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Why

Higher Wages. At What Cost?

Higher wages. At what cost?

A few years ago, our girls’ kindergarten informed parents they would have to increase school fees, which had been kept the same for the previous 10 years.

We greatly appreciate the love, care and education our girls received from their kindergarten teachers, and believe the fee increase was justified. Otherwise, how could the kindergarten continue to pay competitive wages to hire and retain good teachers, of whom our girls were direct beneficiaries? Furthermore, having no fee increase for the previous 10 years in effect meant the school fees we paid had fallen year by year, when we take inflation into account.

We acknowledged the letter and agreed to the higher fees.

One parent was unhappy with the fee increase. The irony was this was a well-off family (I gathered this from watching the family roll up to the kindergarten in a Volvo most days). The parent started to canvas other parents to protest the kindergarten’s fee increase.

When the parent-in-question came round to us, we politely informed her: 

“It was unfair to expect OUR OWN WAGES to continually rise, but expect our kindergarten teachers’ wages (aka our costs) to remain unfairly low.

That was hypocritical, not to mention foolish; not paying market-level fees would only result in the school not being able to hire good teachers, and our children would be the ones losing out.”

I do not think we got through to that parent, who I don’t recall ever spoke to me again.

But I am thankful the fee increase went through, because it is fair to pay more for better goods and services, which our girls benefitted from. I am also grateful that we could afford that justifiable fee increase.

Higher Productivity for Higher Wages

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2021 National Day Rally announced a stronger thrust of support for lower-wage workers. These include:

  1. Extending Progressive Wages (essentially sector-specific minimum wages that rise annually) to more sectors and more occupations
  2. Requiring companies employing foreign workers to pay at least the Local Qualifying Salaries to ALL local staff
  3. Accrediting companies that pay all their workers Progressive Wages with a new “Progressive Wage” Mark (a new requirement to sell to the public sector)
  4. Lowering the qualifying age for Workfare Income Supplement from 35 to 30 (to help younger lower-wage workers)

These are significant steps, because (point 4 aside), the Singapore Government is now also looking at EMPLOYERS and CONSUMERS to foot the bill for the mandated-increased wages.

Paying higher wages to workers directly affects payroll costs for businesses. The higher costs might also be passed to customers in the form of higher prices, depending on the price elasticity of demand. That extra dollar must obviously come from somewhere.

Higher costs are not easy to bear, especially when many companies and many workers have been negatively-impacted by COVID. As a business ourselves, we understand it fully and feel it directly.

Higher wages for low productivity is unsustainable. The market will make sure of that. Neither is a race to the bottom for wages the way forward for Singapore.

Instead, what we must have is higher wages for higher productivity. This is the very mission statement of ArcLab:

Higher productivity only comes about with technological progress, more and better capital, and a better-trained workforce.

Higher productivity is a positive sum game for the business and for the worker, because output increases and/or quality improves. This means justifiably higher prices for goods and services, which funds the higher wages. Higher wages also means better spending power, which flows back to businesses.

The data speaks for itself:

Higher productivity simply makes good business sense.

Here, ArcLab comes in to support. 

Use ArcLab’s mobile learning SaaS platform to easily author, distribute and track training modules and digital SOPs for your workforce. The way that companies like Fei Siong Group, 4Fingers use our platform for.

Using ArcLab saves you training cost, cuts down training time, and helps your business do more with less. This means higher productivity and better bottom line.

The savings enables your business to pay better salaries to your workforce, who are then better taken care of, more highly-motivated, and have higher spending power too.

Singapore is taking our first step towards this virtuous cycle.

Higher Wages for a Better Economy. And a Better Society.

ArcLab is encouraged that societies are taking more concrete steps at addressing income (or rather opportunity)-inequality issues. That may be one of the silver linings of COVID-19, where we have newfound recognition for our frontline workers, many of whom are lower-income workers.

Yet more than inclusiveness, higher wages for higher productivity is simply good business, and a positive sum game for all.

ArcLab believes that’s the best way for our companies, our workers, and our society to succeed.

We’re building that sort of organisation at ArcLab, and helping many companies build theirs. Companies like Fei Siong Group, 4Fingers and many more.

Shall we help you build yours?

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Why

Digital Transformation is for large firms only… NOT!

Digital Transformation is for large firms only… NOT!

Digitalisation is NOT expensive and is well within the reach of Small & Medium Businesses. This is how to start it for your organisation.

The best time to start digitalising was yesterday. The next best time is now | Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Lest some may think we can quickly revert to our pre-COVID lives, the virus’ mutations and continued spread suggest it will be with us for some time.

Globally, the South Asian COVID situation continues to cause concern. Closer to home, a significant increase in COVID cases led Malaysia to impose a 3rd Movement Control Order while Singapore regressed to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).

As we gear up for tightened measures once again, one silver lining is that there has never been more support than ever for the adoption of digital, both at the individual level, and for businesses.

If your organisation hasn’t started digitalising your operations in one form or another to operate in the COVID-normal, there isn’t a better time to start. There are many different software in the market that are affordable and easy to adopt.

How to Go Digital today?

It’s important not to start with the technology, but go back to basics of what the tech solution is meant to address.

Here’s how we think about it:

  1. Start with the problem — Is there a change in the business environment that is hurting your revenue or cost base? e.g. Is my business unable to serve dine-in customers thus impacting my topline? Or, is there a work process that is being done manually today, resulting in slowness, inefficiency or lost data or opportunities?
  2. What might be needed to solve this problem? (Don’t think about technology or product yet — just the ‘thing’ or ‘ingredient’ you need to plug the gap in (1))
  3. “Google it” — Chances are, yours is not the only company facing the problem. This means that there is probably already a tech tool in the market that has being developed and is being used by companies like you to solve the same problems that you face. This also means there’s usually no need for your business to have a “customised solution built for you” (which is likely expensive and most probably an overkill).
  4. Fit the workflow. Speak to industry peers about their experience adopting the tech tool. If possible, ask for a referral to the tech provider. Or for self-serve SaaS like ArcLab, simply go to our landing page and sign up for a free account to try the free tier out.
  5. Start small. Use the tech platform’s free (or lowest-cost) tier to try the product functionality. Test if it solves your problem in (1). Junk it if it doesn’t. Scale up if it does.

If you follow these steps, you will find that digital transformation for your business is very much possible without huge upfront investment (hurray for SaaS platforms!), and not at at daunting.

Start Now

If you’ve been thinking of digitalising your business to stay relevant in our new COVID-normal world, there’s no better time to start.

Meanwhile, let us offer a few software suggestions for the office & HQs:

1. A list of productivity software for Remote Work from our friends at HR SaaS platform Talenox:

2. ArcLab’s own list of useful software which we use ourselves:

There’s tons more online. Just “Google” it.

Contrary to what Business Consultants and more conventional System Integrators might tell you, Digital Transformation does NOT have to be an expensive exercise for your organisation. Don’t be taken for a ride.


Funding Support for Singapore firms

These are unprecedented times. If your business really cannot afford even the lowest-cost software that you’ve validated your business’ need for, there ARE schemes available to help.

For example, if you’re a Singapore business, there’s also funding support for specific areas, e.g. the Food Delivery Booster Package and E-Commerce Booster Package. Do tap on them to bring your F&B and retail business into the COVID-normal operating environment.

At ArcLab, while our full software is not free (read about the downsides of free software) we’re committed to making our software affordable for all businesses.

Get in touch today at growth@arclab.io.

Categories
Why

Lessons from Lasso

Lessons from Lasso

The English Premier League (“EPL”) is the world’s most-watched professional football league. Manchester United and Liverpool have traditionally been the most well-followed EPL clubs, while younger/more recent fans may support Chelsea and Manchester City, whose billionaire-owners’ bankrolled spending had bought them relative success.

I support none of these clubs.

My choice was made many years ago, when a Tottenham Hotspur World Cup winner won me over. Thus began years of joy, and more often, heartache.

Years of joy, and more often, heartache. | Pic: Me

March-April is typically when Tottenham’s season falls apart. By then, we would usually have lost a League Cup quarter/semi-final, got knocked out of the FA Cup and Europe, plus a series of losses in the league to fall out of the Top 4.

2021 was no different — disaster in the League which started even earlier than usual (in January), bested by Everton in the FA Cup; and even a 2–0 1st leg lead in the Europa League Round of 16 wasn’t enough to get Spurs across the line.

The only saving grace was Tottenham miraculously qualifying for the League Cup Final, though ominously our opponents were EPL champions-elect Manchester City (more on that later).

Yet for all the heartache, Tottenham fans ‘come back’ season after season. “This season will be different” — as we always say.


I recently watched Ted Lasso on AppleTV+.

Ted is a fictional football coach from the US (not the football as we know globally, but the American kind), who gets hired to manage the fictitious EPL team Richmond FC despite having no experience whatsoever. OK, he did have a 1-day spell with Tottenham back in 2013… 😂

Ted Lasso brought some laughs in a year where COVID-19 impacted us all.

One scene in the series jumped out at me: where coach Ted counselled a player to “BE A GOLDFISH” after he made a bad move in training. The point that Ted referenced: a goldfish having a short memory of 10 seconds.

BE A GOLDFISH!

Being a “goldfish” for that footballer meant not dwelling on the mistake he just made, so his mind is free to continue playing the game well.

That’s not a bad philosophy, as long as one learns from that mistake.


When “Being a Goldfish” doesn’t quite work

In today’s digital age, some might say there’s not much point in building knowledge banks when Google ‘remembers’ everything for you. If we’re honest, most of our memories would in fact get worse, because we no longer need to train our brains to remember (we just “Google” when we need it).

But while useful for the footballer above, a short memory isn’t quite as useful in the context of learning and development.

In the workplace, we need to factor in short memories and attention spans, and rethink the way we train our workforce.

Especially in our COVID-normal world — where gathering staff in a room for 3-hour training sessions are no longer feasible (these were never that effective in the first place), we need to consider more effective delivery methods, built on the pedagogical framework of Nano Learning.

Nano Learning is learning that’s “just-enough, just-in-time, just-for-me”.

It’s a great way to onboard new staff, convey simple procedural knowledge and many more.

Another great use case we have seen is the creation of Digital Standard Operating Procedures (D-SOPs), such that staff have all the knowledge they need to do their jobs right in the palm of their hands.

We can’t run away from shortening memories and attention spans. But we CAN and SHOULD turn it to our favour, so that our workforce is continuously upskilled through effective bite-sized Nano Learning modules. To achieve more for our organisations.

Our team at ArcLab has made it easy for every organisation to get started. Right here: https://arclab.io

Home


Epilogue

In the final episode of “Ted Lasso”, AFC Richmond lost to “the mighty” Manchester City, and got relegated.

IRL — Tottenham Hotspur did the same thing, and lost the 2021 League Cup Final to Manchester City. For Spurs fans, it’s another season where early promise again faltered. Another season that wasn’t different. Another season where we came close to a trophy, but fell at the final hurdle. 😢

It has now been 13 years (& counting) since I was at Wembley celebrating Tottenham’s last League Cup title.

Yet since supporting Tottenham ISN’T about learning & development — being a ‘goldfish’ works for me as a fan. I (and my fellow Spurs fans) will undoubtedly return next season for more joy, and heartache.

🤞 Next season will be different. COYS.

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Why

Managing a Deskless Workforce to Success

Managing a Deskless Workforce to Success

Editor’s note: ArcLab works alongside Work Tech platforms to help businesses better manage workforces, improve staff performance to achieve more for the business, and digitally transform for the future.

We’re glad to co-author this article with Andy Schmidt, CEO of 6i Communication, the authorised reseller of Beekeeper, an easy-to-use, inclusive and engaging internal communication platform — to share how businesses can better manage a deskless workforce.

70–80% of the world’s workforce is ‘Deskless’ | Pic: 6i Communication

It is far too easy to forget about our frontline workers because we’ve “trained ourselves” not to see them every day. Take a guess how many percent of the global workforce do not have a desk?

70 to 80% of workers globally — at least 1.7 billion people — are “deskless” handling jobs that do not require (or allow for) sitting in place.

If that number surprises you, think about all the industries this includes: retail, grocery, healthcare, hospitality, foodservice, construction, manufacturing, logistics and utilities.

These frontline workers have unique job demands, volatile working schedules, demanding customers, long hours standing and little to no access to task-critical information.

Your frontliners should be of primary importance to the business, considering they are often customer facing and your brand ambassadors.

Let’s face it, we see their jobs as routine and low-skilled. For far too long frontline employees just frankly haven’t been treated that well by their employers, or even by society itself.

For 2021, we predict that this Deskless Workforce will undergo an Employee Experience investment renaissance as companies are increasingly recognising the impact technology has on boosting deskless worker productivity, engagement and job satisfaction.

That said, there are still gaps when it comes to giving them that technology they need to do their best work.

Frontline worker characteristics like higher fluctuation, no corporate emails and lower computer literacy widen these gaps further.

Here’s where a lot of companies go wrong — they give desk workers and frontline workers the same tools and basically say, “Make it work.” Don’t fall into this trap.

Because giving your frontline team a tool built for desktop workers is like giving a fisherman a baseball bat. It doesn’t do the job, and quite frankly, it ends up being more of a burden to carry around than a useful tool that makes their life easier.

Frontline workforces have different requirements

Your frontline workers have unique communication needs covering the wide range of linguistic and cultural diversity and therefore require a communication platform built for them.

What if there was a way to connect everyone, monitor engagement, give your valuable frontline employees a voice, share feedback, take fast action with management and run transparent communication campaigns with your entire workforce — on one platform, without sending a single email?

Meet them where they are. With a mobile-first internal communication App that acts as a one-stop shop comes with inline translation features and can integrate with HR, payroll, workforce as well as learning management tools.

The Beekeeper Employee digital hub becomes a place for people, for communications, for recognition, for content and commenting, conversation and collaboration. It can be the primary platform for providing and discussing the strategy — and even refining it. Leaders can communicate the vision, project managers can explain current initiatives, and line managers can get their teams involved.

