Future Proofing Canada’s Workforce – Innovating Higher Education

I recently read the newly released report The Intelligence Revolution – Future Proofing Canada’s Workforce. In particular the report mentions the need to retool Canada’s eduction systems to convert them into practical lifelong centres of learning.

Machine learning, artificial intelligence, AR/VR and quantum computing are unleashing forces and creating change on a scale that has never before been seen by humanity. A conservative estimate pegs a minimum of 40-50% of the existing workforce being directly impacted within the near future. This will likely lead to a huge increase in the working class persuing re-training and further education.

We’re going to need to re-examine how we think about work and how we think about education and lifelong learning. In this post I’d like to start looking at the education side of this challenge.

What can the customer focused tech titans teach us?

If you have a closer look at most startups and industry leaders in the technology space, you’ll find an almost obsessive focus on the customer.  Their number one priority is understanding their customers and providing them with the products and services they want and need at the most competitive prices possible. These technology titans have overturned almost every dominate industry of old. What would it look like if we approached higher education from this perspective?

Are our current public universities and colleges as focused on the customer as the private sector?

In todays day and age, learners are not simply students coming out of high school. More often than not, they are increasingly working adults with challenging work-life schedules.  Many of them may have already completed a bachelors degree and would love to pursue a Masters degree or continue their professional development. Their struggle is finding the time to physically attend classes and bend their life and work schedules to fit that of the institution they wish to attend.

Couple this with artificial constraints of how long a degree or credential should take to achieve and you end up with a lot of lost business opportunities and frustrated potential customers.

How many working Canadians out there that would love to work towards their Masters degree, earn a second degree or pursue a new a credential but just can’t  because of the awkwardness that exists of the current system?

While it would be easy to harp the the current shortcomings of the existing system, perhaps a more productive approach may be to ask ourselves what good would look like? If we looked at students as customers (which they are) and we applied the same level of focus and zest that the tech titans on serving them, what could education look like looking into the future?

Let’s examine things from the perspective of the customer.

Lifetime Learners

No longer would we see a student as a 3-4 year client. With our new outlook, we’d view them as lifelong learners and hence lifelong customers and revenue generators. What if it became commonplace for people to hold multiple undergraduate and graduate degree and they continued to add to these credentials over their entire lifespan?

Delivering Value and Affordability

Customers want value for their money. Education costs have ballooned over the past decade. In the tech world, many companies have been successful in toppling existing markets and competitors by attacking costs and removing inefficiencies. Look at the impact Amazon has had on everything from the cost of books to setting up your whole technology infrastructure on Amazon Web Services.

Does it continue to make sense for degrees to cost $50,000 – $100,000+. What if an equivalent if not superior learning experience could be provided for a fraction of this cost? What if higher education became financial accessible to pretty much anyone wishing to learn. What if higher education was free? Never going to happen? You might want to check out the increasing number of institutions like MIT who have opencoursweare initiatives and organizations like Coursera, EdX and Udacity. Amazon AWS certifications can he obtained in a matter of months, with testing for certification costing less than a few hundred dollars and providing pathways to well paying jobs.

Now, just like in the business world, customers don’t mind paying for value, but the value must actually be there. How may students currently graduate from various programs in Canada and are ill-equipped for the realities of the current workplace? What if institutions measured and focused on delivering verifiable value to all their students and what if when they failed to do so, they offered a full refund? We apply this in the world of business every day, could this be applied in the realm of education?

Convenience

If we looked through the lens of the customer, we’d realize that many of them don’t have the ability to take day classes and may not be able to regularly attend physical classrooms because of their work schedule. Why not make it easier for them? We could empower learners to take courses online at times and places that are convenient to them. We wouldn’t make them wait a semester to start a course, we’d let them dive in right away if they wanted to. We wouldn’t artificially dictate how long they took to complete a course or program either. If a learner wanted to power their way through a course that normally took 3 months in a much shorter time frame or they need a extra month or two, why would’t we let them? As long as they could demonstrate the necessary mastery and knowledge, why should’t they be able to set their own pace?

Customization

Customers like to customize and design their own experiences, so wouldn’t it make sense to give our adult learners/customers the power to design their own educational paths. Many programs limit the course offerings to a handful of choices. If for example a learner wanted to custom design their own masters degree, why shouldn’t they be able to be empowered to choose the courses they felt would best serve their learning needs and goals?

