October 29, 2020

How to prepare hundreds of millions for the jobs of tomorrow

The current COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already existing chasm between the current skills our workforce has and the ones they will need for the future of work. It is the elephant in the room that digitalisation is drastically transforming industry after industry, but no real measures are being put in place to upskill our current workforce at scale to ensure this new era leaves no one behind. 

Digitalisation is now becoming more present than future. For this, I believe there is a reskilling urgency in today’s world. In fact, I believe we need to prepare hundreds of millions for the jobs of tomorrow. But, who are these hundreds of millions and how can we upskill them? 

They are the working professionals. Those who 20 years ago would have had a predictable career path but don’t anymore. It is your parents, your colleagues and your boss. It is yourself and it is me. It is anyone who does not understand digital and how technology is changing our industries and jobs. It is millions of people. 

Knowing how to prepare millions for the future of work is tough. But, in an effort to answer this question, I will share what we have learnt from upskilling tens of thousands of professionals in the financial services at CFTE – the Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship.

At CFTE, we work with governments to upskill at scale

At CFTE, we are privileged to have worked with amazing organisations such as the Hong Kong Government through Cyberport, Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore, Abu Dhabi Global Market Academy in the UAE, the Budapest Institute of Banking and the major financial institutions in Europe to deliver upskilling at scale. In Singapore, for instance, Ngee Ann Polytechnic is Singapore’s SkillsFuture sector coordinator in financial services, and as their partners, we have the ability to reach thousands of professionals in their upskilling journey. Just OCBC Bank has committed 1000 training places there. 

My co-founder, Huy Nguyen, even co-designed the Oxford Fintech programme and the first Fintech executive programme at Imperial College London. Based on this experience, I can directly tell you that preparing professionals for a new world of technology is very hard, and I’d like to share with you why. 

I will be taking finance as a thread to this narrative since it is my industry, but no matter your sector, you will see that what I am about to say also applies there. What we are seeing is not a finance-exclusive phenomenon.

Finance is transforming and we must prepare the workforce for it

Finance is clearly transforming. The world is seeing a boom in new financial offerings, that are much better for us as consumers. You might be a daily user of Alipay if you are in Asia, or of Mox, the new offering of Standard Chartered. If in Europe, perhaps you use Revolut, N26, or Marcus from Goldman Sachs. In America, it could be Nubank in Brazil or Chime in the US. All of these offerings are putting pressure on traditional banks, thus driving innovation and transforming the industry.

But, how come we see so much change in finance?

Well, the availability of new technologies, such as mobile phones, but also cloud, APIs and Artificial Intelligence, is making it much cheaper to launch financial companies. This has led to a boom of Fintech startups, but also of tech companies entering the space. And at the same time, regulators around the world, from the UK to Hong Kong and Singapore have encouraged innovation through specific regulations.

All of this is, of course, very positive, because it is improving access to finance for consumers and SMEs in developed but also developing markets. Now hundreds of millions can have not only a bank account but also access to savings, insurance, loans… 

However, as this transformation is happening, it is not happening equally. We are seeing huge differences between countries, companies, and people, and this is the challenge of transformation. For example, some startups with 10 people use Artificial Intelligence for micro-loans, whereas some financial institutions with 100,000 people still use manual processes.

This leads to a serious problem, which is that the knowledge gap is widening. It’s widening between organisations – for example between a traditional bank and modern banks. It’s widening between tech companies and banks. But most importantly, it’s widening among people. So as this technological transformation is accelerating, some organisations are being left behind. And people are being left behind, with skills and knowledge which are outdated. 

We must overcome these 5 challenges to upskilling adults

It is obvious to many now that lifelong learning is now an imperative – whether we call it up-skilling, re-skilling, continuous education or adult learning. We are at the tipping point where suddenly hundreds of millions are finding that their skills are no longer sufficient to give them job protection or career progression.

Why we need to prepare them is clear, but how do we do it?

Let me share with you, first, 5 challenges to overcome if we want to make it happen. This is based on our experience at CFTE. And let me tell you: we are not academics, we are not professional educators. We are from the industry. I myself used to be on a trading floor in NY, and in private banking in London. Our experience is based on trying to transform people like me, who are in the industry, know little about technology, who are busy with our work, and realise that our jobs are changing, but don’t really understand how.

These are the main challenges we need to overcome in order to upskill millions of people:

  1. Adults are not children.

It might seem obvious, but adults are not children. For a period of 15 years, the only thing children do is learn. They learn all the time, from their professors, through homework… They are being assessed on their learnings every day. Learning is their bubble. 

For us, adults, work is our bubble. Our objective is not to acquire new knowledge, but to produce output, whether it’s a discussion with a client, detecting a credit card fraud, or making a presentation.

