Elon Musk, Water-cooler conversations, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are lucky to be joined once again by Katriona Lord-Levins, Chief Success Officer at Bentley Systems to discuss the crisis in infrastructure. What are soft skills? How do people cope in the remote-working world without a manager over their shoulder? Plus, Kat discusses how the pandemic forced people to revaluate their positions.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast.
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Welcome back to another School of School podcast. We're incredibly fortunate to have with us today Kat Lord-Levins. And you're somewhere which to me sounds really exotic at the moment. Is this the case? And can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Yeah. Thank you and thanks for having me. So I'm Kat Lord-Levins. I am currently the Chief Success Officer at Bentley Systems, which is an infrastructure company. And I am right now located in Arizona. I'm normally on the West Coast, but working in Arizona in one of the wonderful WeWork, the changing face of office life for sure.
Nice. Well it's an absolute pleasure having you here.
So what are we talking about today? It sounded really complicated to me. What was it?
Yeah. So why don't I start? Part of what was going through my mind as I chat to Andy on an ongoing basis is around the problems that when we look at the corporate world, so think of the exit side of your education worlds that you might live in and the other side in the corporate life, and what's the impacts that's happening in our world and how can we better prepare our children and ourselves for the onslaught of change? So the first thing that I was talking about was around the crisis in infrastructure. So we work with all of the large engineering companies, governments that build roads and schools and everything that's out there in the normal world. And there's a huge problem. There's a huge problem with what's known as the great resignation and that's people deciding to... After the pandemic, people really reevaluating their lives and deciding to stop working, to cut back perhaps, maybe reset their goals and leave the workforce. And the great reshuffle, people who are leaving companies to go back to old companies.
So lots of movement happening. And there's a real lack of talent. So every company that we talk to are looking for talent. There's a huge shortage, a tonne of jobs out there, certainly lots of choice and expectations are being reset by the early stage employees that are coming into the world. Obviously, they want flexibility. They want more out of an engagement. I think the pandemic gave people a pause moment where they started to reevaluate their lives in general and see, "Okay, what is important to us and what are we in fact demanding?" And so corporations are having to change. And so there's lots of things that we can do in the school systems at home with our children to prepare for some of this.
Yeah, that's a really good point. And I think as educators, sometimes we suffer from being a little bit insular and we think that education is really for education's sake and that there isn't a responsibility for the education system to create, I don't know, for lack of a better term, functional contributing members of society, right? So education is great in its own right, but are we producing people that are going to have... They're going to be employable.
Because we need people to be employable ultimately, right? Otherwise, we have all kinds of other problems. Adam, I mean you look really surprised.
No, no, I'm not surprised.
I know you're not.
I'm just thinking about this. There's a couple of things. So first all, Kat, was this a direction of travel that was happening anyway that's been accelerated by the pandemic? Or is this something as a result of people having to take stock? Like we were, I know I can speak for myself, came to a dead stop when the first announcement happened. And all of a sudden, it was just like well this is uncharted territory, certainly for, well, all of our generation I'd suspect. But I suppose the reason why I asked that question is if it was, then has education taken notice whatsoever? And then the second part is do you see any changes? And what are we preparing the children for? So you've talked about somewhere where perhaps, I don't know, there is a reevaluation of what work looks like and how we behave in society and the expectations that are placed on us that sound is being quite a significant shift. So I suppose what are the key aspects that if we are going to prepare children for this, what does this brave new world look like?
Yeah. No, it's a great question. And so I think that the pandemic was a catalyst. People were forced to work from home. They had to embrace technology perhaps in a way that they hadn't before and think about that more experienced, more mature workforce that was out there. So they're suddenly being forced to work in ways that they hadn't before. I mean the water cooler conversations were gone. They had to learn how to be isolated and be alone and at home. And so yes, there was a reevaluation from that perspective, there was time for people to think, there were people who are on a treadmill for most of their lives. And this was a deep breath where they thought, "I'm staying home, I'm walking my dog during the day, I'm able to go out and do things." So there was a shift, there was a shift in the people that could leave, decided, "I'm going to leave early," is number one.