Customer Engagement

Top tech companies are constantly engaging with the customers. Whether is requesting feedback on their products or services, making helpful suggestions for other products or services their customers may enjoy or asking for a review or endorsement, a lot of effort goes into maintaining ongoing positive relationships with customers.

Customer Feedback and Continuous Improvement

Paying attention to and responding to customer feedback is another major strength of successful online companies and service providers.  In the tech world, product managers play close attention to customer suggestions and feedback on new features, products and services. Their goal is to constantly improve and add value.  When we look at traditional education, are our teaching methods and outcomes constantly getting better and better over time? Is any given course that was offered 10 years ago significantly better today and does it deliverable the best value possible to its learners? Why aren’t the same expectations of continuous improvement and results that exist in the world of business being applied to the realm of education? Teaching is a system and as such, is it not unreasonable to expect systems to evolve and improve consistently over time?

Customer Appreciation 

Whether it’s providing loyalty discount, receiving a simple “thanks for your business” email or making the effort to follow up on customer feedback, complaints and praise, the all-star companies out there know that it’s better to keep customers happy and excited about their products and services than risk loosing them and then have to look for new ones. Do our current systems of education convey the clear message that you are extremely important to us, we value you and we want you as a customer for life?

Cleary the current system is far from perfect, but unless we start asking tough question and start looking at opportunities for improvement, these systems may likely remain slow to change.

What is certain to change is there are an increasing number of competitors who are seeing the gaps and opportunities to jump into the education space … and do it better. Their aim will be to serve customers better, to cut costs, provide more value, to scale delivery globally, improve accessibility and provide options that have not previously existed to learners from all walks of life.

The opportunity to improve and evolve is definitely there for higher education. The question is, will it seize the opportunity while it still can or will it be the next industry to be upended?

Finding Your Next Dream Job

happy

At some point or another either by choice or by unforeseen or uncontrolled circumstances many of you will find yourself on the lookout for a new job or career.  While I make no claim to be an expert in this, I have recently found myself in this situation and in my case it was by choice.

Before we dive in and have a closer look at this topic I think it’s worth stopping to reflect on a few things.

First off, you may not have ever consciously thought about it, but as a full time employee you’ll likely spend more time with your work colleagues than you do with you own friends and family! Why is this important? We’ll if you are looking for your next landing place, wouldn’t it be great if your work colleagues felt more like family and friends? For those of you who have had to work in jobs where work definitely didn’t feel this way, you know that eventually it has an impact on you and usually it’s not a good one.

Secondly, I want you to realize you have a choice. If you have a significant other, you didn’t just walk out the door and pick the first person you ran into did you? If you went to university or college, you didn’t just close your eyes and pick one … right? The point I’m trying to make here is that you could be in this new employment relationship for quite a while if things go well, so wouldn’t it make sense to make sure it was a good fit right from the start? If you’re just firing resumes out to anyone and everyone, you’re not being choosey and as a result you are highly likely to end up with an unfavourable match.

Realistically out of the entire realm of possible job opportunities, there are going to be some that are better matches than others. Your job is to sift through the opportunities you come across and filter out the ones that are the best fit for you. Ideally you looking for some kind of strategy that you can employ that will help you with this process.

As I mentioned previously, I’m not an expert but I am really good at coming up with and refining systems and here is what I’ve come up with so far.

The Values Filter

Many if not most companies nowadays will list their values someone on their website. Visit the companies site and find out what they are. Your first gut check will be to see how these values mesh with your own. If you see things like Profit, Growth, Efficiency for one company and People First, Do the Right Thing and Excellence on another, this may give you valuable insight into a companies culture and how they see and treat their people.

Be cautiously optimistic here because values are very easy to print out on letterhead or paint onto the office wall, but their much more difficult to actually live by day to day. Don’t necessary believe everything you read. Seek out evidence the support or refute the company lives by it’s values.

The Culture Filter

I don’t think anyone would deliberately look for a company with a bad culture, at least I hope not. For me culture is the very first and by far the most important factor in a company making the grade. Good old Google is your friend here and what you want to do right off the bat is do search for the company and see what you find out. You can also check social media and social networks liked Linked in. One of my all time favourite places to look is Glassdoor. On this site you’ll see both the good and the bad, if the company is listed, which many if not most are if they’ve been around a few years. What you’re looking for is an overall impression. One bad review is not the end of the world but if the majority of reviews are bad, this is a red flag.

