I have been impressed by the calibre of talent, the passion of the leadership teams and the capabilities all of these options offer. 

The competitive nature of the employment market requires business technology leaders to do more for the talent they have and demand. To date, many organisations have wanted a finished product employee. This is understandable; the demands on CIOs and CTOs to spearhead change are at an all-time high, but it is imperative to do more. Organisations want employees with deeper skills - education knows this and has been responding. Today's students do more than their set subjects; the additional outputs and workload is way beyond what was asked of our generation. Changes in the employment landscape, coupled with those additional educational demands, have made it harder for pupils to gain as much work experience. As a result, organisations will need to do more to help candidates through the transition - but without turning them into carbon copies. And perhaps, we may have to question some of the expectations and demands of being 'work ready' in the new economy.

The greatest risk to the technology community is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. A skills shortage and poor productivity will continue if organisations do not seize the opportunity that is available and embrace each and every one of the channels creating business technologists. Investment and engagement with training providers, apprenticeships, universities and colleagues from other departments have the potential to create a team that has deep and diverse backgrounds, genders, experiences, skills, education and ways to innovate and tackle the challenges ahead.