Given the high cost of recruiting new employees, and the significant amount of employee turnover that exists in many deskless-heavy industries, companies would be wise to consider how better technology might help them improve their ability to attract, connect and retain deskless workers.

You too can transform business agility, alignment and service quality with a single point of contact for your frontline sheroes and heroes.

Download your guide today | Pic: 6i Communication

Effective Communication & Training. For Deskless Workforces.

We’ve just learnt about the Deskless Workforce and how their unique needs means companies cannot just provide a ‘desktop’ solution for employee communication. The same principles apply to workforce training, which is important if the business wants to do well.

Traditionally, training has been face-to-face and often time and labour-intensive, especially for onboarding and upskilling rank-and-file employees. We haven’t yet considered that training usually taking workers off the shopfloor, reducing productivity for the firm. Sometimes, as a result, firms skim on workforce training which isn’t a good thing for the organisation, because a poorly-trained workforce is often unproductive.

So the best organisations always invest in workforce training.

However, COVID-19 has made it now impossible to gather 1–200 people in a training room. Even with vaccination rollouts, it is unlikely that we revert to the pre-Covid normals. This means that organisations have to train the workforce more efficiently and effectively.

The way forward for workforce training is to leverage on the power of digital, and to stage out learning, through bite-sized modules, delivered directly to staff devices.

And remember that for the Deskless Workforce — there are no desktop computers or laptops to speak of. Hence, training needs to be designed with the smartphone as the core delivery platform.

Not all workforces can be managed the same | pic: 6i Communication

Moving training to the mobile space helps businesses to reduce time and cost needed for training. This effectively funds free headcount for the business, through the resource savings and productivity gains.

Importantly, mobile learning can bring great uptick for learner engagement, knowledge retention and most importantly, knowledge application. Some of these knowledge application metrics include — the drop in customer complaints, production errors etc, time spent on tasks. These are very tangible business objective metrics and provides a positive return on training investment.

Start Training your Deskless Workforce today | Pic: ArcLab

Do well, do good. For your Deskless Workforce.

This past year has given us a greater appreciation for the dedication and hard work of our frontline workers — our cleaners, transport workers, delivery and supply chain professionals, healthcare heroes and our educators. Virtually all of them are part of the Deskless Workforce.

70% of deskless workers surveyed report that more technology would help them do their jobs better. The parts of their work that they feel would benefit most from additional technology include communications, operations & logistics, onboarding, and training.

Frontline workers just plain deserve better — and they have for a long, long time. They deserve respect, transparency, and real access to economic mobility through professional advancement.

Most importantly, great businesses can only be built by great teams. It’s a win-win.

If you are a business employing a Deskless Workforce, let’s start doing better for them, and your business.

Get in touch with Beekeeper at andyg.schmidt@bkc.sg, and ArcLab at growth@arclab.io.

Pic: 6i Communication
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Why

Lessons from LKY

Lessons from LKY

I wonder what LKY would have said about my point to promote manufacturing in Singapore, if our meeting had been today.

#ThankyouLKY | Pic: Me

Six years ago today on 23 Mar 2015, Singapore lost her founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. A day of sadness for many Singaporeans.

More than 1.5 million people paid their respects to Mr Lee, mourning the passing of the man who brought a country with no natural resources from Third World to First.


Meeting LKY for the 1st time | Pic: My parents

I first met LKY was when I was still in school, when he was still Singapore’s Prime Minister. I received the Prime Minister’s Book Prize from him — literally a set of books, which I read over the next few years, and still sit on my bookshelves.

The second time was years later when I was working in the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) London Office, helping to manage our Foreign Reserves.

LKY was in town to meet then-Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King. As the MAS’ Reserve Manager (aka Financial Markets person) in London, I was asked to accompany LKY and Singapore’s then-High Commissioner to the UK to the dinner meeting.

To give some context, the meeting took place during the recovery from the Great Financial Crisis, so there was much policy thinking afoot on financial sector reform and improving Financial Stability. I can’t disclose much of what LKY said during the dinner, which were sensitive. Can’t quite remember what we ate too.

But there’s something I can talk about, when after the official dinner meeting agenda had concluded — I brought up the idea of promoting manufacturing and how it can be a ballast and diversification for financial centres like London and Singapore.

This may have seemed far-fetched for 21st-century advanced economies, where manufacturing had been outsourced and offshored to developing economies. The Governor saw merit in my point, as we operated in the financial world and had seen how ‘financialisation’ had resulted in much misallocation of economic resources, excesses and financial instability. LKY was not enthusiastic (to put it mildly), not that he did not agree, I think, but he looked at it from the human aspects — that workers would (quote) NEVER want that sort of menial life when office life is much more attractive and available.

To clarify, I wasn’t thinking about low-end manufacturing of sneakers and paper clips, but research-heavy, technologically-advanced manufacturing. Examples then were Rolls Royce aircraft engines and Singapore’s cleanroom wafer fab plants.

Today’s examples would be vastly different, and I continue to believe that not everyone is geared for a life in shirtsleeves and glass-panelled offices. In fact, much of our advanced manufacturing involves research and design which result in better products used to improve everyday life.

To do that well requires close collaboration between our education institutions and industry, such that we continue to produce industry-ready professionals for the manufacturing sector (I wrote of the good work being done by Singapore University of Technology and Design).

And as knowledge continues to advance, ongoing training is needed for manufacturing workers to upskill and perform their roles. That’s in fact the mission of ArcLab — to supports companies in the provision of training and performance support to Deskless Workers in industries like manufacturing.

Advanced Manufacturing in Singapore | Pic: EDB

The last decade+ since the Great Financial Crisis had seen undeniable shifts. STEM-based disciplines are now just as, if not more, popular than Economics and Finance as a majors of choice. The top-paying graduate hire role in 2020 is in fact for Computer Science graduates, with Engineers in close second. All these have contributed towards more companies being founded, many in software, but also hardware and advanced manufacturing.

Interestingly, in the wake of COVID, I have recently started reading about how the Singapore Government is relooking at rebuilding manufacturing here and here.

I guess I was just ahead of my time, and wonder what LKY would have said to my point, if that dinner were today.


From what I’d read of him, LKY always kept current, never stopped learning, and changed his mind when the data changed. So I believe LKY would have been open to changing his mind. In fact, I think he would have done it many years earlier.

LKY was visionary in Singapore’s early Post-Independence days in the 1960s, and remained so in the 21st-century, where he talked about climate change and the need to “open Singapore up a little bit more in the modern world of fast moving technology and information and communications”.

All this was pre-iPhone, and pre-Greta Thunberg. That’s vision.

The work of LKY and his Pioneer Leaders laid the foundation for Singapore to carve our niche of relevance in the world, and improve the standard of living for generations of Singaporeans. LKY ensured that Singapore always brought something to the table, so we were always needed. They created an environment where Singaporeans could earn a living, and entrepreneurs had the space to dream and create products and services of value, and improve lives and livelihoods.


Today, on the 6th anniversary of LKY’s passing, I am grateful for the country he built — where my family is safe, has food on the table, and the opportunity to pursue what we believe in.

My only regret was not getting an autograph for him for my missus when I accompanied him for that dinner at the Bank of England. I was there as MAS ‘staff’, so I thought ‘it didn’t seem right.’ As a public servant, I followed the rules and coloured within the lines. Now as a startup founder, I’m a lot more pragmatic and flexible.

Unfortunately, I can’t turn back the clock. But more than that missed autograph, I am privileged to live in the legacy of LKY that is Singapore. This legacy is everywhere around me, in every direction I look.

#ThankYouLKY

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Why

Importance of upskilling in the digital age post COVID-19

Importance of upskilling in the digital age post COVID-19

If it was not apparent before, it is now. The digital age is here to stay and for those that are not keeping up will eventually be left behind.

Bearing in mind the harsh lessons learnt at the expense of the former giants, what can an individual do to upskill himself or herself post COVID-19 to ensure that they do not too, become redundant and are left behind?

First of all, upskilling is not about learning a new device because that very same device can become obsolete tomorrow. Instead, upskilling is about gaining the knowledge, tools and technical expertise to harness the digital technologies that are available in their lives and workplace.

The main difference between upskilling in the pre-pandemic world and the new normal we now live in would be time. Previously, we had the luxury of time to plan, test and adjust new technologies. Nowadays, it is a constant race against time to constantly reframe and adapt to the COVID-19 situation, which is changing rapidly, even as we speak.

As a result, individuals have had to unlearn what they have learnt previously and adopt a new learning mode, which is to make decisions based on current information and data, rather than past data, which may no longer be relevant.

These changes can be seen in various businesses that have learnt to evolve and upskill their employees:

Hawkers: They had to switch to online delivery and payment during the Circuit Breaker period when their customers were not allowed to dine out.

Taxi Drivers: Nowadays, taxi drivers are also doubling up as delivery men, helping to send food and parcels during off peak hours.

Security guards: Security guards at condominiums and shopping malls have had to expand their job scope and serve as temperature screeners and safe entry enforcing officers on top of their previous duties.

As shown above in the various examples, the hawker can no longer claim that he is not familiar with online payment and delivery modes. Similarly, the security guard has to be familiar with the TraceTogether app and temperature screening equipment. All these would simply not be possible if the employers and staff did not embrace upskilling and equip themselves with the necessary expertise as mentioned earlier.

Constant learning and upskilling has always been necessary for us to keep abreast of technology and to make ourselves relevant to the workforce but COVID-19 has simply accelerated the process.

In the past, you would probably be able to hang on to your job if you resist the urge to upskill but in the current climate, you can easily find yourself out of a job if you do not embrace relearning and upskilling.

So, how do we help people to upskill in this ever-changing digital era amidst the pandemic?

The answer is simple. It is all about helping people to become effective and efficient learners. By that, it means to help change people’s mental models and reframe their thinking so they understand that upskilling is unavoidable, even if it means extra effort and time that needs to be invested.

But not to worry! ArcLab is here to help no matter what industry you are in! As you walk around the streets of Singapore, you’ll see everyone glued to the screens of their phones. ArcLab provides short modules that you can learn anywhere and anytime, even when you are commuting. This way, you can upskill and even improve your work performance easily. It is really that simple! You can try your hands at the modules that we already have on our showcase page here!

Therefore, while the pandemic may have wreaked havoc globally and claimed lives, there could still be some good that comes out of it if people learn to think and work differently due to it.

Let ArcLab help you through your never ending journey to learn!

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Why

Arts, Sciences & Humans

Arts, Sciences & Humans

Many writers have published their “2020 in reflection” articles. Most wrote about COVID-19.

For my “2020 in reflection”, I’m not writing about COVID, but instead — about one piece of news that caught my attention: the proposal by The National University of Singapore (“NUS”) to merge her Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Faculty of Science to form an interdisciplinary College of Humanities and Sciences.

The broad (pun intended) thinking: Singapore students will need more “broad-based” knowledge and skills to do well in our new VUCA world. So we get students to learn about different disciplines that may or may not be related, while diving deep into their core specialty. A “T-shaped” individual, for lack of a better word. Indeed, 7 in 10 Singapore companies sought to hire workers with broader skill sets — a point hammered home by COVID-19’s impact on the workforce.

So NUS’ move was a long time coming. Though better late than never.

NUS’ proposed new college setup is not at all new.

A *few* years ago, I had the privilege to experience such an education. Enrolling in Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences —pursuing different courses in a myriad of disciplines.

  • In ANTHR 303, I learnt about Nepalese culture and did a research paper on the Gurkhas.
  • In GEOG 404, I learnt about the ocean and climate change (way before the Paris Accord and Greta Thunberg [hat tip to Greta nonetheless!]).
  • In HIST 211, I learnt about Southeast Asian culture & history.
  • In COMP 100, I learnt (as best as I could) basic programming.
  • In MATH 313 — Linear Algebra, learning about matrices and arrays, which proved useful when founding ArcLab years later.
  • In HOTEL 430 — the famed Wines class opened my eyes (and palette) to the world of viniculture and viticulture, not to mention some amazing wines in the process.
  • In some other course which I forget, I also did a study of wines and pricing, and was asked by my Professor to present it to class — my conclusion — drink what you like; price (and ratings) doesn’t matter all that much.

And somewhere in those 4 years, I studied enough Economics to earn my Economics degree, which helped prepare for a later Reserve Management career at the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

That was just academics. There was much more.

Internships in Capital One and working as a Teaching Assistant for my Professor gave a semi-realistic entry into the working world.

I also helped out at a Taiwanese-American schoolmate’s 1st-wave Bubble Tea franchise — making (and drinking) enough bubble tea to last me a lifetime. It was hard work but great work. Work that taught some life skills: proper organisation, SOPs, planning ahead, customer service, thinking on one’s feet.

Work that would prove relevant when I co-founded ArcLab years later. That of honing skill through the job, and providing adequate performance support for the workforce that was not tied behind a desk — who we term the Deskless Workforce.

(Just made myself really miss school… 🏫)


As our economy evolves and knowledge cycles shorten, learning in the flow of work becomes a much more important component that adds to the front-loaded education in the first 15–20 years of our lives.

In essence, that’s ArcLab’s work — empowering organisations globally to easily create, distribute and track training for the workforce.

Training that is Stackable. Multi-disciplinary. In-the-Flow-of-Work.

Helping organisations to effectively upskill the workforce, providing easily-accessible performance support — digital SOPs, 101s, primers.

So the workforce can effectively discharge responsibilities, and ultimately generate more value for the organisation. Learning & Development that does more for the organisation.

One of the lessons that COVID-19 taught us: L&D is a need. Not a want.

Because great organisations can only be be built with great teams.


See ArcLab’s showcase for examples of such stackable, adaptable mobile learning modules and add them directly to your ArcLab dashboard.

And talk to us today.

Wishing everyone a restful year-end, and good things ahead for 2021.

