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Episode 75: The skills gap and how corporations can work with students to fill it

Sexy jobs, NFT’s, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined once again by Katriona Lord-Levins, Chief Success Officer at Bentley Systems to discuss the skills gap and how corporations can work with students to fill it. What are the big corporations doing? How can schools work with them? Plus hear what popular video game Bentley Systems is using to build students skills.

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Profile of Andy Psarianos expert educational podcaster.

Andy Psarianos

@andy_psarianos

Andy was one of the first to bring maths mastery to the UK as the founder and CEO of the independent publisher: Maths — No Problem! Since then, he’s continued to create innovative education products as Chairman of Fig Leaf Group. He’s won more than a few awards, helped schools all over the world raise attainment levels, and continues to build an inclusive, supportive education community.
Profile of Adam Gifford expert educational podcaster.

Adam Gifford

In a past life, Adam was a headteacher, and the first Primary Maths Specialist Leader in Education in the UK. He led the NW1 Maths Hub’s delivery of NCETM’s Professional Development Lead Support Programme before taking on his current role of Maths Subject Specialist at Maths — No Problem!
Profile of Robin Potter expert educational podcaster.

Robin Potter

Robin comes to the podcast with a global perspective on parenting and children’s education. She’s lived in ten different countries and her children attended school in six of them. She has been a guest speaker at international conferences, sharing her graduate research on the community benefits of using forests for wellness. Currently, you’ll find Robin collaborating with colleagues and customers in her role as Client Experience Manager at Fig Leaf Group, parent company of Maths — No Problem!

Special guest instructor

Profile of Katriona Lord-Levins expert educational podcaster.

Katriona Lord-Levins

Enabling proven, strategic business outcomes through people, process and technology. Katriona leads User Success and Education at Bentley Systems, an infrastructure engineering software company, where she has a relentless focus on creating loyal customers by helping them realize their business value, making Bentley their solution of choice. Bentley is a 36-year-old worldwide corporation with annualized revenues of $800 million, the company started as a collaboration between five brothers who grew up in the Philadelphia region and pursued various engineering disciplines.

Katriona studied computer science at the University of Toronto and has an executive MBA from Warton.

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Podcast Transcription

Andy Psarianos

Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.

Robin Potter

Hi, I'm Robin Potter.

Adam Gifford

Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.

Andy Psarianos

This is the School of School podcast.

Welcome to the School of School podcast.

Are you a maths teacher looking for a primary school assessment tool that can give you a detailed look into learner or class achievement? With Insights it's all in one place. Make sense of assessment data so you can strategically plan and teach lessons. Insights. It's assessment for advancement. Visit mathsnoproblem.com for more information.

All right, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the School of School podcast. And like always we bring the most fascinating guests to our podcast. And today we are extra, super lucky because we have Katriona Lord-Levins with us and Katriona, this is not your first time on the podcast, but the last podcast with you is one of my favourites. So what are we, I think today we're talking about skills gap and how can we hold corporations accountable and what can they do? What can they do to help us close those skills gaps? What does that mean? Skills gap, first of all. For those of you who may not have listened to the previous podcast. Kat, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Katriona Lord-Levins

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me back. So yes, I'm Kat Lord-Levins. I'm the chief success officer at Bentley Systems. We're a software infrastructure company. We work with all the engineering companies and create software to help them accelerate their buildings, essentially, what they're doing in their lives. So, yeah, to answer your question. So what is this skills gap? We know that there's a great gap. There's tonnes of people hiring out there. How do you find the skills number one, and how do you hire for the experience? How do people get experience without getting a job? There's this vicious circle that goes around and that's what I'd love to talk to you about today is how do we, in fact, how should we be holding corporations such as Bentley, quite frankly, accountable to help to accelerate people's time to closing the skills gap. And I can tell you what we're doing and how we would like to try and influence other corporations to do similar.

Andy Psarianos

Well, listen, let's come back to that. I think what I'd like to try to understand, first of all, the problem a bit better. So when you say there's a skill gap, what do you effectively mean? You mean you're looking for people to do a job, presumably people with skills, hence the skills gap, and you can't find them. Is that what you're saying? And why do you think that is?

