Flexibility and the Workforce
In 2014 LinkedIn released the results of an analysis of over 259 million members profiles to determine the top ten job titles that didn’t exist 5 years ago. The infographic spans cloud service specialists, UX/UI designers, social media interns, IOS developers and zumba instructors. Technological change (and exercise fads) often manifest in surprising ways. Educators and career advisors do the best they can to prepare students for the world that awaits them but in truth it’s often a game of guesswork.
This week the LRC and the Coding Club partnered to offer students a bigger picture perspective on potential career paths by taking thirty students to the Sydney Headquarters of Google and Atlassian where we learnt that collaboration is essential and failure is celebrated. The students were captivated by the unique company culture at both Google and Atlassian. For their adult chaperones it became immediately apparent that what young people expect from a workplace is markedly different to thirty years ago. As Natalie Goldman, CEO of Flex Careers said in her discussion on the benefits of flexibility at Academy Xi on Wednesday night, we have shifted from command and control models of leadership where the boss monitors the hours you spend at your desk to output based measures of productivity– What did you create today? What problem did you solve? Advanced technological infrastructure allows us to work from anywhere with anyone. More often than not teams are dispersed (often global) which mean people are working across different cultures and timezones. The developments at Barangaroo reinforce this story where ‘hot desking’ has replaced traditional desks and office hours depend on a multitude of factors such as whether you have client meetings, a compressed work-week or are travelling. It is clear that employees want a more human experience at work and that trust is vital to successful company culture.
The engagement we witnessed at both companies was the result of more than just flexible work schedules, it came down to the fact that employees felt they were doing meaningful work. When we think about the way our Loreto students rally behind social justice initiatives and their willingness to use their individual skills for the greater good it comes as no surprise that millennials want to go to work each day feeling as though they are making a positive contribution. At Google employees are encouraged to not just bring their own solutions to problems but ‘20%’ of their work day or week is given over to projects of their choice. Some of the google products we know and love such as gmail and maps were born in 20% time. Apart from encouraging innovation our panelists spoke about the ease with which employees were able to move across disparate teams in order to upskill and remain engaged by working on a variety of projects. Travel perks and the possibility of moving overseas were also much discussed! The company values at Atlassian were visible at every turn, they were the first things you saw as you exited the lift and they were peppered all over the place in the handwritten Post-Its accompanying workshopped ideas on whiteboard walls lining the offices. Atlassians are encouraged to ‘Build with heart and balance’, ‘Play, as a team’ and ‘Be the change [you] seek’. Atlassian also spoke about the companies 1% policy where 1% of profit goes to charity and 1% of employees time (5 days a year) can be spent working for/with any registered charity– be it serving food to those in need or helping a non-for profit with web design. These initiatives are a winning formula, not only do young people want to positively contribute to the world but when people are engaged discretionary effort increases and positive talk around the company abounds.
Many of our students had questions around what a typical day looked like and were surprised by the amount of collaboration and teamwork. One Googler told us that he now understood why his teachers had made him do so many group projects at school. We push group work in schools not just because we know that group knowledge bases and shared expertise make for a better result, but because we know the ability to negotiate, listen and apply feedback are vitally important to tomorrow’s workplace. In reflecting on the experience, Ella Kearins in Year 10 said what was really interesting was that you just had to be “passionate and willing to learn.” She’s right. What is a life without passion and a willingness to never stop learning?
We took a diverse group of thirty students. Some are part of the schools Coding Club and others were selected because they entered a competition to solve a perceived problem in the library. This decision was purposeful, although computer science is obviously a core component in both companies the message of the day was that it is never too late. Google also presented us with a formula for tomorrow, CS + X; Computer Science plus your passion. Solving seemingly intractable problems requires agility of thought. It requires using technology and art, technology and medicine, technology and design to create something truly wonderful. We also selected our students with the hope of redressing some of the unconscious bias that diverts many young women out of STEM career paths from an early age. Certainly the gender divide was weighted more towards women than men in the panelists chosen to speak to us but I was particularly delighted when one Loreto student wryly saw through the facade and commented on gender divide she had seen when touring the actual offices.
Much is being done to redress the lack of women in STEM but there is still a long way to go. I came across a little experiment conducted by British organisation, Inspiring the Future. I have included the video link here. School children were asked to draw a firefighter, surgeon and a fighter pilot. 61 pictures were drawn of men and only 5 were female. I must confess I predicted the outcome but what I didn’t anticipate were the looks of absolute shock on the children’s faces as a female firefighter, surgeon and fighter pilot walked into the room. What remains clear to us as parents and educators is that we need to change the narrative around what STEM careers look like, as we learnt at Google and Atlassian, if you have passion and a willingness to learn it is never too late to rewrite the script.
Ms Elizabeth Green
Knowledge & Learning Strategist