We often hear about how difficult it is for Safety professionals to convince management and sensitize them on the need to drive safety from the “top”. There is also no dearth of advice that Safety professionals get on the need to “talk the language of the business” and improve their communication skills to make the business case and “sell” safety to the top management.
On the other hand, we also hear Production / Operations personnel lamenting how Safety professionals are so distant from reality and have no clue how to get things done.
A social experimentOver the past 6 months or so, I have been asking my friends and business associates to participate in a social experiment. I asked them to provide their most likely response to a simple hypothetical scenario – with an up-front clarification that there are no right / wrong answers.
It is late in the night and you are driving back home and in a bit of a rush to attend to a medical emergency at home. You just reach a cross roads and blame your luck as the signal just turns Red. You know that it will take at least 3-4 minutes before the signal turns in your favour. You have clear visibility of all roads and are absolutely certain that there is no vehicle anywhere in sight. You are also aware that there are no traffic cameras keeping an eye on you. What would you do:
My hypothesis is that in most cases, safety managers tend to take a safe approach (pun intended) and opt to really stay away from taking any risks. This approach of course irks the business or operations professional who sees the safety professional as anti-business.
Do we have a solution?
Clearly, a blog like this is not aimed at providing a solution to what is an existential challenge in industry but here are my quick thoughts on what we could possibly do differently:
“Everyone takes some degree of risk with what they do. However, it is important to know the difference between taking risk and being reckless”.
My take: It takes a knowledgeable Safety Professional to know that difference. Keep Learning!
I welcome your perspectives on this topic.
If anything, you better worry about “Natural Dumbness”!
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve definitely heard about Artificial Intelligence (AI) or machine learning. AI refers to the capability of machines or robots to imitate intelligent human behaviour. You’ve probably also heard arguments on all sides from thought leaders and policy makers about what AI is going to mean for society.
Optimists talk about how AI will eliminate mundane work and make life more enriching for human beings. Doomsday predictors talk about how AI is going to result in machines developing cognitive ability and becoming more intelligent than human beings and eventually taking over the world. Policy makers worry about the need to rapidly re-skill the workforce and make them ready to take on jobs that perhaps do not exist today.
I am not going to foretell how this all will eventually play out. What I do believe is that AI is here to stay and take away jobs. I actually believe we are at the cusp of a larger and more troubling problem.
I would like to illustrate my concerns through a simple graphic.
Humans, I would argue, are born “Naturally Curious”. This natural curiosity has powered innovation. All inventions, on some level, are the marriage of natural human curiosity and necessity. These inventions have generally made life and society better from the humble wheel to a complex space station.
This synergistic collaboration between the curious man and machine now however seems to have reached a point where machines are gradually reducing the cognitive ability of man and also impacting our curiosity. A few day-to-day examples in my own life that seem to be pointers (notwithstanding the fact that these may just be due to my aging!).
Two critical questions come to my mind:
Are we being paranoid? Would love to hear your views on this subject.
In several of the markets that I work in, one of the often-lamented concern of industry and governments alike is the lack of skilled manpower to support the growth of the economy. The reasons could be different in each country ranging from underperforming education systems that cannot cater to the needs of industry to an ageing workforce to upcoming challenges posed by automation.
The solution devised in most cases seems to be to throw a lot of money behind the problem and focus on “Skill Development” as a major policy initiative. The success of these initiatives is not immediately apparent and there is still a lot of tinkering on what ought to be the right approach.
Taking a holistic view of this subject, let us ask ourselves what is the objective of skill development. The answer is perhaps “to ensure that people assigned to perform tasks are competent to do so”. However, competency goes beyond simply the skills to perform a task.
Let me try and break these down into three main buckets:
1. Skills: Provision of knowledge / training and practical experience to enable a person to perform a task.
2. The 5 A’s:
Incidentally, Skill Development, by itself, may do little to enhance any of these attributes.
3. Contextual Knowledge: Notwithstanding the presence of all other attributes, in today’s knowledge economy, there is a need to recognize that we are constantly dealing with variety and complexity. This is where existing knowledge that may have been provided through other means needs to be supplemented with contextual knowledge – when required and where required. As a matter of fact even once imparted classroom knowledge, if not applied immediately, tends to be forgotten and needs to be reinforced.
My hypothesis is that plenty of attention has been given to the issue of skill development with very little thought around strategies for targeting aspects of creating competency. The traditional thinking goes that once skills have been imparted, the rest will follow almost automatically. There is something fundamentally wrong with the notion that the simple act of imparting skills will be in itself be able to lead to competency. This is probably something we all understand based on our experience.
Learning and Development professionals would have, no doubt, come across the 70:20:10 model first postulated by Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Rober W. Eichinger in their 1996 book The Career Architect Development Planner.
While the absolute numbers may be debatable, the key take-away is the fact throwing a lot of time and money behind formal learning or skill development alone, is not going to make a competent individual.
Let me dwell into each of these three learning pathways and their limitations in today’s context.
Formal Learning: The learning methods that are being deployed in the case of today’s learners are questionable. A formal classroom training session may have worked well with a generation that did not have exposure to the Internet and smart phones. These tech savvy new learners however, may really not have the patience to sit through what they would perceive are boring lectures filled with facts they could have googled. With a lower attention span, there need to be efforts to explore how technology can be leveraged to make this an integral part of the learning.
Informal Learning: This usually is self-directed by the learner. This could occur through multiple channels and also includes knowledge picked up from interaction with peers and supervisors. In the context of a physical organization and workplaces, this perhaps works well. However, we are today living in a work environment where an increasing number of workers are individuals and perform work that is “contractual” in nature. An increasing number of workers also tend to be “remote” workers. As such, the opportunities to learn from others are getting narrower.
On-the-job-experience: A bulk of an individual's learning and development occurs in this phase. In the industrial era, the repetitive nature of jobs may have resulted in this experience being acquired with the passage of time. However, in the knowledge era, this may require more than just “time”. With increased automation and an ever-increasing range of products and services, what the front-end employee needs today is an ability to adapt themselves to new and complex scenarios they encounter each day.
What changes are needed? It is apparent that the way we conceptualize skill development needs to move beyond the narrow focus on skills. While a basic skill training may be a good starting point, this needs to be supplemented with good coaching and mentoring to lead employees into a life-long learning journey.
Matching human resource capability to the changing needs of society and technology is an timeless struggle. As we see a fundamental shift to a knowledge economy, we need to alter our L&D initiatives to be in tune with the needs of the knowledge industry. This requires:
My Take: Skill Development is not a silver bullet. The ability to “learn how to learn” is possibly the single-most important takeaway from the early years of professional development. Beyond that, there is an opportunity for the L&D professional and technology sector to innovate learning methods to cater to a changing work environment and learning styles of a savvy workforce.