Picture two clocks in front of you. One clock is fizzing at the seams, smoke billowing out of the brass case, hands moving in a blur. The other clock is ticking along at a steady pace, listening to the faster clock but dancing to its own tune.
You’re looking at the clock of industry vs the clock of education.
Dennis Bonilla, Dean of the global mthree Academy, has seen them both in action. He’s spent more than four decades working in both fields, notably heading up the School of Business and College of Information Systems and Technology at the University of Phoenix, as well as working for the likes of Microsoft and Oracle.
And as he says, the two clocks can never sync up.
“Industry runs at one speed and education runs at another speed. It could take you a year or two to launch an accredited program at university. In those two years, industry could have moved forward as much as ten years. The clocks are misaligned.”
It could be easy to write this off as a wholly bad thing, but the reality is more nuanced.
Dennis notes a qualitative difference in the skills that are taught at university and the skills that are needed in industry. They serve different purposes.
Universities double down on theory, research, experimentation, argumentation, learning for the love of learning. Their philosophy is less about getting you ready for a job and more about getting you ready for life.
Opinions on this are of course divided, and the economics of going to university are less clear-cut than they were once upon a time. A few big players (such as Google) are aiming to innovate universities out of existence by getting rid of degree-related entry criteria and creating their own qualifications instead.
But that’s a different ball game, with different pros and cons, and many organizations continue to look for a university education as the foundation for an entry-level hire.
Why? Because they believe that it still has value in the world of work and always will.
Dennis predicts that a handful of universities will become more nimble in a quest to match the clock of industry (especially with the dwindling appeal of fancy campuses and opportunities for remote study on the rise) but he reckons we’re unlikely to ever see a complete one-eighty.
There’s just one wrinkle to all of this. Advances in innovation are widening the gap between the skills needed and their availability in the workforce, which means there is more to be done once the graduation ceremony is over.
For graduates to succeed and create value for organizations early on, they need to be trained beforehand in both technical skills and soft skills. This bridges the skills gap, helping to smooth the transition period from university to their first real-world job. And that’s where you have to consider the two clocks we looked at earlier.
Dennis says his focus is on making the mthree Academy as synchronized with industry as it can be.
“For us to achieve this better than others, we have to be the best at not only finding people who are right for the role but also shortening the time to on-site competency. On day one, when the grads we’ve scouted and trained start with an mthree client, there’s no catching up. Our academy processes are designed to prepare people for the jobs we’re hiring for. That’s why we talk about pathways. The path should be as direct as possible.”
Popular pathways include production support, software development in Java and C#, cybersecurity, data engineering, data science and Salesforce, as well as banking services such as trade lifecycle management.
So what is it that distinguishes the learning that happens at the mthree Academy from the learning that happens at university? Is it just another load of academic theory dressed up in disguise? Is it taught by people who barely understand the curriculum any better than the trainees do?
No and no. Dennis describes four principles (BARE) that make the Academy process fit for purpose:
Blended – training should shift between live virtual and live in-person in order to meet the delivery realities at the time, while also meeting the needs of the learner. Never was this clearer than at the start of 2020, when the Academy was able to meet the challenges of coronavirus head-on.
Agile – tech is agile, so tech training should be agile too. Gone are the days of release cycles spanning two or three years, and our training content has to mirror this dynamic. It doesn’t make sense to spend ages creating learning materials. Before you know it, they’re out of date.
Relevant – training content should be tied to the skills needed in our clients’ job roles. We have to be on top of their job descriptions, so our training is relevant not just to how tech is changing but how jobs are changing too. It’s complicated, and it demands serious expertise. That’s why all our trainers have at least a decade’s experience in industry or education or both.
Experiential – everything we do should have applicability to how you’d actually do it in the workplace. All the practical assignments, all the testing, it’s all tied to a real project that a graduate might do in future, tailored to the client’s operational environment and industry. The experience has to prepare trainees for work.
This applies to the professional business skills we teach alongside the technical skills, such as communication and collaboration. Especially for women in technology, there’s sadly still a lot of bias in some areas of the world. How do you express confidence without expressing arrogance? How do you challenge the status quo constructively? We help graduates develop in these surrounding areas too.
The upfront injection of industry-aligned training to turn a degree into a career is only the beginning. These days it’s not enough to just acquire a bunch of tech knowledge and then sit back on your laurels. You have to be ready for the next evolution.
That’s why the mthree Alumni program doesn’t stop when the graduates go on-site. We include ongoing support to help them continue developing in their role.
As Dennis puts it, it can be hard for employees to think about staying current at the best of times. An attitude of lifelong learning is even more necessary now that teams have become more distributed, with more people working remotely as businesses fight to adapt to post-pandemic life.
“So we’re looking at our lifelong learning in terms of live touchpoints, where we check in and monitor and guide and give feedback, and in terms of prescriptive pathways too. Imagine you’re a data scientist. Over the two years you’re in your mthree Alumni role, we’ll give you a recommended set of courses to do, and we’ll follow your progress throughout. Not just for technical skills but also softer skills.”
We use a curated mix of sources for this. Some is our own custom content created by Wiley (a global leader in research, publishing and education for over 200 years), and some of it from other sources. We want to be able to provide pathways that are personalized to the learner and present the content in the manner they feel is the most effective for them. How they learn, and how they like to learn.
“Maybe I prefer reading but you’re a visual learner. If we see in our Learning Technology Ecosystem that you like videos, we’ll serve you more videos. At the end of the day we want you to learn in the most effective way for you. People have different obligations at home, with families and so on. Their ongoing learning has to meet them where they are.”
And that’s the critical piece of the puzzle. You want graduates because they’re smart and curious. You also want them to be valuable contributors from the get-go. We find the right folks and give them the upfront and ongoing training to make that happen.
Could mthree can help your organization bring in graduates with the skills you need, ready to go the distance? Find out more at mthree.com.
Going to London Tech Week 2021? See you there! We’re part of the Future of Work track on 22nd September. Make sure you register to hear Becs Roycroft, Thomas Seymour and Jeremy Corbett from mthree talk on the workforce strategies for success, ways to increase diversity & inclusion, and impacts of COVID on hiring.