Katriona Lord-Levins

There's lots of reasons why we've got, obviously we've got a big exodus going out. Lots of folks are retiring, not everyone. Lots of folks are retiring. Lots of gaps in companies looking for skills. Some of the newer generation with the way people are going into, particularly in engineering, we're not finding as many people coming through the engineering world and when they are, it takes so long for them to get through. And they go into some of the very, very big engineering companies. So there's a whole swath of companies that are not getting access to them. They don't have the experience that they need. They're brand new. They're not necessarily able to replace the experienced folks who are leaving. And so we're looking at couple of different motions if you will, to try and close that gap down.

Adam Gifford

I'm assuming this isn't unique to engineering. When I see engineering and I'm, I don't know, I'm just thinking aloud here. Maybe it's, I don't know, if I was say 15 and there might be new shiny things like, I don't know, NFTs, and I'm going to create that and I'm going to be an influencer and I'm going to da, da, da, engineering may not be part of that conversation that it perhaps would've been say when I was at school and people went into those. So is it a marketing thing or is it just simply that actually, no, engineering's the example that's been used, but no, this is true of all employment where skills are needed?

Katriona Lord-Levins

Yeah. I think it's across the board. I think engineering, we're seeing the big gaps because as I say, it takes a lot longer to get people through those programmes. People have to choose to get into engineering school. It's difficult to get into those schools. And there's a gap at that end. I mean, most companies that are doing education programmes, so a lot of software companies have their own education programmes where they're providing free software to universities to try and get them using their software. So when they go out into the workforce, they have knowledge of that particular brand, which in essence reduces the cost of ownership for a company. So if a company is buying that brand, it's a brand you're using, you've got lots of talent that's coming down that pipe. Now the problem is that there's a finite number of people who are making it to that decision, getting the right grades, to get to university and making the decision to actually do it.

What we're looking for, and what we think is one of the solutions to this, is to swim earlier upstream. So we have to start to, we hear the word inclusion a lot and making our workforces more diverse and inclusive, at least in our world we hear that. And what we're finding is that the best way we think to put your money where your mouth is swim further upstream and go to the kids who never thought it was possible. So we want to make it possible for everyone. People who make it into university have already made the decision to either study something, and there's a certain amount of privilege that's that surrounds you being able to go to university.

Well, what about all of those kids and people that are out there, and to your point, Andy, when you talk about the thought leaders that are painting a slightly dystopian future about all these folks who will be left behind to some degree, if we can get, earlier and earlier in the cycle, get to the kids who are 10 and 12 years old and show them skills that are possible for them, make what they had never thought about being possible, possible.

The fact of the matter is, they're playing video games, they're playing with drones, they're doing things perhaps that are games to them. Those kind of things are living in an infrastructure world, but they might not ever think about getting into it. And what we want to do as a corporation is fund schools and partner up with some of the other larger corporations to provide the right technology, provide the right software and provide the expertise where we have people who will come in as thought leaders to the kids and show them what is possible, show them what they could be reaching for. And how do they get... You talked about Jordan Peterson as well, Andy, and Jordan Peterson hass a big thing where he talks about the best thing we can do for the world today is solve poverty, is make the poor rich. And how we do that is we give them jobs. We give them a vision of what they could be doing. We paint the possible for them, and we get them out of the place that they're going into.

Andy Psarianos

And I think, so if I'm catching you right, a lot of it has to do with senior people. When I say senior people, people of influence, whatever that means. And that means all kinds of different things in different contexts, should be portraying or trying to portray what the future could look like and what the future could look like for individuals and what their place in that future might look like. And not just worry about whether on they're on the level yellow reading or the green reading or whatever, like what we talked about a little bit, we tend to focus on what we can measure, right? So it's like, oh, well, we can measure what their vocabulary is. So let's focus on that. And of course that's important. What can corporations do? I mean, what's Bentley doing, for example, how are you guys dealing with this problem?