Leverage your personal and social network to find out if you know anyone who works at the company and see if they’d be willing to give you and insider perspective. I’d also strongly recommend you check out the companies leadership, as a culture in a company often comes from and is modelled by it’s leadership.

Another good way to measure culture is to look at turnover. If you see a company is constantly loosing staff and advertising for the same positions, this could be an indication that their are culture or business is in trouble. Companies with low turnover will be happy to boast about it and this is a good sign.

If and when you get a chance to visit onsite, pay attention to what you see. What is the vibe like in the office. Do you feel energy in the air? Do the staff members look happy or does it feel like you just stepped into a graveyard? How are you treated while you’re there? Are people helpful and friendly and do they smile or do people seem a little standoffish? Does it feel like this could be you’re new home away from home, or are you looking for the exit doors and thinking about making a run for it?

The Health Filter

The bottom line is you need to do your homework and find out as much about the company as you can. You should be able to find out things like how long they’ve been around, if they are in a growth stage, levelled out and holding or in decline. Has the company just secured a new round of investment? Are they releasing a new product or starting a new division? Did they recently just shut down 3 locations and layoff 500 people? Does their senior management look experienced and competent?

The clues are there if you’re willing to get in there and look. If they are a public company you can review their financials and even read their annual report. Are they willing and able to pay fair industry rates to their employees? Glassdoor can help with finding out some of this information as well. Ideally you’re looking to find a company that seems to be in good financial and leadership health and looks like it has some room for growth and long term stability.

The Position Filter

First off, you’ll need to know the position exists in the first place. You’ve got a many options here. You can wait for a position to pop up online on one of the many job sites you routinely visit, spot a new opportunity in your LinkedIn feeds or maybe you’re lucky enough to learn about a position from a friend or an acquaintance. You can also take the bull by the horns and proactively seek out companies that you’d actually really enjoy working for, regardless if they have open positions yet or not and make contact.

Once you’ve determined that your values align, the culture looks amazing and the company looks strong and there are open positions, you’ll need to zoom in and closely examine the role you’re applying for.

First off, are you realistically capable of taking on the position and adding value to it? If you’re totally unqualified for the role, best bet is likely not to waste your time or the employers. Now it’s possible that you may have vast majority of what the role needs and are just missing a few small things that could easily be picked up along the way. All jobs will require learning and good employers will understand that and may often be willing to allow an employee to grow into the role.

The other really important question that you need to ask yourself and be completely honest … is would you really enjoy and thrive in this position. Just because you can perform a role doesn’t mean you’ll actually enjoy it and should take it on. This was a big one for me. While I’ve been programming on and off for almost 2o years both as a freelance developer and working in industry and I really enjoy working with technology, I’m now at a stage in my own personal development where I don’t want my job to focus solely on coding anymore. I discovered over the past few years that I really enjoyed flexing my leadership and business skills and that I really like working with a variety of people. So when a few developer positions popped, even though they paid handsomely, I realized this just wasn’t me anymore. You need to look at the fit between you and the company but you’ll also need to examine the fit between you and the position. Ideally if you have a strong fit in both, you’ll more likely than not to find yourself in your happy place.

Creating your Hit List

Ok, so now that we’ve covered of some of the filters we can throw on any given opportunity to see if it’s a good fit for you, it’s time to put this to practice!

I have a system I use whereby I’m constantly on the lookout for new opportunities, be it from popular online jobs sites, Linked, Glassdoor or some local technology sites I follow. I cast my net out on a daily basis and then I systematically go through each opportunity with the various filters I’ve talked about.

After I’ve gone through my filtering process I usually end up with several really high grade opportunities.  I then sit down and take a deeper dive into the company and what they do and from this I take the time to craft a very custom and personalized cover letter and send it in along with my resume. Ideally I try to address this to a real person.

If I really feel like the company is a fantastic match for me, I add them to my hit list. This special list is not an easy one to make and so far this summer only about 6 companies have managed to make the grade.  I keep a close watch on these special companies as it is usually not long before a new position pops up that may be a good fit for what I’m looking for.