Categories
Why

Here’s the biggest asset that’s missing from your 2020 investment portfolio

Here’s the biggest asset that’s missing from your 2020 investment portfolio

No, it isn’t Tesla or Bitcoin…

Photo by Author

The topic on investing never fails to excite my friends. After all, for young working adults like ourselves, the enticing prospects of capital growth and financial freedom are often far too hard to resist.

In our rare handful of catch-ups this year, they would spend hours discussing the most coveted investment assets in today’s tumultuous market (Tesla and Bitcoin duh) and what their ‘ideal’ portfolio would comprise of to achieve that mythical return on investment (ROI) that even Benjamin Graham would drool over.

At the height of our conversations, I would often interrupt by asking if they have ever considered themselves to be part of their ‘ideal’ portfolio. Sadly, this question never really got through to them and it was often dismissed as just another elliptical rhetoric of mine which they have probably grown all too familiar with.

But I know it was far from that. It was, truly, a question of paramount importance to each and every single one of us; one that is worthy to be mulled over and over again at every juncture of our lives. Yet, why is it that we hardly devote much thought into it? Do we not see ourselves as an asset too?

“The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself”

— Warren Buffet

To be clear, investment herein is not just limited to a monetary context. It applies equally to us dedicating time and energy into ourselves — whether is it signing up for an online course to learn a new skill or even simply just picking up a self-help book at your local library. But of course, by the classic sense of the term and as the practical beings that we are, we will only do so when we expect a positive return to our efforts.

So, tell me, how does enrolling into that $299 week-long data-analytics course going to benefit my career in sales? Will I become the next Jack Ma by simply watching this 10-minutes YouTube video on entrepreneurship? Heck, am I even going to expect a pay raise just by spending a day reading this Digital Marketing for Dummies book that I grabbed off the library shelf?

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune” 

— Jim Rohn

Surely, it is hard to deny these thoughts. It is hard to convince ourselves to continue learning beyond our formal education especially since we have been indoctrinated to believe that an undergraduate degree is all we need to get dem monies rolling in. It is hard for us, especially in this age of pragmatism and immediate gratification, to see value in a rudimentary course or a meagre 30-page self-help book. Yet, at the same time, it is hard to explain the strange irony of why we can so readily see ‘value’ and place confidence in that one stock that has been raved about all over by the financial analysts and gurus out there who likely have zero interest in our state of wealth and well-being.

Sometimes, it takes a ‘Black Swan’ event like the Covid-19 pandemic to throw us into a necessary state of flux — and, through it, emerge with a new found epiphany. As this unprecedented year draws to a close, I thought it would be a good time for all of us to look back, reflect, and rethink how we approach the concept of self-investment.

You are the best hedge against economic adversities

When the Covid-19 calamity struck in March this year, who would have thought that it would ignite the worst economic crisis since the 1929 Great Depression. Countries worldwide headed into lockdown, markets tumbled at record breaking pace, and major industries became obsolete overnight. Millions loss their livelihood and were left helpless in the devastating trails of the global crisis. My family was not spared either.

The S&P 500 Index Chart during the stock market crash in March 2020. Screenshot from TradingView

I recalled beginning my job hunt as a fresh psychology graduate right around the time when the economy was withering and employment rates were plunging. What made matters worst was an earlier accident which had left me with significant mobility issues for a hefty period of time — and that further narrowed my job choices in an already debilitated labor market.

To sustain myself, I began to put my skills to work; skills in digital design and video editing that I had picked up from government-funded courses a few years back. I took on gigs that involved designing marketing posters and business cards, basic video effects, and video subtitling. With the surge in number of retail investors jumping in to capitalize on the prevailing market volatility, I also saw scope in the demand for customized trading chart signals/indicators — and that spurred me to begin learning coding by watching hours after hours of free YouTube tutorial videos (God bless YouTube!). To be frank, the money that I earned from these gigs was modest. Nevertheless, they were sufficient to get me through those trying months.

My mum? She gained quite a following herself by selling fabric face masks which she personally hand-sewed. Credit is certainly due, in part, to our late grandmother, for she was the one who imparted the precious craft of sewing to her. As for my sister and her fiancé? Well, let us just say that the couple baking classes that they attended were not entirely for fun and recreation after all. During those months when they had to take unpaid leave off their retail work, they started their own home baking business which continues to be in operation till this day!

“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you”

— B. B. King

The point here is this. Some day in the near future, our beloved stocks may come crashing down on us again, the jobs that we hold so dearly could be taken away overnight, and the flourishing economy that we once knew could be upended in a blink of an eye. But the one thing that stays, through all ups and downs, are the skills and knowledge we have within us. Yes, perhaps we can never really tell when they will be put to work for us, but when that day comes, you can be sure that they are your best bet to get you through.

You are part of the disruptive future

Even before the advent of Covid-19, we often hear of the saying about how 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 have yet been invented today. Admittingly, I was amongst the greatest skeptic of this statement when I first heard it from my professor back in university — I mean, I could still see our drivers, food vendors, aviation crew, retail and tourism staffs going about just fine. How different can things get? Mind you, these were jobs that already existed decades ago and they have been a significant part of every nation’s GDP. But guess what happened?

By virtue of hindsight, I thought I could refine the above statement into one that better epitomizes the predicament of our existing labor landscape; one that has a greater bearing to what we have witnessed throughout Covid-19:

85% of skills required in the jobs of 2030 have yet been acquired by us today.

Just take a look at what happened to the millions of poor workers who are ill-equipped to survive the market debacle? What happened to those vendors and businesses who persistently resisted change to their operation models? Little, if not none, were able to withstand the relentless transformations of reality in those short months. But what about those who were able to adapt and embrace agility? They emerge, worn, but ever equipped to overcome future adversities that come their way.

What was once a bustling nightclub in Singapore has been transformed into a fitness studio — with safe distancing measures in place of course! Photo by Khalid Baba on The Straits Times

The truth is, jobs and businesses do not just disappear. They continuously evolve and are reinvented to stand the test of time. When they do, the job roles and skill-sets that are required of us get redefined too in order to fit the present realities. What we know today may not be what is needed tomorrow.

If we are able to realize this and begin taking ownership of our future — to actively discern and equip ourselves with what tomorrow’s demands will be — rest assured that you will continue to thrive even in the most dire economy. However, should we fail to do so and remain comfortable resting on our laurels, we will become obsolete and eliminated in no time.

Positive returns take time

Patience is a dying commodity these days. Two seconds is all the time we will wait for websites to load and same-day delivery options are fast becoming the de facto criteria of what we look for in online retailers. There is nothing inherently wrong in this as humans are hard-wired to demand immediate pay-offs, and today’s technology, for good or for worst, has indeed afforded us this luxury to.

“Patience can produce uncommon profits”

— Philip L. Carret

That said, not all things in life can be delivered to our doorsteps the next day. Do you remember how long it took to complete our formal education and to graduate from university? At least where I live (Singapore), that takes a minimum of 12 to 13 years. What about the time it takes to achieve meaningful and fulfilling relationships with our clients, peers, or even our loved ones? Well, I believe many would concede that they are still in the process of doing so — and this is, perhaps, a process that could even take us a lifetime.

How about in terms of our savings and investments? Have we ever been told that our deposits and investments would multiply by ten or twentyfold in a short few months or days even? I am pretty sure very few of us would buy into that. Instead, we would, realistically, expect our funds to generate handsome profits for us over a long-term horizon through the power of accumulation and compounding.

Like a seedling that takes years to grow and thrive, knowledge and skills require time to develop and accrue. Photo by Austin D on Unsplash

The very same logic applies to self-investment. Indeed, we may not be able to observe immediate, tangible returns from the one book that we read or that short rudimentary course that we have attended. Nevertheless, always bear in mind that every minute you spend learning something new is a minute contributed to the growing wealth of knowledge and the repertoire of skill-sets that you possess. Like the money that we conscientiously commit to our savings and investments, it is only a matter of time for their value to be realized and accrued. We ought to place faith in this.

The fundamentals are favorable

In the realms of finance, fundamentals entail the cogent economic and financial factors that govern the valuation of a particular security. Information from the evaluation of these factors is generally used to inform our investment decisions. A company, for instance, with favorable fundamentals can be described as one with outstanding financial performances backed by positive economic sentiments — and for most investors, these all add up to be a good and worthy investment opportunity.

If you ask me, I would say that the fundamentals for investing in ourselves have already been favorable for a long time coming. Technology has enabled information and knowledge to be made available right at the tip of our fingertips. Want an answer? Search it up on Google. Want to pick up a new skill? YouTube and Vimeo are great places to begin with. The biggest catch? All of these come at almost no costs to us at all!

Learning has never been made easier with the rise of online learning platforms and educational resources. Photo by Foxy Burrow on ShutterStock

In recent years, we have also observed the proliferation of online learning platforms such as CourseraUdemyUdacityedX, and Skillshare which offer a plethora of educational and development courses put together by professionals from all around the globe. Fees for these courses are relatively affordable and many of them also offer certificates that complement and add value to your personal portfolio. Moreover, signing up for your desired course or workshop takes just a few clicks! That is how convenient it is to begin your journey of learning.

For years, nations worldwide have placed a high premium on lifelong learning. In fact, during the World Economic Forum held earlier in January this year, global authorities have highlighted once again the imperative need for a “global reskilling revolution” — and in the short few months that followed, we have seen how Covid-19 has been nothing short of a catalyst that substantially accelerated the adoption of this notion.

In addition to the rise of online learning platforms and educational technologies, there has also been a multitude of government initiatives to support organizations’ commitment toward employee development and to provide individuals with a wide range of high quality learning opportunities. Educational and training courses are heavily funded, employers are incentivized to upskill their workers, and educational infrastructures continue to expand rapidly — all these in the name of building a resilient and future-ready workforce. The coming years will never be a more ideal time for you to begin establishing a better version of yourself.

The fundamentals are aligned. Are you ready to invest in this greatest asset?


At the time of writing this piece, I am five months into my new role as a learning designer at ArcLab, an EdTech solutions provider that empowers organisations to create effective mobile training for employees. I have been privileged to be handed the opportunity to work with a host of companies from F & B, retail & hospitality, manufacturing, and construction industries — supporting them in digitizing their training materials as well as developing meaningful learning modules and experiences for their workers.

In this time of economic pandemonium, plagued by soaring retrenchment rates, it is exceptionally heart-warming to see these organisations continue to channel faith into upskilling and nurturing their human capital for a post-Covid-19 era.

If you too identify with the ethos of personal development, and you too, subscribe to the notion that human capital is the most valuable asset to your organisation, then let us journey alongside you to digitalize and futureproof your workforce today!

Categories
Why

The Future of L&D in the New Normal — In conversation with Alina Rusu

The Future of L&D in the New Normal — In conversation with Alina Rusu

Alina Rusu is the Founder and Learning & Development Director of Business Academia — a Singapore-based firm that helps client organisations implement customer centric learning and digital strategies to boost productivity and efficiency.

In this webinar, I had the privilege to learn from Alina how she has been supporting firms since COVID-19 hit, and her thoughts on the Future of Learning & Development.

Listen to what we spoke about:

Business Academia can help your organisation’s L&D efforts

To learn more about Business Academia’s Customer Experience Management (“CXM”) programme and to connect with Alina for your organisation’s Learning & Development needs that are Just-in-Time, Just-In-Time, Just-For-You, visit: https://www.businessacademia.co .

For a preview, check out Business Academia’s learning modules that you can Remix directly into your ArcLab dashboard here: https://builder.arclab.io/discover .


Here’s the transcript of our webinar:

James: I’m delighted to speak with Ms Alina Rusu, Founder and Learning & Development Director of Business Academia — on the Future of Learning & Development in our New Normal.

Alina is an entrepreneur, based in Singapore and hailing from Italy. She has extensive professional experience in Europe, Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific, and was part of several Global Project Management teams in Fortune 500 companies: enabling sales growth, a customer centric culture and organisations’ Digital Transformation. Alina had worked in Vodafone, Randstad, Adecco and Club Med, before founding Business Academia in 2018.

Alina is curious about future trends, innovation, quantum mechanics (of which I know nothing about) and a passionate Science Fiction reader.

Alina — Thank you for joining us today!

Could you tell us more about Business Academia and the work you do?

Alina: We focus on three verticals:

1. Learning programmes: design and deploy learning programmes for corporate and higher education institutions in Asia Pacific and globally.

2. Business consultancy: we are diagnosing, following up and coaching professionals and MBA students

3. Innovation and Leadership: which we want to reactivate once air travel is back again. This is because we work with our business partners and we bring leaders from corporate companies from Europe to Singapore to learn from Singapore as a smart city. They can learn about the our fintech Landscape, innovation and disruption in the financial world, mobility, energy, green architecture, waste management etc.

In your training work, what are some of the specific courses that you run for organisations?

Alina: We run a customer experience management training. We are very happy and delighted that our Customer Experience Management programme (“CXM”) is subsidised by Singapore Government agencies: IMDA and SkillsFuture Singapore with 70% up to 90% support for Singaporeans and PRs.

We are running this for organisations in Singapore, across Asia-Pacific and worldwide. We are very proud of this CXM programme that the government has subsidised, which will run till 2022 with government subsidies.

Apart from that, we help organisations to solve their most urgent business problems with design thinking and agility sprints in order to accelerate their growth.

We also teach soft skill training such as negotiation skills, emotional intelligence at work, sales, business development and so on.

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. How has your training approach changed in the last 6 months?

Alina: We are looking into tech components in our learning programmes. Including nano learning, mobile learning, bite size learning, interactive tools and everything we can use to make the learning journey enjoyable. That’s why with the current situation, we accelerate that tech component alongside what we have already designed for our learning programme.

We are answering a question “how to keep people engaged while in front of a computer for a long time?” We took the inspiration from movies — how and why a person should be stuck in front of a device for more than 2 hours. We took that question and worked backwards to see what sort of components, including tech, can we put inside the learning programmes to make it enjoyable.