Katriona Lord-Levins

Yeah. So we started giving away software. Obviously we opened up our education programme for free to all students. But on top of that, we started to partner up with some of the organisations that are out there and run competitions. I mean, this is a great way to get people involved where they can try and solve a problem using our software, whether it is building a water filtration plant, we have some fantastic examples of the awards that we gave out for people who designed water filtration plants for their village. There were some that were actually out in places that didn't have water, but everything down to building bridges, building roads, getting into some hyper loops. There's lots of things that we are pushing upstream to say, here's some competitions, here's all the skills you need. Here's the experts who will help you learn how to do this.

And they build something, but something concrete in the software. We've got Minecraft, which is a game that they use, to help them do a digital city. So to digitise a city around them. So trying to make it fun, trying to get earlier and demystify some of these jobs, or to be honest, make some of them sexy, make some of them the jobs that people want to do. It isn't all about being an Instagram influencer, which is what we're trying to get people away from. Let's get them into some concrete jobs that will benefit the planet at the end of the day.

Adam Gifford

Okay. Can I just ask you a question because, like I said, I've worked in primary schools and I've seen with some schools, secondary schools, particularly selective schools, they had a real issue where there were people that were more than capable to thrive in that environment, but they chose not to go because they felt they didn't fit, right. So these amazing people that could thrive in an environment and I'm sure this is true of going to university, all sorts of those situations. So there's a two part, there's a two part. So there's that aspect of trying to ensure that those, that everyone, if they've got that skill, talent, that it's realised.

But I think the other part is that I listen to you, I've listened to many people speak from the corporate world. And I think it's essential that children get to hear from the people who are employing, but I've also experienced in schools a level of cynicism towards the corporate world. And what I was going to say to you was how can you convince school leaders to accept the help? Because I had this when I was in school leadership where I was thinking about local businesses and how they could help us and would benefit in some of the ways that you're talking about with tech and so on, but there was almost a, oh, no, no, no, no, no. We don't want to associate ourselves with the corporate world. So what advice would you give? Because I think the two do go hand in hand, is that we need to hear that this is... What advice would you give for schools to, I don't know, to develop a level of trust.

Andy Psarianos

Adam, before, Kat, even you answer that. I'm going to jump in because man, you struck a nerve with that one. I'm going to say, schools have got to get with it, right? Like for God's sake, what is wrong with you guys? It's like, I almost feel like every school... It's a pandemic in schools of this kind of, I don't even know what to call it. I mean, it's almost like a communist viewpoint or something that anything commercial or has money attached to it or stinks of capitalism in any kind of way, is evil and will lead to the destruction of mankind, right. And schools live in this bubble and it's not just schools, public sector in general, where there's no accountability for spending, right. Money falls from the sky. You don't have to then go out and find it, right.

So when you live in this bubble, it's easy to separate yourself from the capitalist world because you think that, well, they're all evil. They're all after money. I'm not after money. Yet, actually you're not after money because somebody's giving you money, right. That's the only reason you're not after money. And that doesn't make you better than the other people, right. And it doesn't make your mission any more just, and it is really arrogant and naive to think that a commercial organisation cannot care about society or people or whatever. And if anything, most corporations have mandated within their own organisations, a lot of social justice stuff, right. And educators have got to stop thinking this way if we're going to move forward, we have to work together, right. Industry, commercial organisations, governments, schools, everybody has to work together, right. It's not an us and them thing. Anyway, sorry, sorry. I'll put my soapbox away. I'll be quiet now.

Katriona Lord-Levins

I do agree with you, Andy. I really do. I mean, I think schools have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. They will have to learn how to do this because that's the big influence. You asked a lot of questions in there, Adam, and I mean, one of them, I'm going to start at the end and work backwards a little bit. So how do we get, how do schools get to work with corporations and how can they benefit from it better? There's a fantastic organisation in England. And I'm sure you're very well aware of it. And it's called Class of Your Own. And we've worked with Alison Watson, who is the founder and CEO of that foundation. And they educate and bring so many kids into this engineering world by opening it up into the classroom. And she's someone that, I mean, you have to talk to her.