You might be thinking, wow that sounds like a lot of work and to be honest it is. Don’t forget,  you’ll likely be spending more time with your new work team than your own family. Good employers take the time to be choosy about who they hire so why shouldn’t you take the time to be choosy about your employer?

Statistics tell us that over half of the people out their don’t like their job. My hope is that by reading this article and then putting it to practice, you won’t be one of them.

So get out there and get started on that Hit List and with some hard work and a bit of luck you’ll be well on your way to finding a good job that you can make great!

Quitting Your Job – A Tail of Overcoming Fear and Creating new Possibilities

the road ahead

We’ve all thought about it at one point or another some of you may be thinking about it right now. No, I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about quitting your job.

We live in an age where over half the workforce in North America does not feel happy and engaged with their work. I think this is truly unfortunate and a huge waste of human potential.

For me, quitting went from just being an academic exercise to the real deal when I made the decision to leave my well paying role with my previous employer.

While I spent 3 years in this role and was quite good at it, at some point I began to feel disengaged and misaligned with the values and culture of the company . Over time I noticed the front door to the office began to feel heavier and heavier and I began to feel dead inside. The frustrations and stress from my job began making it’s way back home and negatively impacting my family dynamic and my health.

Each night I came home to my wife and kids, the days frustrations and emotional turmoil I had endured were tagging along for the ride. While I desperately felt like I needed someone to talk to and a way to vent, I became blind to the toxicity that this was creating at home.

While your family is there to love and support you, never abuse this trust. They are not there for you to dump all your daily challenges and frustrations on, so if you find yourself in this boat, for the sake of your family and your marriage, please stop.

While I tried everything in my control to make things better at work, at a certain point I realized that I could only do so much and that you can’t change things that don’t want to be changed.

It’s at this point that I came to a very difficult fork in the road. Do I stay in a role and organization that I felt completely disengaged from and pretend I was happy and try to just do my job or did I bite the bullet and create a brighter future for myself and my family and take a  leap of faith into the unknown?

As Thoreau once wrote, ” The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  I realized I had become one of these men and that I had to find my way out before it was to late.

After talking things through with my wife, she encouraged and supported my decision to step down. This was not an easy decision to say the least and has been a mix of fear, exhilaration and hope.

In a perfect world, I’d advise those of you thinking about quitting your job to have something lined up and in place before you pull the trigger if possible. As it turned out in my situation I left before having my dream job in place.

Some of you may have a fantasy of quitting your job by going out in a blaze of sound and glory. In my case it was pretty low key. I sat down with my boss over lunch the next day and explained how I was feeling and my intent to step aside to pursue something new. He was very supportive and understanding but once he realized my mind was made up we decided on a date for my last day with the company.

I spent the next few weeks helping prepare my team for the transition and tie up any loose ends. It’s always preferable if you can part with your employer on good terms and this was indeed the case. My company took me out for a really nice farewell lunch and even provided me with a card designed by our creative team wishing me success.

And with that I became a free agent of the universe and my new life began!

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely days when the fear of being able to find my next gig,  provide  for my family, pay the bills and put food on the table rears it’s ugly head.  When this happens, I try to remind myself that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to embrace fear and move past it.

My faith is stronger than my fear and I also feel a sense of excitement and exhilaration that has come back into my life. Every day brings me one step closer to achieving my dream.

Realizing that the next time my phone rings or the next time an email arrives in my inbox, I could be talking to my next employer and be one step closer to joining my dream team is a real rush!

For all of you out there who can relate to my situation and may be considering leaving your job, I hope this gives you something to think about. Ultimately you need to do what’s best for you and your loved ones. In my case I have no regrets.

Introducing White Spot’s new Augmented Reality Kids App – WS Kids

WS Kids App

I am proud to announce the launch of the new White Spot Kids mobile app – WS Kids. My team and I have been working hard on this project for the past several months now and the app has finally been released to the iOS and Google play app stores.

White Spot is an iconic brand here in BC and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was a kid ordering my own Pirate Pak.

pirate

We had the pleasure of working with White Spot to help modernize their kids program with the latest in augment reality, mobile games and interactive entertainment.

You can download the app by visiting www.whitespot.com/kids and is available for both iOS and Android devices.