How do you now assess learning, given you typically aren’t able to be in the same room as learners? Any specific tools that you use?

Alina: We have an interesting combination of pre-course and post-course assessment strategy

We include a lot of hands on practical assignments that we design even before the training or workshop starts. We are not waiting for the programme to end, but to encourage this practice, as well as experiential learning

On top of that, we use the ArcLab platform -launching ArcLab modules in 2 sequences, one before the training starts and the second during or at the end of the learning programme.

We use data and we observe the results from the practical workshops and exercises in order to understand the progress for both online and offline trainings. We measure in terms of percentage, how many of the learners have improved, in terms of knowledge, concepts and application.

After extracting the data from ArcLab, it is really impressive the amount of insights we can get. We also start to get qualitative conversation especially on the follow up and coaching sessions and suggest where are the areas that can be improved. To that, we encourage a lifelong learning attitude.

Could you share who are some of the client organisations that you serve, and a little more about digital and ‘virtual’ training that you now do for them?

Alina: We are running a lot of the customer experience management trainings for the organisations we work with, thanks to SkillsFuture supporting us.

We have human design thinking workshops, sprints and agility, emotional intelligence and soft skills. From there, we go into coaching sessions, follow-ups, implementations and so many more.

We work across industries, e.g. from telecommunications to consumer goods to airports, university, media and cable industries.

It is not important for us to position ourselves in a specific industry because our program supports the implementation of an entire structure, when we talk about people, processes, tools. Instead, we are positioning ourselves as collectors of business intelligence tools. So we collect the hottest and coolest business intelligence platforms. That’s why we are teaching ourselves a lot about what’s out there and we extract the easiest, most impactful and the most cost saving platforms. We do that and simplify it for our customers. So they have access to a list of providers they can look into and adapt as tools.

What are some of the key trends that you see in your work, that you think has gone on an irreversible course since COVID-19?

Alina: In L&D, the integration of online and offline is going to stay. It is as relevant as it is for the retail or F&B industry. The integration of these two will definitely stay. But when it comes to human interaction, it is very important. We need to understand how to balance that according to what is permitted.

Data is very important as it is no longer based on putting as much content out there as possible and hoping that our people/colleagues can assimilate it. But we need to look into cleaning, analysing, extracting the insides of the data in order to understand where we stay, where we should be, what should be done to reach that point.

We need to enabling a proactive culture, lifelong learning culture. This is an ongoing and relevant trend.

If you look at L&D prior to what’s happening today, you could notice more organisation would run by reacting to what is happening. So they would have skills or suggestions or behaviour that they would encourage the companies to look into. The learners would have catalogs to choose from that the topics they would think is more relevant to them.

This makes sense for a while, but now I am actually looking into trends and trying to get a competitive advantage to understand what are the skills that are necessary today and tomorrow so i can support my people to go towards that path.

What’s next for Business Academia?

Alina: We are working hard with our learning programme to enable organisation in their transformation journey and to support their teams altogether to work together to make things happen

We hope to reactivate the innovation and leadership programme to learn about the awesome things about the cities of the future.

We are working on projects e.g. a mobile app that supports people that have been made redundant and those that are without a job, to exchange their skills that are relevant in the workplace.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today. Before we end off, can you share some tips on what companies need to do, to equip their workforces to be ready for our Digital Future?

Alina: Keep it simple and enjoyable. A lot of people or colleagues might be scared of turning to digital completely. Even though there might be a lot going on out there, we might underestimate the power of resistance.

Support your people with JUST-IN-TIME, JUST-ENOUGH and JUST-FOR-YOUR-LEARNERS sort of journey.

We are no longer as L&D professionals reacting to what’s going on, we are proactively opening the learning library to our learners. The L&D department becomes a part of the operation so it is not the one that has the key to the learning library but enables everyone in the organisations to adopt this lifelong learning culture and be always on top of the game to stay relevant because everyone is replaceable.

Categories
Why

Workforce Training in the New Normal

Workforce Training in the New Normal

What #COVID19 taught (and continues to teach) us. Guest post on HRTech Cube.

Even Spidey needs to continuously upskill. aka Training in the New Normal | Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

Fun fact: When I wrote our company thesis in Jan 2018, ArcLab didn’t yet ‘exist’. 😅 We were in POC-mode, learning from usage data & feedback on a prototype built in 6 weeks, and incorporated ArcLab only 3 months later.

It’s been an eventful 2 years.

In Aug 2018, ArcLab released our MVP and got accepted to AWS EdStart. We launched the full platform in Jul 2019, welcomed paying customers, and were accepted into the pioneer class of Spaze Ventures’ EduSpaze accelerator in Feb 2020. We were also humbled to be featured in Holon IQ’s inaugural SE Asia EdTech 50 in Jun 2020 and welcomed investment from Bisk Ventures in Sep 2020.

These milestones provided encouragement to us that ArcLab was solving a big problem, and doing it in a scalable way.

Our work to Upskill the World’s Deskless Workforce is only just beginning. Embracing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ famous #Day1 mindset, we continuously listen to our users and build out our platform to serve our customer organisations.

But like most organisations, our original plans and projections never quite factored in an infectious disease that would lock down entire countries and change the face of our world and economy as we knew it.

COVID-19 & our VUCA world | Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous. — V.U.C.A.

COVID-19 accelerated the paradigm shift that had already started to take hold of the public consciousness.

To me, COVID-19 is the very definition of VUCA. It starts with biology, where individual symptoms may be Uncertain and sometimes Ambiguous, spreads through social behaviour which differs from society to society and can be Volatile, and through various Complex linkages — impacts much of everything around us, notably our economies, jobs, livelihoods, and lives.

Each country’s COVID-19 response differed — a reflection of culture, politics and sometimes plain common sense (or lack thereof). There is still much we don’t know about COVID-19, despite the best efforts of our brightest minds. We can only hope our scientists and doctors make good progress on understanding the disease and developing a vaccine.

The immediate impact of this VUCA disease: Large gatherings of people are no longer possible, for fear of the virus’ spread. Workplaces could no longer function as before. What we took for granted — people meeting or gathering in the same location, could no longer be done.

Truth is: Many of us are generally resistant to change. INERTIA — ‘this is how we’ve always done things so there is no reason to change’ is a big obstacle to progress, even if the alternative is better. From a career perspective, it’s also riskier to propose something new that nobody else is doing, compared with sticking with the status quo, and the safety of ‘everyone else is doing it’.

Until COVID-19 hit.

The by-now famous meme | Pic credits: Forbes

COVID-induced lockdowns globally meant teams could no longer gather in the workplace. So Remote Work became the default arrangement (though some in our workforce still need to brave the frontlines 🙌).

Human Resource teams became organisations’ champions, helping staff in many organisations transition to the new remote work arrangement. A task made harder by schools also moving to home-based learning at the same time.

For HR, this would prove to be their shining moment. Many proved their mettle and it’s only apt that we give a shoutout to our HR professionals — who got going when the going got tough.

During tough economic situations, businesses are forced to take an even harder look at financial performance. For many companies, COVID-19 hurt top-line, which inevitably impacts their ability to fund running costs, of which a significant portion is headcount and salary.

There is no question that without customers and revenue, firms cannot (and in fact have no need to) fund headcount. Yet talent is also needed to develop product to solve customer needs and grow the business. At ArcLab, we fully understand this as we are a business ourselves.

Several governments stepped up quickly to square the circle through salary support schemes, like Singapore’s Jobs Support Scheme and the United Kingdom’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Though these, state funds are channeled to help firms fund a percentage of cash burn, while they figure out how to pivot their businesses and continue to operate in a much-changed world.

Except for tourism-related businesses where the recovery to pre-pandemic levels is likely to be some time away, other business sectors are slowly starting to recover, many adding or pivoting to newer (and often-digital) models. This gives some financial space to companies to at least think beyond immediate survival concerns.

With the workplace also transformed, teams in many countries will work remotely at least part of the workweek, and in split arrangements for the foreseeable future. Employers will need to think about how to adapt their businesses accordingly, to operate as an ongoing concern and (if we dare dream it) to grow.

Workforce Training is a Need. Not a Want.

Now more than ever, businesses need strong leadership to strategise, and a high-performing team to execute.

Good businesses are built by high-performing teams.

Highly-performing teams do not happen by chance. The first step is good recruitment — to find good people. Companies also need to:

  • Rally hires behind a shared vision,
  • Onboard hires properly, and
  • Train them in what’s needed to perform their job role.

The last 2 points are important, especially for our junior and rank-&-file workforce. Very few of us take on a role and become expert workers right-off-the-bat. New hires typically go through an Onboarding process to familiarise with the business and their role, followed by an On-the-Job Training (“OJT”) process, mentored and guided by a supervisor or senior.

Implementing OJT and mentoring is hard enough in normal times. It’s time-and-labour-intensive, and does not scale well. So for businesses that employ more than 5–10 staff, it becomes cumbersome and inefficient for supervisors and seniors to train new staff.

A better way is needed, and has always been needed. The solution for scale has always been technology, once we got the training andragogy right.

At ArcLab, we learnt a few things from serving our customers:

  1. How important it was for the workforce to learn In the Flow of Work. This reduces time away from the shop or factory floor and maximises productivity.
  2. How crucial it was for training to be Uniform, so the company’s standards can be taught without personal bias (or person-specific incompetence!).
  3. How useful it is to continuously provide Performance Support to staff through digital training material — Training Manuals, 101s, Primers, Standard Operating Procedures. So staff can easily access information for them to do their jobs AS-AND-WHEN they need it.

In our New Normal, it’s no longer possible to gather 1–200 people in a training room. Organisations have to do this more efficiently and effectively. So the way forward is to leverage on the power of digital, and to stage out learning, through bite-sized modules, delivered directly to staff devices.

Moving training to the digital/mobile space also helps businesses reduce time and cost needed for training. This effectively funds free headcount for the business, through the resource savings and productivity gains.

Importantly, mobile learning can bring great uptick in learner engagement, knowledge retention and most importantly, knowledge application. Some of these knowledge application metrics include— the drop in customer complaints, production errors etc, time spent on tasks. These are very tangible business objective metrics and provides a positive return on training investment.


COVID-19 has negatively impacted all our lives. The silver linings we can glean for now are:

  1. A greater appreciation for the dedication and hard work of our frontline workers — our cleaners, transport workers, delivery and supply chain professionals, healthcare heroes and our educators.
  2. An irreversible push towards digital and mobile: Video-conferencing, e-commerce, digital payments, tele-health and Digital Learning were all catalysed by COVID-19, and helped make some parts of our lives better to offset the pain and inconvenience it wrought elsewhere.

COVID-19 might yet be with us for some time. Hence, we expect mobile learning to support organisations in a Business Continuity Planning, as well as a Business-As-Usual situation.

ArcLab stands ready to support every organisation in this important part of your Digital Transformation journeys.

For Training is not a luxury for businesses. It is an absolute staple, because without a high-performing team, it’s impossible to build a great business.

Categories
Why

#WFH isn’t for everyone

WFH isn’t for everyone

With contributions from Edwin of PowerAbsolut and Justina for Edugrow for Brighter Tomorrows

Covid-19: BAU no more | Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

7 Feb 2020 almost seems a lifetime ago.

It was the day Singapore upgraded her disease outbreak status to DORSCON Orange, in response to what the world would soon know as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19. As COVID-19 infection numbers rose, governments all over the world began to impose quarantine, lockdown, movement control measures to limit community spread. Singapore started her own “circuit breaker” on 7 April, recently extended till 1 June.

With travel curtailed and workplaces closed, Work-From-Home was no longer good Business Continuity or a fashionable hashtag. WFH was now non-negotiable. Schools also closed, so students now had Home-based Learning, or HBL.

Organisations began getting licenses for video conferencing software, communication platforms, productivity tools.

Mobile learning and edtech tools saw increased uptake, as training could no longer be done face-to-face.

Video Conference Prep, for the Nth time today | Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Organisations began social-sharing their teams doing video conferences. Photos (and videos!) of video conferences, encouraging messages and memes started to grow, as #WFH started to trend.

While most of us are taking WBL/HBL in our stride, there is starting to be cabin fever / fatigue as lockdown periods get extended.

There was the odd joke about how COVID-19 was a conspiracy by video conferencing software companies / food delivery platforms etc. Some comments were in really poor taste — snide remarks about teachers celebrating that they could slack / shirk, folks living in mansions or large apartments complaining about how they couldn’t find a suitable place to ‘focus’ to work.

Worse, some started to flat-out disregard Stay-at-Home advisories and venture out, turning ‘grocery shopping’ into family outings, and driving to different parts of the country to buy food or ‘exercise’.


#WFH isn’t for everyone

I’m using this op-ed to highlight that even as some might tire of #WFH, it is in fact a PRIVILEGE enjoyed by just a small part of our societies, and in many cases, only the higher-income and white-collar segments of our workforce.

Most of us are aware of F&B and retail businesses for whom WFH is a near-to-impossible option. There are in fact many others. I canvassed some perspectives:

Engineering: Contribution By Mr Edwin Wong (CEO, PowerAbsolut)

“In the engineering sector, WFH may be applied where work is instructional, administrative, design, e-commerce, etc. Meetings and reviews can be done via video or phone, but these are not the core money-making activities to begin with.

In marine engineering, WFH is virtually irrelevant. Production, maintenance, repair, troubleshooting, survey all necessitate onsite presence. Shipbuilding, fire systems certification, ship surveys and inspections, GPS system installation etc. all require physical presence and very often, congregation. Such work requires physical interaction with machines and other stakeholders. These are the revenue-generating activities which cannot be executed from a remote location.

The Singapore government has been helpful in NOT imposing a full lockdown or enforcing WFH across the board, which will otherwise seal the fate of many engineering businesses. We need the entire society to help us. Please listen to the health professionals, comply with the government, change our social behaviour to keep everyone safe.

