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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Looking for an Edge at Work? The Surprising Upskill That Can Change Your Career

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One of the greatest skill sets when it comes to future-proofing our career path – and our CVs – is to have an up-to-date understanding of digital skills. But even though technology shapes so many of our days, there can still be a misbelief that we’re not, well, ‘tech-y’ enough to upskill in that area. But, as Tech Futures Lab Programmes Lead Fiona Pond is here to point out, you don’t need to already be a tech person in order to upskill – you just need to have the curiosity to learn more.

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For most of us, technology has become a major part of our lives – both at home and at work, it has changed how, where and what we do. And we also know that when it comes to our CVs, having digital skills is now one of the most essential skill-sets we can have. But when it comes to upskilling, one of the biggest concerns many of us have is thinking, “Well, I’m just not tech-y” enough.

This is a worry that Fiona Pond, Programmes Lead at Tech Futures Lab, understands completely. But as Fiona will tell you, you don’t have to be a tech person in order to enter the digital field. You just have to have curiosity. The rest, she says, can be learnt.

FIONA POND

“The key is finding a way to be part of the conversation, otherwise it’s just happening around you, and it’s not necessarily representative of you,” she says. “And how do you get to be a part of that conversation? It comes down to curiosity – and bringing your own experience into the mix.”

“You know your space better than anyone else, the problems and challenges you face, and it’s about recognising that we need new solutions and being open to exploring these. Technology is simply a tool to solve problems – and we all have problems that need solving!”

“Your curiosity is your biggest power.”

In her previous career path, working in learning and development for a polytechnic, Fiona was very aware that the educational sector was slower than most to adapt to the changing circumstances. “While we were doing some great innovative stuff with students, we weren’t always great at practising  internally with our staff how we were working with our students. We were still essentially delivering to a traditional ‘sage on the stage’, organisation-led strategy, as opposed to centering it around the individual,” she says.

“I was interested in ways we could personalise this learning a bit more, make it more useful and timely to the learner.” But she wasn’t sure a) how to do it and b) how to measure its success. So she decided to enrol in the Postgraduate Certificate in Human Potential for the Digital Economy (HPDE), which is a 32-week course dedicated to understanding a broad range of digital technologies and how they are impacting across a multitude of careers.

“I’d been aware of Tech Futures Lab and The Mind Lab for a while, and followed what they’d been doing,” she says. “I’d been thinking about doing the Masters of Technological Futures but with two young kids, I wasn’t quite ready for that level of commitment, so when the Post Grad Cert in Human Potential for the Digital Economy was launched it seemed like the perfect fit and size for me.”

“At its simplest, technology is just the tools and techniques we can use to solve problems.”

It was the idea of the ‘human potential’ side that appealed as well – focusing on the role humans can have in designing and interacting with technology, rather than the other way around. “It was more about the people side, rather than the tech side – and I could connect into that.”

“I had a curiosity, an understanding of the challenges and a belief that there was more we could be doing, but I didn’t know where to start,” Fiona says. “What I liked best about the programme was that it laid out this smorgasbord of content – every week there is a different topic and it’s not just about the ‘hard tech’ aspects such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence, but also how technology is reshaping organisational structures, economic models, and changing how we lead, solve problems and collaborate.”

Basically, a lot of the problems (and therefore opportunities) that are facing most career paths, making this kind of knowledge an invaluable part of your work experience – and your CV.

But the really key thing is that you also work through a process of reflection, evaluating how each of these concepts might impact your own world – ‘Is this useful to me? what might this look like in my context?’ and ultimately come away with a ‘theoretical but actionable’ plan, bespoke to you and your needs.

“And really, that’s what learning should be about – exposure to new ideas and then applying them in meaningful ways that matter to you. “

Somewhat counterintuitively, rather than adding to her workload, Fiona found that the study actually helped her carve out and protect time to frame up some of those big challenges which she just wasn’t getting to in her day to day work.

In the end, Fiona found not only what she was learning but how she was learning it so powerful that she ended up joining the Tech Futures Lab team. In her role as Programmes Lead, she oversees the seven different courses that Tech Futures Lab has on offer. And those two key ideas – curiosity and context – are the bedrock of the Tech Futures Lab experience, she says.

“Your existing technological skills are not the intro point you need – your curiosity is your biggest power, and you bring your own context to the tools you learn about.”

Most students at Tech Futures Lab are mid-stage in their careers, 35-55 years old, working full time and from almost all sectors you can think of.  The recent intake of Human Potential for the Digital Economy included people from education, law, health, retail, not-for-profits, human resources and conservation to name a few.

“Some people come with specific projects in mind, others just want to refresh or future proof their practice by learning more about the opportunities technology can bring.’

She lists off some recent student projects including; learning in the metaverse, using AI and sensors for pest control, setting up a game development business, improving immigration processes, designing hybrid-work environments,  future proofing ‘midwifery’, tracking migratory birds, a space archeology consultancy (!!!). The point is, it’s accessible and beneficial to everyone.

And you don’t need an undergraduate degree to study TFL’s postgraduate programmes – real world experience is highly valued and an ‘equivalence pathway’ to entry is offered which recognises the life and work experiences each individual has accumulated.

In addition to the Postgraduate Certificate in Human Potential for the Digital Economy, there are a number of micro-credentials – shorter, ‘bite size’ learning opportunities of around 10-weeks that can open the door to bigger ones – that are designed around certain topics. For instance, there’s Internet of Things for Sustainability, exploring how we can collect and utilise data from the physical environment to achieve sustainability goals. Or there’s Entrepreneurship, designed by Frances Valintine herself, for entrepreneurs looking for a crash course in all things start-up.

And for those keen to take their learning even further, all micro-credentials and postgraduate certificates can be stacked towards the Master of Technological Futures – in both knowledge and education credits.

And as important as it is for many of us to become better versed in the digital world, it’s also important to remember that the digital world needs us as well. Lack of representation at the decision-making tables – be it age, gender, or race – is a big problem.

“It comes back to that idea of who gets to be a part of that conversation? Because when we think about who controls technology at the moment, it’s not representative of society,” Fiona says. What’s crucial is the idea that the digital space is open to anyone – which it is, because we all successfully use technology, every day of our lives. So why should we worry that we ‘aren’t tech-y enough’, when we all learned to adapt to technology that intimidated us in the first place.

“At its simplest, technology is just the tools and techniques we can use to solve problems – and you can learn to use tools, especially in the right environment. And perhaps more importantly, you know the challenges in your context best – so who better to solve them?”

The long-standing problem when it comes to getting more females into the STEM subjects is well-documented, so you might be surprised to learn that when it comes to the Tech Futures Lab courses, the gender ratio is 60% female. “Women are so much more conscious of the need to keep learning,” Fiona says. “They also tend to be more aware of the social impact that technology can have.”

In other words, they’ve got the curiosity. And now we know, that’s the first step you need for success.

So much is changing so you should too. Your skills at least. Tech Futures Lab is the place you’ll find opportunities to upskill and supercharge your career. Build that confidence to lead, engage and initiate projects so you can drive innovation for good using emerging disruptive technologies.

From power-packed short courses to a full Master’s degree, there’s options to suit your life demands. It’s founded by one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s leading women entrepreneurs in education and the future of work, so learning is always designed with that work/life balance in mind.

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