And of course, unlike children, we have more than our work bubble. Children don’t have a job, and they also don’t have a family to take care of. They don’t need to go grocery shopping nor clean the house. But we do.

So, adults are not children, and so we can’t teach them in the same way – and that’s a challenge. Because there are a lot of tools that work very well with children but don’t work with adults.

  1. It’s imperative to learn, but what do you need to learn?

 If I am a relationship manager in a bank, or work in compliance, the skills for my job today are very clear, and my job description will be very clear tomorrow. But what will my job be like in a few years? That’s very hard to know. 

A decade ago, Goldman Sachs had 500 equity traders in market making, which is a certain type of traders buying and selling for clients. Today, there are less than 10. I don’t think any of these 500 people would have thought that their jobs would be so quickly made redundant. Yet, here we are.

So, although we could hint at some trends towards jobs – for example, there might be fewer bank branches, and therefore bank tellers – this is far from easy to do. This means that for working professionals, a lot of them can’t really tell what they should be learning in order to ensure they will be employable in the future. 

  1. Although people might not know what they need to learn, they know there is a lot to learn.

 So many of our learners came to us and say: “I hear about Fintech every day, but I don’t know what it is”. Or, “it seems that challenger banks are taking our clients, but why are they so different?” 

In finance only, I can easily name 10 different subjects that would be important for almost anyone to learn to be future proof, from Artificial Intelligence to Open Banking, and also soft skills like an entrepreneurial mindset or being customer-centric. 

There is a lot to learn and that can become overwhelming and hard to navigate, making it a challenge to upskilling millions.

  1. Adult learners paradoxically have very little time and money to invest in their learning. 

Our third challenge conflicts squarely with the this last one, which is that adult learners paradoxically have very little time and money to invest in their learning. 

For example, think of how much money and time you have spent learning a new subject this year. Now, compare it to the cost of a Master in finance at LSE that costs £35k and takes 10 months full-time to complete. I’m sure the difference is considerable. In the case of financial institutions, for example, Deutsche Bank spends less than £1k per year per employee, which is one day of training.

Time and money for learning are tight.

  1. It’s hard to identify who should be responsible for this upskilling. 

Who should be responsible for the upskilling of millions? Is it the governments, like they are for our children? Is it the employer? Is it the industry body? Is it the individual? 

For upskilling adults, this responsibility is absolutely not clear, and there is no clear path for adult learning. That’s why many professionals struggle to self-learn.

3 factors to achieving upskilling at scale

I do not claim to have the answer to all of these challenges. However, there are certain success factors which in our experience have proven important if we want to achieve the results of upskilling at scale. This is what we have identified with our experience at CFTE:

  1. Focus on the foundations and essentials

Why? Because the world has changed so much that many people do not possess the foundations that help them to go further – from the basics of core technologies to the actors in the industry.

  1. Integrating learning in their daily lives

Integrating learning in their daily lives is essential because, as we said, adults can’t spend a lot of money and time learning.

  1. Focus on the skills that your job truly demands

When thinking about the skills of the future, some people rush into learning skills that, while essential for the coming times, are not suited to advancence them in their particular job. For example, if you work in compliance or are a relationship manager, learning how to code is great, but it is not a skill that will make your job future proof. You always need to answer this question: what skills do I need to learn to help me in my current job?

4 ingredients to making an impact at scale

Let me share with you 4 ingredients that helped us at CFTE be 10x better in terms of the impact we had upskilling professionals.. 

Do you know what is the normal completion rate of an online course? It’s usually less than 10%. When we started CFTE, we said there was no way we will do something where only 1 out of 10 will benefit truly. Today we are at +90%.

To do that, we found that there are 4 important ingredients:

  1. Alignment. Working with governments, the organisation, the individuals, and making sure that each of them is involved maximises the impact.
  1. For the industry, by the industry. As we said, adults are not children, and they need knowledge and information they can relate too. At CFTE, our courses are imparted by the best experts in the industry, because we believe the best of us should be teachers. At the same time, academic rigour is also important.
  1. Learning is a social activity. When you learn, you want to make it a momentum, that’s why when we work with organisations, we like to have cohorts learning together, graduation ceremonies, webinars… This is much more than just online learning.
  1. Be very focused on the outcomes, but also the impediments. It sounds crazy, but we spend so much time making sure not to be blocked by firewalls of banks, or re-thinking outcomes until it absolutely makes sense.

So if there is a message that I want to leave you with today, it’s that we’re way past the why we need to prepare hundreds of millions to the new world of work. Today, we need to collectively work on the how to make it happen, and making it work is one of the most critical challenges of our times.

Tram Anh Nguyen, CFTE Co-founder.


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