So that those of us whose work nature do not permit us to WFH, WILL NOT BE LOCKED DOWN. The more the outbreak is contained, the lesser the restrictions, the sooner we regain our footing.”

Healthcare: Contribution by Dr Wong (Working in a private clinic)

“Healthcare is an essential service that is still open to provide emergency services. Many perceive that it’s business-as-usual for private healthcare providers, far from the truth. Non-urgent or elective procedures that form a substantial portion of our work cannot be done, resulting in significant loss of revenue. Yet we continue to honour our commitment to staff, paying full salaries, and taking this time to train and re-train ourselves.

Private healthcare providers have been taking extreme precautions to safeguard the interest of their patients, as well as healthcare staff who are at highest risk of getting COVID-19, where examining patients require close contact. Most healthcare workers have no option to work from home.

We are totally in alignment with MOH and the Government’s call. Stay at home and flatten the curve. Avoid crowded places like wet markets and supermarkets. Healthcare workers cannot battle this virus alone. Collectively, every resident in Singapore must play their part. Then things can go back to normal for all.

Social Sector: Contribution by Ms Justina Quek (Programme Manager, Edugrow for Brighter Tomorrows)

While our children take to platforms like TikTok seamlessly, HBL is, unfortunately, not done via the social networking app. When MOE first announced moving to a month-long HBL, Social Service Agencies island-wide like us had to scour around for devices for our children. That was the first hurdle.

Next was the knowledge and skills gaps in typing, or navigating the various e-learning, video conferencing, and shared drive platforms. These are still considered “easy” problems with “easy” solutions.

The more challenging struggles are the environmental factors; whether it was the lack of a proper study space (such as a table and chair with proper lighting), or a lack of structure (as opposed to being in school), or even simply a lack of the privilege of quiet. Regrettably, many things the more privileged amongst us take for granted becomes more pronounced during this period of WFH.

Nonetheless, this period also serves as an opportunity for us at EduGrow for Brighter Tomorrows to bridge that very gap with the children we work with. In enforcing HBL, our children have to learn to deal with browsers and tabs, pick up basic typing skills, and have found a use for the microphones attached to their earpieces. They have learnt to take ownership of their own studies and set their own time tables.

While we cannot change their environment, we can empower our children to adapt and become more resilient. We walk step-by-step with children who need the extra assistance or an extra push, to ensure that no one gets left behind — or fall further behind. WFH or HBL aren’t great nor are they ideal. But, like our children, we can learn to work with the hands we are dealt with.

So in summary, #WFH is not a privilege easily enjoyed by:

our healthcare heroes, our F&B, hospitality, delivery, supply chain & logistics colleagues, our security staff, our cleaning colleagues, our carers of young and old, our machinists, technicians and engineers, our construction workers, our law enforcement officers and soldiers, our persons-with-disabilities in the workforce — for whom technology “as-is” may not be sufficient to help them to #WFH.


It’s a PRIVILEGE to be able to Work From Home.

COVID-19’s impact is still playing out, as our healthcare workers and scientists work tirelessly to combat the virus.

We all need to play our part — washing our hands, social distancing, and staying home as much as we can (see this excellent video by Jeremy Goh & Steven Jap).

No-one knows how long the outbreak will last. No-one knows how the world will be after, only that it will be changed.

Some of these changes are good, e.g. WFH and flexible work arrangements. I hope they stay even as our world returns to normal. We’ve also seen great leadership from some countries and companies, and acts of selflessness and heroism.

At firm level, we play our part in two ways:

  1. Collaborating with creative educators like The Dim Sum Warriors to create digital educational material that educate the public (children & adults) on COVID-19. Knowledge about how the virus spreads and what we can individually do to mitigate is the best weapon against community spread. TL;DR — Stay 🏠 Stay Safe.
  2. Helping firms to digitise training material that empowers them to remotely #Upskill staff for the #Upturn (which WILL eventually come), at scale. Ping us if you need help.

WFH is really a PRIVILEGE we should not abuse.

I hope my fellow contributors helped put our #WFH “woes” into perspective.

In the short-run, the Singapore government’s 3 Budgets provides a lot of short-term support for families’ and businesses’ cost pressures. But this cannot last forever and we all need topline (salaries, revenue) to kickstart the economy’s flywheel again.

So the more that those of us who can WFH do so, the more we can flatten the curve; and the sooner that everyone can revert to a more ‘normal’ arrangement — to visit our loved ones, eat our favourite foods, run and play outdoors.

With everyone playing our part, we can overcome these worst of times… with the best of times.

#StaySafe. #Stay Home.


Last but not least — If you’re Singapore-based, please donate your spare computer and/or accessories to Engineering Good, whose volunteers, led by Johann Annuar, are working overtime to bridge the digital divide and repurpose donated laptops for children of disadvantaged families to do HBL 🙌

Donate at: https://engineeringgood.org/computers-against-covid

Categories
Why

Snackable Self-Paced Learning for the Modern (Deskless) Worker

Snackable Self-Paced Learning for the Modern (Deskless) Worker

Buffets! Spread upon spread — Delightful morsels of savory and sweet dishes. (Hungry yet?) — Guest Blog Post for hrtech.sg

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Why we love buffets

Some say it’s the food. That’s a factor, but I suspect our love affair with buffets lies in knowing there’s ALL THAT CHOICE available. That’s what makes buffets special — the fact we CAN eat such a broad spread of different dishes, whatever you fancy, without limit!

Buffets have made their way into increasing facets of our lives, especially entertainment. Think Netflix, Spotify, MoviePass. These platforms make you the promise that there’s all this content (movies, songs…) that you CAN watch or listen to. It’s impossible obviously, but the fact that we CAN… has users stumping up their subscription fees. Month after month.

Netflix and Spotify do something else — they make recommendations to you — what to watch or listen to next.

To each his/her own

The recommendations are “personalised” for each of us, because our behaviour on the platforms are all different. We watch different movies, listen to different songs. Our likes and dislikes are different. The platforms aggregate all this data to personalise their recommendation, based on what they understand of us.

Yet personalisation is hardly new. As parents — we have knowledge (aka data) about our children’s likes and dislikes. We know Johnny loves his fish ball noodles and Jamie her chicken rice. So, we ‘personalise’ their lunches. We know Jimmy loves green and Jessica loves blue. So, we ‘personalise’ their room decor accordingly.

Personalised Learning — What’s hampering it?

In modern-day Learning & Development (L&D) — it’s not always easy to personalise training, especially if time and resource is constrained. So, often, it’s a one-sized-fits-all approach to training. Much of these changes in the classroom started in the Industrial Revolution — the advent of factories required skilled workers needing to be trained quickly and efficiently. Sadly, that hasn’t changed in the past 150 years.

We know training should be personalised, and we know that there is technology that can help us. But somehow — what Netflix, Spotify, Amazon and Google have honed to an artform — L&D practitioners find hard to do. This is despite a bevy of ‘personalised learning’ and ‘adaptive learning’ platforms that have sprung up over the last decade.

Yet, good teachers and trainers have always sought to personalise their teaching to the learners they interact with. In an older time, masters impart their skills to different apprentices differently, because each one is different.

Focusing (wrongly) on the technology

So, our first goal must be to figure out what best fits our modern-day learner. Focus should not centre at the technology; it starts with the learning pedagogy.

The modern workforce is becoming more mobile, and information’s shelf-life shortening. That makes traditional methods of training less effective. So, the delivery needs to change, and assessment too.

What we should first do is figure out the best medium and form factor of training. No longer should we front-load training in the first 3 days of an employee’s induction programme and hope they remember something. Rather, training now needs to be spaced out, made available on-demand; and if possible, ‘pushed’ at the right time.

Thinking specifically about the “deskless” worker — the frontline associate in the shopfront, the barista, the outbound healthcare worker: The gentleman or lady who does not have a cubicle or workstation; no computer to access the operations manuals (s)he may have vaguely remembered browsing through during induction.

Yet most (if not all) of our deskless workers now have powerful computers sitting in their pockets — their smartphones. Our Learning & Development teams can take advantage of these mediums and find an effective platform and toolset to engineer learning content. This investment is done once, and content can then be tweaked on an ongoing basis with relatively low marginal effort. This ensures accuracy and currency.

Snack-able Learning — Nano Learning

The best form of training delivery is to downsize content into ‘snack-able’ modules — Nano Learning.These are housed on the cloud and readily accessible for the worker to refer to, a recipe card for example, or a repair instruction for a particular machine. Whenever he/she needs it.

A worker who refers to it continuously will level up faster. It’s a proxy for employee effort to HR managers, which should ultimately translate to better productivity and better bottom lines.

Over time, the platform also builds its knowledge of the worker, and platforms can build recommendation engine to recommend learning — which is already proven to be effective. This helps our deskless workers continuously upskill and level up — translating into better job performance, promotions and better pay to uplift families.

Ending back at the buffet

We end back at the buffet spread, and the key element of choice. Best of all, there’s no wastage -because unlike buffets where unconsumed food is thrown away, all learning content always stays available, to consume as best fits our schedules, to adopt into better work performance — that leads to better organisational outcomes, and hopefully better livelihoods for our workers.

As we bring personalisation into learning — and in ArcLab’s case, Nano Learning, our focus still centres on human choice. So we do not just consume what is recommended or ‘pushed’ to us blindly.

Rather, that insight we glean from all that data and personalisation is the ability to make better choices. That ability to choose is what makes us human, and that’s why we love buffets.

Categories
Why

Creating Effective Training — The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Creating Effective Training — The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

“Question: What’s effective training?” | “women’s gray cardigan” by rawpixel on Unsplash

In a previous blog post, we shared with readers how learning needs to be ENGAGING, EFFICIENT and EFFECTIVE. For workplace L&D in particular, today’s managers and trainers face:

  1. Increased Mobility — Our teams are more mobile and distributed. So it’s hard to get everyone in the same training room. Especially true for multi-branch / multi-geographical organisations.
  2. Reduced Attention Spans — The infamous study that us humans can concentrate for less than 8 seconds, ranking us below goldfish…

Organisations can no longer ‘pre-dump’ our teams with reams of training binders; it will get lost amongst everything else that they need to get up to speed on and daily work responsibilities!

L&D managers are convinced that the best way to train teams is by:

  1. Putting training content online to supplement (NOT replace) face-to-face training. This should be mobile-optimised to be delivered directly to employees’ smart devices.
  2. Making sure training engages the learner for more effective content absorption. Even better if the training is contextual and just-in-time.

That’s where Nano Learning comes in.

What’s Nano Learning? Bite-sized, self-contained training content that is rich-media focused and peppered with knowledge checks to make sure learning has taken place.

Think of Nano Learning as ‘power bars’ that are consumed just before a key task or activity. The learning is contextual, just-in-time, and application-focused. Employees learn what’s needed, do quick assessments to confirm learning, and put their learning into action through the task. The practical application reinforces the learner, and gets the ‘muscle memory’ going.

So how do we create effective Nano Learning? Do we simply take our existing Powerpoint training decks and chop them up into 15-minute modules?

The Bad

Bad Nano Learning: https://b.arclab.io/2ykhQWn

Here’s one learning module: https://b.arclab.io/2ykhQWn

Did this work for you? Did you get the point of the module? Or were there too many “focus points” that you got lost in the information overload? Were you able to test yourself that you learnt what you were being asked to

The module is indeed short, but we need to do more than keep our Nano Learning modules short.

More than that, we need to keep them focused, and to-the-point. Ideally we should only teach ONE learning point per module. There’s no focus if we ATTEMPT to cover too many things.

The Good

Now try this Nano Learning module: https://b.arclab.io/nano1

Good Nano Learning: https://b.arclab.io/nano1

This 2nd module is short, just like the previous one. But there are several important differences:

(i) This module is to-the-point.

(ii) There are knowledge checks to make sure the learner stopped him/herself and reinforced the learning.

(iii) There is also good use of infographics, contextually-appropriate pictures and a very short, to-the-point video on how Nano Learning can be created.

In general, the rich media appeals to our learners’ right brains, creating emotional connections that imprint on memories more strongly.

In short, it is effective.

How do we create effective training?

LESS is often MORE: Resist the temptation to load in more and more information. This leads to loss-of-focus, and your effort is wasted.

SHOW; don’t TELL: Spend time sourcing or crafting visually clear media resources, be it infographics that display data or information, or demo videos.

The old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” never goes wrong, as the learner doesn’t need to imagine what wordy descriptions actually mean.

KNOWLEDGE CHECKS: We learn best by testing ourselves continuously. Nano Learning modules that have regular Assessment (be it simple MCQ or Open-ended screens) do this effectively. The learner reinforces his/her learning, and there’s good data for L&D managers.

Create Effective Training now!

We trust these short tips helps you the L&D manager and trainer to create more effective training through Nano Learning — to supplement your workplace learning programmes.

Remember, crafting effective training requires more than mindlessly chopping up 100-slide Powerpoints into 15-minute bits.

Put thought into the pedagogical approach we suggested, and let’s all create better training for our teams.


Creating effective training for your teams, self-service, with ArcLab Pro is always free. Start now.

For more help or are resource-constrained, get in touch with us for ArcLab Enterprise, where our Instructional Designers can work with you to help craft your content into effective training. Reach out now.

Categories
Why

The Grades Matter

The Grades Matter

There is chatter about how grades don’t matter; that perhaps we should move away from awarding marks and grades to our learners. This has been raised in Singapore where we are based, and some other economies.

Critics point to Finland’s much-lauded education system, where the focus centres on learning how to learn, rather than marks and grades. Students in Finland go through a comprehensive academic programme that encourages curiosity, lateral thinking and life skills. A culture of lifelong learning continues throughout adult life, as the individual graduates into the workplace.

Yet ignoring grades misses the point, as GRADES DO MATTER.

But perhaps not in the way that we use them now.