She is just phenomenal. And the work that she's doing means that kids are getting connected into corporations. And she works with all of the large corporations and educates those children and schools are working with her on that. Without a doubt. The other thing, you were talking about being a teacher and sort of the influence maybe you have over the kids that are in the classroom. I think that the best thing you can do, teachers have such an amazing, they are that first step for the kids. And I would focus on the bright sparks, focus on the bright sparks, get involved in some of these competitions, use them to raise your own. For teachers, you'll get your own profile raised as well. But believe me, if you focus on one thing, other people will follow. The bright sparks will attract a lot more people. So you can't boil the ocean, focus on one thing, get involved in some of these competitions. Enrol some of your kids in them, make a name for your school and everyone will follow. You become the tipping point.

Andy Psarianos

I think there's maybe a lack of awareness of a lot of the stuff that schools could get involved in. I don't know Adam, is that right? Would you even know where to start when put your head teachers hat back on?

Adam Gifford

Yeah, no, but I think it falls into two camps, right? I think we're talking about sort of, I guess, structures that are designed to encourage that specifically. I think that that's one thing which is brilliant because I'm sure it won't take long just to type it in and find those for the children, there's loads out there. But I think the other part that I know is easily doable, because I've done it. Is look at the businesses and your locality. I mean, one of the best things that we ever did was a huge building firm was building a big new, 50, 100 houses, but every aspect of the curriculum was covered right? So they had to think about environmental impact, insulate, you name any subject area. But the one thing that I realised is that they were asked so infrequently that when I did approach them and say, listen, we want to work with you guys.

And da da da da da, honestly, they couldn't do enough. It was absolutely brilliant kids, with their own hard hats, you name it, all those sorts of things. But what it did do is it talked about, we might make reference to a builder, but actually what they saw was, the engineering we looked at, they saw every aspect. So they learned about how changing a river that meandered, they made it straight. It was a mistake. It flooded, they should have let nature take its course, blah, blah, blah, blah. These lessons learned. All of these sorts of things. And so what I would say is just do it, approach them and do it. And be clear about what you want from it.

But I think that those two things, there's those areas that we can get success that if you like are the programmes and structures that Kat's referred to. But I think also seeing people beyond just having, I don't know, get someone into talk for half an hour, actually go. Go and see what they, go see what it entails and see how many different things. And my experience, it is nothing, but we would love to, we would absolutely love to.

Katriona Lord-Levins

But, you know, Adam, so that's fantastic. And that bringing kids to the building sites and seeing how things are built and that's the outcome and that's, but they can't put on a hard hat and become a brick layer tomorrow or become a, obviously there's an age that has to go into that. However, take them back into the digital world, take a digital twin of that. They can do it in the computer. And what you're doing is you're moving them into the new future. You're future proofing them for tomorrow. So absolutely take them on site, get them excited about what it is, then bring them back and say, let's try and do this on the computer. And that's the other piece. So yes. Look at the companies around you that are doing things that are of interest, and then take it back to, well, who's going to provide me with computers and or software and training so that my kids could do even the basics of create that. They do it in Lego when they're kids, we seem to break the cycle somewhere before they have to get up to be adults.

Robin Potter

Yeah. You want to speak their language, right. And you can do that just as you've described, Kat, by bringing it into the classroom and showing them on a computer and letting them try it for themselves, that's going to get them interested. So would the hard hat though, Adam, there's no question. I'd be into that too.

Adam Gifford

No, but I think it's really important. I think it's really important, the point you make, Kat. And I think that probably it's just me showing my age ever so slightly that when we did do something like that, I think that what is accessible now and remains accessible is so much greater. And to harness that enthusiasm with something real like you've described is so much more accessible now. So there's no excuse not to explore these things in greater depth. And in ways that are just quite frankly, far more enjoyable than probably the limited programmes or some of the limited software that perhaps I had available to me in the classroom at that time.

Andy Psarianos

Sounds to me like there needs to be more collaboration between the industry or whatever you want to call it. Corporations, corporate world, whatever, and schools. And I don't know why they've kind of split apart so much, that needs to happen. And I think there's a call to action there for both leaders of schools and leaders of companies.

Katriona Lord-Levins

Yes.

Andy Psarianos

To do something about that, right. Kat, you always bring the most intriguing things to talk about. Thanks for joining us again.

Adam Gifford

Thank you.

Katriona Lord-Levins

Thank you guys.

Andy Psarianos

Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.