But number two is the fact that we've also now started to reset the younger generations' expectation as they're coming into the workforce. We used to bring them in, they get sucked into a corporate way of doing things and onto that treadmill, it's not happening, they're staying at home. So to answer your question, so who cares? Who cares and how does education have anything to do with this? And some of the things, there's a couple of things that are at play here. We have to start to teach our kids more of the softer skills. We do a great job on teaching them the things that we can measure, the exams that we can put in front of them, but we're not necessarily teaching them the softer skills that make them more agile in this ever changing world. Does that make sense? And I can give you some concrete examples of what I mean by softer skills if that helps.
Yeah, I wish you would, Kat, because I think I'm not sure... I mean I can assume what you're talking about, but I'm not sure.
And actually, sorry, just to say one thing is when you mention soft skills, I immediately think, "And boy, does this generation need work on those because they're tech savvy." They add a lot to a company or a corporate environment, but soft skills, yes, we need to help them there.
Yeah. And so think about the environment that the kids that are coming into the workforce, if you will, are in. First of all, the technology world that... So the iPhones that they have actually lived their lives on has shortened their attention span. So it's instant gratification all the time for what they do. So how do we get the most out of them working in these isolated ways? We have to teach our kids. First of all, the best skill that I think is teach people how to ask questions. You're always taught to go for the five why's, go after the whys and really understand what's being asked of you. We have to teach kids to finish. And even if it's small things, very, very small things, people have to get used to finishing. We have to teach them how to set goals, even if they're small, and how to meet those goals. Again, these are the things if this world continues down a more disconnected way that it is, they have to become very comfortable being uncomfortable.
They have to get comfortable being self-directed. They don't have managers looking over their shoulder. And how do you know what success looks like? Because at first, it's going to look like it's a holiday for them. They're sitting around and who's watching over their shoulder? But inside of them, if they don't have goals set, they won't feel success. So they have to understand what does success look like? What are my tiny goals? Even people that work out, people that set their measures of closing their rings or teaching them how to get used to finishing something, because that's missing from a lot of folks that the bright, shiny object pulls them in and they don't see things through.
So is that a new thing? Or is it that that's always been there, but now it's critical, that's a critical skill where maybe it wasn't as critical because you had that manager hanging over you before saying, "Okay, I'm watching you?"
I think it was a taught skill. I think it was a taught skill in the workforce. When you have early stage people coming in, I think it's very something that we would beat into them almost. I hate to use that expression, but it would be something that we would show them how to do it, they learn from those around them. And I think what's become exposed is how alone they don't know how to set success and set their goals and finish. And I see it in older adults as well, but if we can build that into young people to own their own success in that way, I think that's some of the skills that we have to start with.
Okay. Can I just ask a question? One of the things that I see in education a lot is the emphasis. And I think that sometimes this is done incredibly badly, but the emphasis on the areas that are quantifiable and that we report to government with, right? So when we talk about the soft skills, I think that some of these might be difficult to quantify. So corporations in the business world will know how important it is, right? But how do we convince, I don't know, the department for education that actually these are worth putting an emphasis on so it gets done? Because the reality is that some things that aren't tested, that we can't put in a spreadsheet, that they don't get the same level of importance given to them even though they're critical.
And people like yourself who are dealing with businesses and corporations know how critical it is, this is what we want, this will make you employable. And a follow up to that is that I suppose part of that's the assessment part, because I'm thinking of my son, right? Now, he may well listen to this, but this is just the truth, Corin, if you're listening, is that he's one of those kids that he probably-
Do you make your kids listen to the podcast, Adam? Alright kids sit down-
Get in the car, drive round the block time and time again listening to it. But he's really good at tests, right? So in terms of finishing a project or doing things like that, "Yeah, I'll do it tomorrow. I'll do it tomorrow. I'll do it tomorrow. This is important. This is important. This is important." But because what is going to count the most for him in his mind is going to be he's doing A Levels at the moment, it'll be that grade that he gets. And he knows that when he fronts up, he'll do two nights solid study, study, study, boom, yeah, aced the test. And so I think those two things tie in because the accountability makes us sit up and take notice. And as a teacher, I may need to up skill in order to be able to help these children discover these talents. So what's the question amongst all this?
So how do you measure it?
How do we make sure that it happens?
Yeah, how do you measure it in a way?
How do we make sure it-
So how do you drive the behaviour essentially, which is what metrics do.
Right? Metrics will drive the behaviour.