Grades are FEEDBACK

Grades give feedback to the learner and feedback to the educator.

As a Learner: When I do badly on a test or assessment, it is feedback to me that I did not understand the material well enough. I should go through the material again, maybe seek help from my teacher or trainer. Perhaps I should work harder. Maybe I should give up and look for something else that I am better in.

As an Educator: If the entire cohort does badly for a test, it is feedback to me that perhaps I should relook at the parts that everyone did poorly for. Maybe I should think about covering certain concepts again, think of a different way to explain this part of the material that many in the class/course did not seem to understand.

It’s no different from sports, where week-in, week-out, athletes and teams compete for a good ‘grade’, which is to beat the opponent. Better sides (like Tottenham Hotspur 😊) win in style, though there’s no bonus grade for exciting play.


Olympic champ Joseph Schooling got an excellent ‘grade’ at the 2016 Olympics. He did poorly in 2017 before working hard to improve his 2018 ‘grade’ at the Asian Games, inspiring kids like the author’s daughter (pictured) in the process | Photo: James

Singaporean son Joseph Schooling won the 100m Butterfly gold medal at the 2016 Olympics. He worked hard for his excellent ‘grade’. He turned in the hours, honed his talent through good honest hard work, and swam faster than everyone else.

Joseph’s 2017 ‘grades’ weren’t stellar, with a poor NCAA showing and finishing only 3rd at the World Championships in his pet 100m fly. By Joseph’s own admission, he had put in less than half his pre-Olympic training. It showed in his ‘grade’.

But the poor ‘grade’ was feedback to Joseph, who went back to training hard. The results showed, as he routed the field (which included world-class Chinese, Japanese and Korean swimmers) to win 2 Asian Game gold medals in 2018. His work is not yet done, as he hunkers down for the next World Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Joseph Schooling responded to his 2017 ‘bad grades’, worked hard, and got back to the top step of the podium.

A world without grades?

Now imagine a sporting world with no gold medals. No silver, no bronze. Participation certificates at the Olympics; every athlete returns with the same certificate.

Imagine if the English Premier League doesn’t keep score, and there are no winners and losers. That FIFA gives every World Cup team the same medal. Just for showing up.

Hardly the real world, is it?

The real world doesn’t give us participation prizes just for showing up. The real world gives us grades — constant feedback, whether we like it or not.

CEOs are graded by their ability to strategise, execute and deliver performance. Politicians by their ability to serve the citizenry. Fund managers by their ability to earn above-market returns. Carpenters by the quality of their furniture. Software engineers by the ability to ship working code. Movie Directors by the reception of their movies. Startups by their ability to turn product into business. Each and every one of us by our ability to do our job.

We cannot escape the reality that performance matters. The ‘grades’ we get through the metrics we define and are defined for us, are the feedback to us to keep doing what is working, and to change tack when something’s not turning out so well.

Those who respond to this feedback well, would hopefully turn in better performance (and ‘grades’) at the next opportunity. They should be rewarded more than the ones who did not respond to the feedback.

So it is facetious to tell our children that grades do not matter. Because in so doing, we are not preparing them for life.

Grades SHOULD NOT BE JUDGMENT

The issue with grades right now is how we view them, and how we use them.

Grades DO matter, but grades are not THE ONLY THING that matters.

Singaporeans gripe about the Primary School Leaving Examination (“PSLE”). Currently, each student taking the PSLE is awarded a numerical T-score. This score determines the Secondary school that the student is eligible to enter, as admission is primarily based on the scores of those applying. So the PSLE grade is a first-cut filtering tool.

Singapore’s Ministry of Education recently tweaked the PSLE ever so slightly, where from 2021 onwards, students are not awarded a numerical score but instead are given a grade banding.

It’s a start, but doesn’t go far enough. Now students aren’t sieved down to the individual point, but to the individual grade band.

The primary issue for me and many who think Singapore can do better, is the PSLE is still perceived as a single high-stakes examination.

Do well at the PSLE, enter a top secondary school, and your academic journey (and perhaps career) is laid out for you. Do poorly at the PSLE, and you’re routed to technical education, and the road ahead becomes bumpier than the other kid (though “there are still many paths to success”).

It may or may not be true, but sometimes perception shapes reality. And parents have to bear a large part of this responsibility.

What is worse is this warped mindset sometimes carries over to the workplace and shapes hiring practices. And the fixation on grades carries on…

Which is wrong. Good grades should not give a free pass to the learner that one is set for life, nor should bad grades condemn one to failure forever.

For what if I was just a late bloomer? And what if I was always good at something else?

How do we do better?

  1. Grading right.

Albert Einstein said, “If you judge a fish by how well it climbs a tree, it will spend its whole life feeling stupid”.

If we take grades for what they are, which is feedback, then the challenge for education policy-makers is how to design grading systems that are appropriate for learners-in-question.

There’s good progress being made already, as education systems are becoming more flexible, with different tracks of learning for different types of learners. But more needs to be done.

This is true for academic learning, as well as learning in the workplace. At work, HR practitioners and line managers need to define the right metrics to ‘grade’ staff. Ultimately it needs to translate to business goals (which staff help organisations to achieve).

In the workplace learning arena where ArcLab operates, we encourage organisations to break training content down into modular pieces, or Nano Learning.

This allows staff to learn in bite-sizes, on-demand. The ‘grades’ given at the end of each learning module is specific to the single learning objective that HR, L&D and line managers have defined together. The employee (and the organisation) knows straightaway whether he/she ‘gets’ the material or not, and how to apply it towards his/her job role.

The ‘grade’ has become what it’s meant to be — feedback.

2. Giving room to fail. Really.

Just as Baseball players get 3 swings before striking out, Racket players get 2 chances at a serve, we can shape our learning systems to give our learners room to fail.

If at first you don’t succeed, Try Again | Photo: ArcLab

There is a common saying in the military — we sweat more during training, so that we bleed less during war.

Learning should be a ‘low-stakes’ environment to make mistakes.

That’s why every Nano Learning module we empower organisations to create has a “Try Again” button.

In so doing, someone who hasn’t grasped the material, or hasn’t mastered it to his/her standards, always has the option to re-visit it.

Repeated tries are also a proxy indicator to the organisation about the individual’s effort and endeavour, that this individual doesn’t give up.


I have only skimmed the surface of ‘The Grades Matter’, where the current downsides negatively affects both academic students and workplace learners.

Grades DO matter — as FEEDBACK to the learner and the teacher/trainer. Feedback on what has been learnt and done well, and what hasn’t.

If we adopt this “Grades-as-Feedback” mindset, we can not only work together to define grading systems that can more appropriately measure learning, and also help those that don’t do well try again.

This needs everyone to play our part: Educators, Parents, Employers, Government and Individuals.

For one bad grade should never doom one to a lifetime of failure.

That — we at ArcLab will never accept.

Categories
Why

Size Matters

Size Matters

Interactive Nano* Learning is small but POWERFUL learning.

(*Nano: 1 billionth (1/1000,000,000) a.k.a. bite-sized, digestible, very small)

NanoLearning: small but POWERFUL learning | Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

In this Age of Digital Disruption, organisations need to keep employees’ knowledge and skills current.

For all of us, continuous retraining and upskilling is no longer optional. Not doing so puts us all at risk of our jobs being made obsolete and us being made redundant.

Two key factors have major implications for the way we conduct training in the workplace today, or educate our children in school for that matter.

  1. Knowledge gets outdated much more quickly today.
  2. Our attention spans now average 8 seconds (FYI the average goldfish’s is 9 seconds).

It is ineffective to have 3-hour lectures, where a trainer stands in front of the class and lectures without break, or learners doing anything ‘interactive’.

This is especially true for millennial learners, who no longer have deep fixated attention spans. Instead, millennials “multi-task”, where attention is divided amongst many concurrent activities (aside: our brains don’t actually focus on many different things at the SAME time, but rather, SWITCH between different areas of focus — more on this in a future piece).

It’s also questionable if one-way content delivery in training settings adds much value since there’s already so much knowledge and content that is readily-accessible on the web by learners. In fact, the proliferation of web and digital media also makes it harder to get learners’ attention.

When the ‘competition’ is the latest superhero movie or hit mobile game, the teaching & training profession has its work cut out, to design and deliver knowledge in a manner that at least captures learners’ attention (for those 8 seconds anyway), and more importantly, effect the learning.

There is a better way:

We’re talking about NANO learning: bite-sized, digestible, on-demand learning.

Effective learning.

2 quick points:

  1. Learning in short bursts is not new. For example, the Israeli army, on recommendation by Daniel Kahneman (of “Prospect Theory” fame in collaboration with Amos Tversky), converted the training of tank drivers from a series of 2-hour sessions to 30-minute bursts, during the 1970s Yom Kippur War. This helped tank drivers get educated more quickly and effectively, and reduced war fatalities.
  2. We’re not advocating that trainers and educators do nothing more beyond break down 3-hour lectures into 5 minute chunks — lock, stock and barrel. Nano Learning is more than simply putting a shrink ray gun on a classroom lesson and nothing else.

Nano Learning is a PEDAGOGICAL FRAMEWORK where we work through the entire content base and think hard how to package it into bite-sized, interactive modules that best help the learner understand and absorb the content and learning points.

We’ll talk more about the science and pedagogical aspects in a subsequent post, but first let’s think about how we can operationalise Interactive Nano Learning for our organisations.

How do we start?

So, what does an organisation’s Learning & Development team need to do, to put this in practice?

  1. Start Small (pun intended) — Rather than propose an institution-wide overhaul, start by securing the support of a small group of stakeholders, and use it to get corporate leaders’ buy-in.
  2. Involve the TRAINER — Interactive Nano Learning never REPLACES the trainer & the educator, and we should work with in-house (or external) trainers to repackage learning content into a series of bite-sizes. Remember that the human brain works well with packs of threes, so that might be a good number to reach for, to keep training digestible, and show a progression path.
  3. Reach the LEARNER — The average person today touches his/her phone more than 2600 times per day. So embrace technology that can help to deliver your training content TO YOUR LEARNER. Hence, a digital platform might be your best bet.

Ultimately, it is all about letting our data guide us. Does this new form of nano learning help deliver content in a better way?

Hence, it’s important that we set very specific milestones and desired end-outcomes, so that we can measure effectiveness, which will help us secure buy-in to extend the framework to more parts of our organisations.

A good way to start may simply be to take 1 specific training module, like a new-employee onboarding programme, and break it down into a bite-sized format.

This Nano Learning format can be sent to the new hire ahead of them joining your company, and contain key information that they need to know: Start date, who to report to, dress code (if any), things to bring/prepare for etc.

Then when your new employee shows up on Day 1, they at least have some knowledge in their minds, and helps ease them into the new environment.

Talent is the most important resource that every organisation has.

It takes time, effort and costs to search, interview, recruit and hire every new team member. If employees leave because they feel they are not being trained properly, the re-hiring for the role hurts the cost by explicitly adding to firm hiring costs, and implicitly by dampening morale (and increasing workloads) of team-mates who stay.

So it’s in every organisation’s interest to train employees properly all throughout their journey with the firm.

Interactive Nano Learning can be a big help in making this training bite-sized and on-demand, better delivering the requisite content and skills to members of your team.

Don’t take our word for it. Try it for yourself…


p/s: We’re excited to let you know that WE HAVE LAUNCHED ARCLAB PRO!

ArcLab Pro is a Software-as-a-Service web tool and platform that empowers organisations to build Interactive Nano Learning modules that can be easily distributed to teams to help them onboard and upskill.

ArcLab Pro provides easy-use templates, learner analytics, everything you need to effectively train your team with Interactive Nano Learning. There’s no software to download or install, no lock-in periods, no minimum number of learners.

Simply sign up, and start creating and investing in your team TODAY!

Categories
Why

“Many Paths to Success” — Walking the Talk

“Many Paths to Success” — Walking the Talk

with advice & contributions from Huang Shao-Ning, Co-founder of AngelCentral & JobsCentral (any errors are James’)

Is there only one road? | Photo by Sean Pollock on Unsplash

A seasoned mid-career professional in her 40s recounted her recent experience applying to a few Public Sector roles in Singapore. To her surprise (and dismay), the hiring organisations requested for her educational qualifications all the way back to her GCE O-Levels. Without this information, she could not submit her job application.

Juxtapose this anecdote against the Singapore’s government’s exhortation to continually upskill and keep our knowledge current. The official message to employers and society (which we agree with):

Don’t view academic qualifications as the marker of success, embrace lifelong learning, be open to new career possibilities and opportunities that may come our way.

So the same government pushing citizens to move away from sole reliance on academic qualifications, still asks for these very qualifications when recruiting for public sector positions. It is especially strange that academic grades are still required in an application process for a mid-career position.

Returning to my anecdote, that mid-career individual’s O-Level results has zero bearing on her career performance, where she has proved her mettle through her 20 years of work experience. So there should be no reason for the job portals in question to demand this information as a mandatory submission. Importantly, getting that applicant’s O-Level results will not help the recruiter from assessing the applicant’s suitability for the position.

There are 2 ways to view this:

  1. A trivial IT implementation issue, which can be fixed easily with a line of code to make the request for academic grades non-mandatory.
  2. Part of a bigger public sector mindset-change issue, and needs to be addressed at its roots.

If we take the second view, then Public Sector hiring stakeholders should work together to remedy it more holistically.

The Public Sector is a large ship that takes some time to change course. While political and public sector leaders make the big-picture pronouncements, it takes time for that change to filter downwards and operationalised. Realistically, hiring frameworks and systems need some more time to be adjusted.

Yet adjust it must, and we offer several suggestions for Public Sector employers (and employers in general) to consider, to speed up this change.


“Papers, please” | Photo by Bernard Tuck on Unsplash

“Papers, please”: A genuine rethink from a recruitment perspective

What is the best way to assess the suitability of job applicants?

