Further Focus on Future Talent (Part 2)

This post was originally found on my business blog and has been reposted here in May 2015.

My last post Focussing on Future Talent gave an overview of my morning at the Future Talent Now conference on 9th July. Here is the follow up to that post giving a recap of the afternoon’s sessions.

After lunch, Rushanara Ali MP, the Shadow Minister for Education stepped up to the stage to deliver a speech on ‘Developing an inclusive approach to future talent’. Considering my interest in inclusion and the skills agenda, I had high hopes for this session but was left disappointed and turned off by the party political rhetoric and pre-scripted nature of her speech. Rushanara spoke about some important issues including the lack of social mobility within our society and the need for meaningful vocational pathways into the world of work (ironic considering her degree in PPE from Oxford), but her politics and delivery overshadowed the key messages. Unfortunately I don’t think she was helped by the post-lunch slump in energy and it did feel like some of the buzz had escaped through the glass ceiling at the Opera House.

Alex Lowe from Google was next. I would confess to being a Google fan girl, so perhaps I’m biased, but I enjoyed the session even if it did seem like a sales pitch to some. Alex talked about some of the key trends in workplace technology and how employers need to keep up with changes such as the rising number of people searching for jobs on mobiles or the arrival of digital natives in the workplace. Alex Lowe also showed a fantastic video from Heineken really illustrating the power of social media to tell stories to engage with your employees and potential hires. A useful introduction to the world of collaborative technology, I think this was an important session.

Before the afternoon break, Marc de Leyritz gave some of his insights into good leadership. I sadly can’t remember the exact thread of Marc’s speech and it seems people were too busy listening to actually tweet, so I can’t rely on the twitter feed to fill me in, but I know he spoke about authenticity and humility, both qualities I expect in the best leaders. I think he also spoke about how the outside image, may not always be the same as the inside one. This is another session I would like to watch again, so I could reflect upon it some more.

Matthew Hancock MP, then minister for Skills and Enterprise, now Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, was the second politican of the day to stand up behind the lectern and deliver a pre-prepared speech. Less party-political than Rushanara Ali, but delivered with all the passion of a potato, his speech on ‘Fostering inspiration in young people about their future employment’ was less than inspiring. Largely a collection of sound bites, he did talk about the importance of employers engaging with young people and some great work in this space by organisations such as Movement to Work and Plotr. He spoke about positive changes within education, which include the inclusion of post-school outcomes in league tables. He also talked about the return of the apprenticeship and how they will be a route to success for young people. It was good to get a sense that progress is being made, but it would be nice to hear someone speak about these issues with passion and deep knowledge and understanding, rather than another politican parroting a dull speech with little substance.

The panel discussion with CEO of Changeboard and Plotr, Jim Carrick-Birtwell, the CIPD’s Katerina Rudiger, who leads the Learning to Work Campaign and Kirstie Mackey, who is head of Barclays’ LifeSkills programme, seemed to end up being less a panel discussion and more a basic introduction into the three different programmes, with each speaker talking in turn. However it was interesting to hear about some of the great work being done to tackle issues related to employability and careers advice for young people and although I was already aware of all three programmes, I am glad more is being done to raise awareness of these resources.

Finally the day was brought to a close with a round of “thank yous” to those involved and most people headed upstairs and onto the balcony for an opportunity to network and discuss the highlights of the day. I left a while later and headed towards my train, weary but excited about the opportunities to make an impact upon these issues.

Overall, I found the day really engaging and inspiring. These are often words which get over-used when talking about events like these, but it really was one of the best events I’ve been to.

I do think the afternoon was let down a little by the two politicians. The room lost its buzz after Rushanara Ali and struggled to get it back during the rest of the afternoon. I really think both MPs could learn a lot from the other speakers about how to deliver an engaging keynote without having to resort to a script. Someone on the LinkedIn group suggested that I shouldn’t bash the politicians because they need to be engaged in the debate and at least they came. My response to that was I agree they need to be at these events – they are elected and paid to do just this, but I didn’t see them engaging in the debate. They both turned up to deliver a pre-prepared speech full of sound-bites and party political campaigning and then left. When they were asked questions at the end of their session, finally having a chance to show they are listening and engaged, one was visibly shaken by it and the other just dodged around the subject. I suggested it might be nice to organise a panel discussion at future events in the format of Question Time, with politicians banned from using pre-prepared notes, taking challenging questions from the floor. Then they would have no choice but to truly listen and engage with the topic. I expect this actually could scare them off though!

That aside, the day really got me thinking about the big challenges around youth unemployment and the mis-match between employer expectations and young people’s skills. I realised how interesting I find working in this area. Prior to leaving Accenture earlier this year, I worked on the Skills to Succeed team and was involved with the Movement to Work campaign and also conducted research alongside e-skills UK, thinking about how the IT industry could encourage young people (digital natives) into careers in technology. Some of this work is now being brought to life with the foundation of The Tech Partnership by a number of leading technology employers. I find this hugely exciting and hope this is another sign that employers will be playing a greater role in helping young people into the world of work in future.

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