Look, I think that in our kids, having more self-paced learning that's timed. Andy, we've had this conversation before of the amount of group work that happens in schools. So particularly in second level, in secondary schools, they will do a lot more group. So all projects are done in a group. And it's really hard to get a measure of who is slacking in that group. Now, you should use group work to learn how to influence. So if you're in a group as part of the participants and it's difficult and you're trying to pull people in to do the work they're doing, there's great influencing skills to be learned. However, getting an assessment mark on that project does not tell you who contributed what. And so we have to start to have a balance on individual self-paced, timed, learnings or projects that have some key results at the end.
So key questions that we're asking to say did they pass through this? But they're the things that we can measure at least. We can measure and use that. It's not just about that test. Yes, the skills that your son has, and I've seen it in the workforce, the people who leave everything to the last minute and they excel at it. However, that skill will let them down because they don't become leaders. They become individual contributors who can look after themselves, but to become a leader, you have to be thinking about everybody else's skills and you have to be thinking about finishing in small pieces.
Look, Kat, you raise a lot of really, really super important deep points and things that we need to sit and reflect on in education. I'm wondering from a practical point of view, for a school teacher, I suppose you need to be... Because one single teacher cannot influence an entire system in any significant way, but what they need to remember is they can influence 30 odd children every year, right? And that's pretty significant. That's pretty high leverage job, right? You have a lot of influence on those kids' lives. And I think sometimes the dilemma that teachers have is they look at the system and they go, "Yeah, the system's not right." And then they feel discouraged and they feel powerless against this huge machine. The change has to happen as a department for education, the change has to happen at the district level or whatever it is. And they forget the amount of influence that they have over those children. And bit by bit, piece by piece, that's how revolutions start, right?
And I think that that's what people need to remember is that you can make a difference and you just need to be mindful that school's not about knowledge anymore. That stopped happening around the late nineties. Around the late nineties, the internet knew more than any human being, right? And it was freely accessible and that was it. End of story. And that's not going to change in their lives. So it's not about just opening the top of kids' heads and pouring in knowledge until it spills over, right? That's not what education is about anymore. It's really about learning how to become a meaningful member of society, whatever that means to them. And often, that means working in some sort of organised system, like a corporation, but it could be an academic institution, it could be the government, it could be anything and being a significant contributor to that organisation. And what worries me right now with a lot of these things is that when you listen to people like, I don't know, let's just say thought leaders, whether you like them, love them, or hate them. And most people either love them or hate them.
People like Elon Musk, for example, he says some things that are pretty frightening. But I think he has some insight into what the future might look like. And same with Jordan Peterson. I mean Jordan Peterson is a funny character, and again, you either love him or you hate him, but somebody asked him, "Look, if we end up with a bunch of people are talking about this irrelevant class, people who they're largely unemployable, there's no work for them, enough of the world has been automated and artificial intelligence is running enough things and robots are making stuff, what do we do with all these people?" And he's a typical cynic. He just said, "Well that's what mobile phones are for, right? Just give them a mobile phone because then they'll be busy all day," right? Which is funny, but that's a real threat to society, right? Because you said one thing, and I know we need to wrap this up, but you said one thing which we didn't touch on and maybe we need to come back and talk about it is there's lots of jobs, but there's a tremendous skills gap.
And as a leader of a company, I can tell you finding qualified people is near impossible these days. There's lots of people with lots of qualifications, but they don't seem to have the right ones. And I don't know what we can do about that. Does the education system just need a complete revamp? Are we creating the wrong kind of people?
I think, and again, I know we're coming to the end, but I think one of the important things to take away from this is also a message, I'm primary school through and through, so elementary school, is remembering that these children are going to become adults. And that what we do in those years has a significant impact beyond just the end of primary school, beyond the end of elementary school which seems blindingly obvious. But actually, there's a real sense of we've done our job when they hit 11-years-old and we wave them off and say, " It's been a pleasure, good luck at secondary school, high school." And maybe that we need to be reminded of two things that we'll take away from this, it's one, the corporate. Listen. Listen to what the needs are because ultimately that's what we're preparing them for. We're preparing them to go out and live. And the second thing is think about how that early stuff contributes to the rest of their life, not just until 11-years-old. That'd be my takeaway anyway.
Well we've only scratched the surface, I think more to come on this topic for sure.
Absolutely. Well Kat, thanks so much for joining us, yeah.
Thank you for joining us on The School of School podcast.