  1. Never use grades as a non-negotiable filtering tool for prospective candidates.

One of us previously helped with a Public Sector project to to review post-graduate scholarship applicants. There was a particular candidate whom we assessed to be a poor fit for the scholarship programme (among other drawbacks, he was unable to speak nor articulate his views clearly). Yet the Public Sector body requested to “upgrade” him to a pass, SIMPLY BECAUSE he had a Degree with First Class Honours.

There ARE valid reasons for academic qualifications to be provided for specific jobs, e.g. medicine, accounting, professional engineering, especially for entry-level or early-career positions. In such situations, paper qualifications are useful as a minimum standard to prove basic technical competency.

In other contexts, e.g. roles where more analytical skills or communication skills are required, academic qualifications or grades are hardly useful to assess candidates’ suitability.

2. Make a more considered effort to PROPERLY PROFILE job requirements.

Employers (both Public & Private Sector) can start by quantifying the hard skills required for the role but also design better filtering mechanisms to assess candidates on the soft skills needed to execute the role effectively, e.g. a well-designed questionnaire or work-tests to suss out values / aptitudes that current top performers of the role possesses and hire following that pattern.

Work-trials (which our firm uses) are also a good alternative way for Employers to assess candidates’ competency and softer skills, such as communication skills and teamwork. Work-trials provide the same opportunity to the job applicant to assess suitability of the Employer and their comfort in working with potential colleagues.

WE HAVE SUGGESTED AN IDEAL SCENARIO.

The above will take skill, effort and courage(!) to translate into hiring frameworks. There will also need to be periodic reviews since skillset requirements change over time. One key challenge is how to quantify and effectively communicate the soft skills and “x-factor” required for a role into an advertised job description, and craft it into an interview / assessment framework.

So for a start, a lower-hanging fruit would be effectively quantifying the hard skills required for the role, and work with that as a baseline.

We are conscious that it will take more effort by Employers to operationalise these frameworks (we are Employers ourselves), but we believe the initial hard work will outweigh the time and re-hiring costs to the company of hiring the wrong person for the job, where costs include time wasted from staff turnover and the subsequent re-hiring needed.

In the long run, the hiring organisation wins as it will truly be hiring based on skills profile, resulting in better job hires and benefitting the organisation financially. This contrasts against the usual broad-brush academic qualifications and grades filter of job applicants, which gives the Employer little insight into competency.

Importantly, a move away from a blanket focus on paper qualifications puts the brakes on our country’s systematic discrimination against late-bloomers who may not do so well in the early years of their academic journey. It will also stop the relentless paper chase for academic qualifications’ sake.

There are many stories in industry (which both of us face as Employers) of polytechnic graduates “obsessed” to get a degree after one to two years of working and saving up. This phenomenon may serve to translate to a vicious cycle of more re-hiring and re-training costs for Employers. Such an obsession to get a Government-recognised degree at times could also sometimes totally blinker polytechnic graduates in their career planning, inadvertently leading to poor financial outcomes.

We recall the example of an ex-staff (fresh polytechnic graduate), who after one year of working with the firm, was accepted into a local university to read Electronic Engineering. This individual was working with us as a designer, and was in fact a very good one! However, for the sake of the “paper with the logo of a local university”, he suppressed his own professional and career interests and took on a student loan to do the engineering degree which was not in line with his interest at all. He gave up after one year and enrolled himself into a private university to study a creative discipline that was closer to his real interests. This individual wasted time and money, all for the (misguided) pursuit of a University Degree for its own sake.

The sad truth is that it was perfectly rational for the above-mentioned polytechnic graduate to “aspire” towards a University Degree.

For an employee-track career (unlike in entrepreneurship), university graduates have consistently advanced faster and higher than polytechnic graduates, and their salaries have grown more quickly. So these point towards getting “that University Degree”, because every Employer looks out for it, and reward those who possess them.

The media sometimes profiles non-graduates that have done well in their careers, e.g. the recent story of non-graduate school principals. Sadly, these stories only serve as the exceptions that prove the rule.

There are not yet any CONSISTENT examples of non-graduates rising to leadership roles in the Public Sector or professional corporate sphere (unlike in the business world where there are consistently a higher percentage of high-performing non-graduate entrepreneurs).

We look forward to the day where non-graduates in leadership roles are no longer newsworthy.

Lifelong Learning; Verified Credentials | Photo by Wadi Lissa on Unsplash

Lifelong Learning

The other side of the coin is improving the skills-base of job-seekers. To that end, our SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore public agencies have rolled out a plethora of schemes that promote the continued improvement of indviduals’ skills to remain employable.

Flagship programme SkillsFuture was launched as a national lifelong learning movement to provide Singaporeans with the (quote) “opportunity to develop ourselves to the fullest, achieving skills competency and mastery”. The programme is intended to tangentially complement our traditionally rigourous (and perhaps ruthlessly efficient) academic education framework.

As of Feb 2018, ~300,000 individuals have utilised their SkillsFuture Credits for upskilling courses. So from a numbers perspective, there IS take-up, especially in infocomm technology (according to the Agency), which represents the jobs of the future, and which our economy lacks in our talent base.

From a scan of new programmes being offered by our tertiary and vocational learning institutions, the direction appears to be right. But only time will tell.

For now, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of SkillsFuture, as this will need more years of data. We will need to track end-outcomes, i.e. are employers now able to find the right fit of talent, and in sufficient numbers, to meet workplace needs, even as the advent of new technologies create new “industries” like e/m-commerce and fintech. These have required new skills and created demand for certain jobs, even as they in parallel create labour-efficiencies and reduce demand for other jobs, often structurally.

I believe that more thoughtfully-curated learning paths are required to train deeply-competent professionals in all disciplines. These will presumably need to be effected in collaboration with our tertiary institutions, which should be like the US or Israeli institutions that do not preclude non-alumni from participating.

We caution that SkillsFuture must not become a marketplace of entry-level courses, or we risk never being able to produce an adequately high-value and highly-trained workforce.

Nano-Credentials: Adding a Skills-based alternative / complement

As outlined, there are strong calls for a Skills-based framework to complement or serve as an alternative to academic qualifications. We believe this can be framed into a coherent accreditation framework, which we coin “Nano-credentials

On this front, Singapore has its Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) which recognises skills and competencies of participants in approved training programmes.

There are also competing disparate verticals. For example, individual industries and associations may also provide their own form of accreditation. Tracking and recognition of such training and competency is less straightforward. Learners may also have to justify the courses undertaken to current or would-be employers.

Since no-one is presumably “ashamed” of our qualifications, I question if is there a better way to track and populate ALL our qualifications, achievements, skills into a “central database” for individual to “allow access” to selected parties, e.g. totally public, or only to companies one applies to for jobs etc.

In terms of tracking qualifications — should we also move away from just tracking only formal degrees and certifications, and are we able to create a centralised (or de-centralised(?)) Nano Credential framework that consolidates and maps skills that individuals have learnt from bite-sized courses which are contextual and on-demand?

I believe the answer is yes, especially as technology continues to improve. There are providers with technology that can help to coalesce and VERIFY all training and certifications centrally (or “de-centrally” — blockchain perhaps(?)).

The more able frameworks can also provide ways for individuals to assess current skills competencies and suggest upskilling pathways towards a desired goal, e.g. Head Chef at a leading hotel in 5–7 years. and work backwards from the desired end-outcome and provide recommendations to the individual.

Conclusions

Our belief is that the traditional ways of hiring are outdated. We particularly frown on the antiquated practice of would-be employers demanding for educational qualifications and grades, especially for mid-career positions.

I believe there are better ways for individuals to manage and provide their skills and qualifications to parties of THEIR choosing, through a consolidated skills assessment and accreditation framework.

The key goal that employers should aim for, and put our money and hiring decisions behind, is to hire based on skills rather than qualifications or grades. These need to be built into recruitment systems and job portals, and the philosophy OPERATIONALISED at the hiring manager level.

The Public Sector is a major employer in Singapore. Walking the talk sends a strong message to other employers and the job-seeking public that it is serious about “alternative pathways to success”.

I have faith that it can, and we’re ready to play our part.


Visit ArcLab to find out more about how we’re helping with Lifelong Learning and Skills-based hiring.

Categories
Why

INTERACTIVE nano learning

INTERACTIVE nano learning

“Tell me & I forget. Teach me & I may remember. INVOLVE me & I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin

How fun to build AND learn | “A little boy playing with different colored legos” by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Singapore’s Budget 2018 Speech (where the Finance Minister announced the future increase of Goods & Services Tax to 9%) had a small section on “Support for Financial Planning”. Within it was a move to “pilot a new financial education curriculum” at Singapore’s Polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education.

Financial Education (#FinEd) was the origins of Oikonopolis, a SimCity-esque learning game that taught teenagers Economics and Personal Finance – created by my first startup, Innervative, in 2013. We made mistakes (being business newbies) in the running of Innervative, but Oikonopolis’ product cycle and startup journey was a great learning experience.


I co-founded ArcLab in 2018, drawing on lessons from the Oikonopolis product journey to build a full-fledged EduTech business. ArcLab adopted 3 key principles as we designed and developed our learning product:

1. Learning must be ENGAGING

We need our learners to be engaged in the experience that the product delivers. Otherwise there is no opportunity for any content to be conveyed, meaning there is no learning. A recent IPSOS study revealed that 90% of US employees emphasised the importance of engagement in learning.

2. Learning must be EFFICIENT

With the average human attention span these days under 8 seconds, the learning process in our product can’t be draggy. If not, we lose our learners to distractions like binge-watching movies, or the latest kitten Youtube video.

(More on efficient learning in my next piece: “Size Matters”).

3. Learning must be EFFECTIVE

Most. Critical. Aspect.

The key metrics of learning products are not the number of downloads or active users.

Instead, the most important metric whether learners have learnt what they’re meant to, by design (or even not by design). Otherwise, nothing else matters.

What’s the most effective way to help me learn? | Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

Effective Learning

How do we measure a product’s learning effectiveness? Simply put, it’s to assess whether the learner meets learning outcomes.

Take the field of game-based learning.

One of games’ key benefits is the ability to engage its players; many of us recall childhoods where countless hours were spent playing video games.

For years, educators have tried to leverage the power of games to help students learn.

Will coating the broccoli with chocolate make a difference? | Photo by FOODISM360 on Unsplash

Game-based learning has often been thrown into disrepute by what is termed “chocolate-coated broccoli”.

E.g., some “edu-games” (a misnomer) might make learners do math problem sums to unlock a game “entertainment level”.

Ultimately, learners are still doing problem sums (“eating broccoli”), and the game is totally redundant in the learning process.

Such games do nothing to promote learning through game mechanics. The game has no need to exist.

I advise all educators to avoid adopting such “chocolate-coated broccoli” games unless the educator’s intent is solely to promote “engagement”.

A digital worksheet does nothing to improve learning, if the original pedagogy wasn’t effective in the first place.

We find that the key to making learning effective, is getting students involved in actually doing something interesting that is related to the topic. This should be built into the design mechanics of the learning product — so the learning is intrinsic through participating in the activity.

INTERACTIVE Learning

The learner’s interaction with the learning tool (as opposed to passively listening to a lecture or watching a Youtube “educational” video) — becomes an important part of the pedagogy — for the learner to internalise the lesson or concept taught.

Slice Fractions | UluLab

Take Math: A good example is the learning game “Slice Fractions” (by UluLab), which brings learners through a prehistoric game world. Through clever use of slicing lava and ice (SLICE Fractions, geddit? =), the learning game introduces them to the relatively abstract and cerebral concept of parts of a whole, aka fractions. A truly effective learning game. See the results for yourself!

Arctopia: Bryan Gets FinEd | Innervative

Or Financial Literacy: Arctopia: Bryan Gets FinEd (FINancial EDucation) by Innervative lets the learner make financial decisions while throwing them life’s curve balls. It makes the learning realistic and the lessons immediately contextually applicable to the learner. Yay for financial goal-setting; nay to impulse buying!

These are just 2 examples where well designed pedagogy is applied into an interactive product, and successfully takes the learner through the journey and helps them internalise the learning.

I also need to stress the importance of the EDUCATOR, who takes on the role of facilitator and helps the learners make meaning of what they have just experienced.

These learning games (and more) are available on TeacherGaming Desk, EduTech visionaries from Finland, whom Innervative was pleased to collaborate (and whose founders I have become friends) with. #SinFin =)

https://www.teachergaming.com

“INVOLVE me & I learn”

We encourage all educators and workplace trainers to think about how best to involve your learners as they go through the learning process, and how to make them learn interactively.

Ultimately, this interactivity concretises the learning for them, helping them to learn better and makes your job easier too.

This is true whether you are an academic teacher, or a workplace educator.

We’ll end with a short story of how Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, learns. Salman believes in “mastery learning”, spending hours to:

(i) observe the subject (and master) in practice,

(ii) read about the subject,

(iii) talk to other experts,

(iv) solve problems on the subject and work on projects

(iv) think and ponder more questions and solutions,

(v) consult experts again.

He repeats these until he “gets it”, and internalises the concept.

This is interactive learning at its core: Act -> Learn -> Think -> Apply

That’s how we (and you) make learning effective.


Stayed tuned for my next piece on “interactive NANO learning”.

p/s: We’re excited to let you know that WE HAVE LAUNCHED ARCLAB PRO!

ArcLab Pro is a Software-as-a-Service web tool and platform that empowers organisations to build Interactive Nano Learning modules that can be easily distributed to teams to help them onboard and upskill.

ArcLab Pro provides easy-use templates, learner analytics, everything you need to effectively train your team with Nano Learning. There’s no software to download or install, no lock-in periods, no minimum number of learners. Simply sign up, and start building and investing in your team TODAY!

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Why

How to win a 100m race when starting 90m behind everyone

How to win a 100m race when starting 90m behind everyone

12th August 2016 was a proud day for The Little Red Dot. Singapore’s Joseph Schooling made history at the Rio Olympics, winning our first-ever Olympic gold medal.

