Skills transfer across generations: SJSU highlights importance
Dan Hauenstein 060001NHVR firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  skills academic-initiative social-business
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Generations are notorious for discounting the value of what can be learned from those that precede or follow them. But as technology that grew up serving often youthful consumer demands – social, mobile, gaming – continues to reshape the enterprise, how effectively we transfer and combine skills across generations will determine the pace of business innovation and economic growth moving forward.
It was in this context on December 13 that San Jose State University (SJSU) and IBM hosted an event bringing together students, faculty, and business professionals to discuss the skills needed to move business into the future. The event served as a culmination of The Great Mind Challenge (TGMC), a competition during which SJSU student teams under the direction of Professor Larry Gee applied social business technology and concepts to real-world situations encountered by IBM Business Partner GBS. The span of generations in the room for the evening’s program was on display when IBMer Fabian Divito put up a chart illustrating the five eras of enterprise computing, laid out from left to right. To laughter from the audience, he quipped, “Don’t worry too much about the left half of the chart. Just know it happened.”
Don Edwards, a technology veteran who currently serves as head of IS for Alameda County Social Services noted, “I got started just to the left of where this entire chart picks up.”
So it made for a lively panel of diverse perspectives when Don joined tech industry experts Remy Malan from SugarCRM and Nanci Knight from IBM, along with Diane Pham, who recently graduated from San Jose State and took a job with the United Way, and Brian Orlando, a student member of the winning TGMC team. The students in the room were eager to learn from the experts, but the experts were just as eager to learn from the students. All were convinced that today’s graduate entering the workforce thinks and solves problems in ways fundamentally different from prior generations. With ubiquitous mobile and social technology, there is an inclination to share knowledge with and seek input from a wide open audience that comes naturally to today’s graduates. While those most adept at using social technology come from all generations, the message was clear: do not underestimate this difference across generations.
Diane’s experience joining the United Way illustrated the point. Little things that come naturally to her – which social media channel to use when, for instance – take more time with other workers in the organization. But business leaders are finding ways to harness social technology and the natural enthusiasm and creativity of today’s graduates to drive significant business value. Remy spoke of how the speed and attention to quality with which he can drive global projects today would not have been possible just a few years ago. Likewise, Don described at length the new opportunities to connect with and serve his clients that arise every day, from eliminating lines at local facilities to speeding resolution in the field with mobile devices in the hands of workers who can get closer to those they serve.
But how to encourage adoption of social technology among those not naturally inclined to use it? More importantly, how to ensure that adoption drives business value? Brian pointed to gamification as an answer. By designing a system whereby use of the technology rewards the user while aligning to business needs, everyone wins. There is evidence that such experimentation works. The 2012 IBM Tech Trends report found that those organizations ahead of the pack in applying advanced technology for strategic gain are nine times more likely than others to experiment with technology and encourage their employees to do so. They get people using new technology and building the skills they need even before formal projects are in place.
Building these skills – in social business, mobile computing, business analytics, and cloud computing – holds the key to renewed economic vitality. The Tech Trends report also uncovered a disturbing skills gap that threatens growth and is poised to get worse. In any of the four technology spaces mentioned above, only one in ten organizations has all the skills it needs to apply the technology for business advantage. Worse, among students and educators surveyed, a whopping 73% report a significant gap in their institution’s ability to meet market skill needs in those four spaces. Across the generations at work and the generation in school, more skill building needs to be done.
That’s why the San Jose State event was so exciting. This is a school and a group of students who are taking action and helping solve the problem. They know the real secret of social business is that people learn through interaction and exposure to a diverse set of experiences. They are applying that principle to the way they study the subject, actively participating in the IBM Academic Initiative to allow students and faculty to engage with experienced industry leaders around real world issues. And all of us – across generations – benefit by learning from each other and taking our skills to another level to drive greater success in our organizations.
Engaging and interacting more actively, therefore, will accelerate skill transfer across generations. But there is a way we can magnify our ability to learn from one another. Graham Mackintosh, in his keynote during the event, explained it in detail: social analytics. Describing smartphones as “human telemetry,” he pointed to an incredible amount of data now mapping people’s actions, movements, status, even their feelings. By analyzing this data, we are learning about one another at a terrific pace, uncovering better ways to serve consumers, faster ways to respond to emergencies, more effective ways to treat patients. And we have only scratched the surface. As Graham appropriately concluded his presentation, “It will be the next generation of business leaders – you – who will take this somewhere really exciting.”
Dan Hauenstein is the
marketing and strategy leader for global IBM skill programs, including the IBM
Academic Initiative, developerWorks, and the IBM Champion program. Follow Dan on Twitter @danhauenstein.