Schooling won the Men’s 100m Olympic Butterfly Final in an Olympic record time of 50.39 seconds, beating world-class swimmers including swim legend Michael Phelps — the most-decorated-Olympian. Ever.

The Same Starting Line

Schooling’s win was the result of years of dedication and hard work, not to mention sacrifices by his parents and supporters. His training honed his innate talent and skill, and made him stronger and faster, culminating in his (hopefully 1st of many) Olympic triumph.

Yet despite all his effort, if Schooling had swum the race where his competitors were given a 10-second or 10-metre headstart, it’s unlikely he would have prevailed. Neither would he have won if his competitors were given motorised fins attached to their feet and Schooling was forced to swim with a weight tied to his waist.

Schooling won his Olympic gold medal in a FAIR RACE, where every competitor started at the same time (barring time differences reacting to the starter’s horn), swam the same course length, with no extra tools except what they were born with, and honed through training.

They say Life is a Race

Unlike in sports, we don’t start life at the same starting line, nor run our race with the same resources. Some have more to work with, or “privilege”, which can help them run faster and further, and get higher in life.

This theme is not new but has recently taken hold of public consciousness again, in the US as well as Singapore.

Scions of the well-heeled and well-connected mostly continue to do better than their peers (should they even be considered peers?). Realist theory dictates that players in power can rewrite rules of play to continue favouring offspring and descendants, and preserving the status quo. It’s a virtuous cycle for those at the top, and a vicious cycle for those at the bottom.

Of course, while we should not ask for equality of outcomes, most of us believe in equality of opportunity. But the truth is opportunity is not equal.

Privilege entrenches privilege?

I grew up being taught that one’s standing in life wasn’t fixed or pre-determined. Many friends and people I know had humble family circumstances, yet went on to good careers in corporate, civil service, the military. Some founded start-ups, pursued academia, sport or music, became top engineers, scientists, lawyers…

The most remarkable story is that of a chap I met while working in London – a managing director of an investment bank covering our account (I was the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s London-based Portfolio Manager) — with the humblest of beginnings — he was the son of an African goat-herder, did well in school, worked hard, got a job in London, and rose the corporate ranks.

The son of a goat-herder!

In my simplistic view, so what if we don’t start at the same starting line? We can still run fast and go far. Sometimes faster and further than someone starting further ahead.

I simplistically thought it was all about choices. Luck plays a part, but in general we could improve our standing in life, if we only made GOOD CHOICES. We could make the choice to study harder, work longer, harder, smarter, “network” more… We could be anything we want in life that we set our hearts on, and we had the same opportunities as those higher up the ladder — the essence of the Singaporean / American / {insert country} Dream.

I had several impassion-ed arguments with the missus on this, who told me (in nicer language) I was a fool to believe that everyone CAN make GOOD CHOICES to progress in life, that the same opportunities were open to everyone.

The reality she wanted me to see is not everyone has the OPPORTUNITY to make good choices.

I’d like to have the opportunities to make the same choices you make too. | Photo by Jessica Mulder on Unsplash

Children in the 3rd-world have nowhere near the same opportunity to make the same choices as children in privileged Singapore.

But I kept thinking back to the goat-herder’s son… and what about that Kenyan’s son who became US President? Or the English teacher who couldn’t get a KFC job and now runs one of the world’ largest companies?

A Mile in their Shoes

I’ve since realised that I, and probably many others did not have enough awareness of the specific situations people “without privilege” faced. Often, there is judgment that one struggled in life because one made bad choices. We frame their situations through the lenses of our own VERY different experiences and contexts.

This judgment borders on arrogance, perhaps elitism as a result of having gone to different schools, and living within very different social strata. These all goes to further entrench the differences that are dividing our societies within and without.


I’d spent the last couple of years volunteering with Edugrow for Brighter Tomorrows, an early intervention programme for children from lower-income families, ably administered by the big-hearted people of Life Community Services Society and WeCare @ Marine Parade.

Edugrow is not a pro-bono tuition agency. Instead, it aims to work through mentors to help these children build aspirations, character and important life skills like financial literacy. One of the programme’s key objectives is to brighten and magnify the dreams of these young ones, to bring them beyond their present surroundings which may not be too uplifting.

Through Edugrow, I got to know a young boy (let’s call him “H”), with whom I spend 1–2 hours with every Monday evening.

It was hard in the beginning. One job hazard of being a founder is the tendency to view everything as “problems to solve”. I had pigeon-holed my mentoring of H in that framework and perhaps got a bit too analytical about his family background, problems he was facing in school, why the current intervention activities he joined may not be helping etc. I chaffed (internally) at his academic performance, school attendance issues, staying up late playing computer games, why he was eating dinner so late, why he spent all his money on snacks, why he wasn’t doing his homework etc.

While my intentions were good, I had framed the situation within MY OWN context. Even though I did not express my negativity (I hope), I had inadvertently adopted a judgmental mindset, which surely wasn’t benefiting H.

I realised later I had missed the point of what I was there for. My “brief” is not to tutor H or solve his problems. It’s simply to be his friend.

H was not a problem to “fix”.

H is a PERSON, a genuinely nice boy, whose first thought always went out to his family whenever he received something nice, a responsible kid who helped his mum take care of his younger siblings when she was at work, who was always carefree and positive, always smiling (even though he was often distracted — but then again who isn’t these days).

H had severe family constraints, not of his own doing. He had to help cook dinner, he had to take care of his younger siblings, he had to juggle many things. H was mostly doing the best he could, with the knowledge and resources he had. He did not have the OPPORTUNITY to make what in my opinion were the “good choices”.

May I walk with you and not judge you? | Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash

I have since come to enjoy my time with H a lot more, and hopefully am now able to be a better influence.

When we meet, H and I often cycle (his choice), chatting while we ride. He’s started to open up about issues he faces, what he is thinking about, and I am honoured that he is choosing to share them with me.

I try not to “offer advice”, but to just nod and ask questions, and hopefully help him to figure out his own way. As part of our mentoring training, we were taught how to encourage the kids we work with to talk, and turn problems brought out into brainstorming sessions where they provide THEIR OWN answers. It is a mindset shaping move. After we manage to do this a few times, we will hopefully be able to internalise this within the kids.

The next step is to scale up ambitions: If the ambition is to be a cook, could (s)he think about what type of cuisine, what skills to learn and master, how to progress, so that there are no dead-end paths and vicious cycles downwards.

The journey is still in its infancy. But I am walking it with H with a much more positive viewfinder. Hopefully he allows me to walk with him for a long time more, and I am helping in some small way.


Is Education still the “Leveller”?

I look at this from 2 angles:

1. Education for the “privileged”

The most fundamental thing to be educated is the fact that one is “privileged”, and others are not. If you have that realisation and want to help bridge the gap, you should first also understand the very different contexts that people who are very unlike you face.

A good way is to help out in programmes like Edugrow, and importantly, not be judgmental.

There are many other organisations that do good work that you can help. Googling should help you find those in your local area, though I’d like to mention 3 in Singapore that I’m personally aware of:

(i) CampVision — Empowerer of marginalised youth, founded by a superwoman who is a Hunter of Heads in her day job, and Shaper of Minds the rest of the time.

(ii) EDIS Cares — CSR initiative that works with underprivileged children, and is advised by another superwoman (exited founder, now angel investor, and mother of 4[!])

(iii) Advocaid — Platform that advocates for those in need through crowdfunding. Founded by a Professor who knows the swimming analogy above very well.

Go to their websites and see if something fits what you can contribute. The easiest thing to do is “click donate”, but if you are able to, please also think about donating time and skill.

If you’re unable to volunteer, at least educate yourself in the contexts our underprivileged friends face, and why making “good choices” (in conventional terms) can sometimes be very hard.

Simulations like Spent are great for adults to learn this, while learning games like Life of Bryan ( iOS & Android) can help privileged children understand the lives of those not as fortunate as them.

And hopefully there might be a future opportunity to help when your schedule opens up.

2. Education for the marginalised

They say education is the greatest leveller. But traditional education systems and methods often do not work for those at the very bottom, for various reasons which I will talk about in a future piece.

Hence, at an organisation level, we have been researching a better way to deliver skills-based education and training to those most in need.

Can we EFFECTIVELY combine education, tech and HEART to uplift lives at scale? | ArcLab

Our work is still in its early stages, but we are thinking about ways to best use our Nano Learning methodology (bite-sized, on-demand, just-in-time digital learning) — currently being used in the workplace, to help the less privileged.

Our work has 3 prongs:

(i) Researching and refining our Pedagogy to best teach the skills that are needed, in the most effective and time-efficient ways (Fact 1: average attention-span now <8 secs).

(ii) Improving our Technology, to make it easy to self-serve content creation for skills training and scale the reach to impact more lives, ideally in the areas of the world where skilled trainers and educators are scarce.

We will still need to lift lives face-to-face, but the omni-present smartphones can be great complementary tools (Fact 2: the average person touches his/her phone >2000 times a day).

(iii) More importantly, finding the Partners to work with to uplift lives, at scale. Let us know if you know anyone we should talk to.

Home


Back to that 100m race

I’ll end by giving MY answer to the question I posed in the title.

My answer: it is IMPOSSIBLE to win a 100m race when starting 90m behind the other competitors. Unless physics laws change, this is what I’m sticking to.

Thankfully, the race of life is not 100m. It is a much longer race, and if we remember Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, there is plenty of room to catch up even if you are disadvantaged and start further behind.

Not all hares in real life are as complacent as Aesop’s. But unlike in the fable, I believe hares can also help tortoises in the race, perhaps through some of the ways I suggest above.


Postscript: The issues touched on in this piece are complex and multi-faceted, which I only manage to skim for brevity’s sake. It is not my intent to trivialise the challenges many face, and which many are working hard to help with.

I’ll be grateful for ANY feedback and suggestions you might have on how I can better help, or how we could work together to further the cause. Please reach out at james@arclab.io. Thank you.

Categories
Why

Learning in the age of Star Wars

Learning in the age of Star Wars

Star Wars fans all over the world eagerly await The Last Jedi. It’s an extreme vision of the frontiers of technology, though science fiction sometimes does lead to science fact.

Back on Earth, we’re seeing more drones around us, there are cars driving themselves, and many other new technologies that would fit right at home in Star Wars.

Positively, these new technologies and other innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence have potential to do much good for society.

Imagine robots doing all the work we find dangerous, dirty and/or repetitive, like that in Star Wars. Wouldn’t that make our lives better? Technology can also help us do more work with fewer workers and time, a boon as our societies age.

Phys.org

But the message that makes headlines is that of ROBOTS TAKING OUR JOBS AWAY.

While I ultimately view technology as neutral, there WILL be groups that are hurt and groups that gain.

Optimists point to the fact that with every major scientific breakthrough, society ultimately harnesses the innovations to create better (and more) jobs.

The “This Time is Different” crowd points to the increased pace of change for this particular transition, raising concerns that robots could displace many more workers much more quickly. This gives little time for the now-redundant workforce to learn new skills that the economy needs.

The person who loses his/her job due to technological innovation is NOT going to care that society overall has benefitted from the new technology. All (s)he experiences is the loss of a job and income, and uncertainty for the family’s future. The pain is felt at a PERSONAL level.


What about Learning?

The best thing to do is get prepared. Technology is a tool, and we can all learn how to use it to our advantage.

The learning can in fact be pretty fun, and accessible at all ages.

For our children, the folks at Tinkercademy teach the young (& young-at-heart) coding and electronics in a fun and relevant way.

The climax of a recent Tinkercademy coding class was a race of littleBits R2s droids to the finish line. VROOOM!!

Besides stoking “Fast & Furious” ambitions (no bad thing if properly applied), the kids learnt to use their hands and tools to build hardware, and learnt to program the software to control their R2 droids.

They mastered the technology. It became their friend.

Step 1 in preparing for life in the age of Star Wars.

What about Workplace Learning?

Learning can be fun for the working crowd too.

Crucially, it needs to be EFFECTIVE.

I was reading Star Wars from a Certain Point of View (yes, all about Star Wars here… ). The blue-boxed section is about the “e-learning” experience of officer from the Empire (the ‘bad’ guys), obviously ineffective.

 

Despite Star Wars’ technological advances, learning hasn’t quite kept pace…

It’s a reminder to us that education practices aren’t innovating enough compared to the breathtaking developments in other sectors.

That’s the irony. We are upgrading many parts of our economy, from retail to transport to finance to healthcare, with breakneck speed.

But we’re not upgrading the most important part as much or as quickly: Us, People. Human Beings.

That needs to change, and we’re working hard to help.

We’re working particularly hard to help up-skill the under-served groups of the economy: the factory worker, the F&B professional, the retail assistant, the store-clerk, the construction worker… traditional “Blue Collar” folk.

We believe that new (and newly-designed) jobs will be created in these existing industries and occupations, and their existing workforce needs the most help in up-skilling.

We’re focussing first on the efficacy of the learning, taking into account shortening attention spans, and our new on-the-go, on-demand lifestyles.

Here’s what’s in store:

Learning that is easily consume-able, effective, and not just “acknowledged” like that hapless Star Wars character I read about.

Learning that workers can access on-the-go, leads to tangibly better skills and hopefully higher pay.

Learning that is interactive, trackable and seamlessly integrated into HR practice, giving managers insight on their staff’s learning and helping them to holistically develop staff to contribute productively to business goals.

Learning that is holistic, effective, scalable and saves companies and managers time and cost.

Say hello to Learning in the Age of Star Wars.

Say hello to Interactive Nano Learning.


May the Force be with you <(-_-)>

Categories
Why

Singapore will never make the World Cup

Singapore will never make the World Cup

My brother Roy and I are part of the generation who grew up watching Malaysia Cup football at the old National Stadium. To us, the Kallang Wave was not a mall; it’s the passion of 55,000 fans.

At the old National Stadium, we cheered the 1994 Malaysia Cup winners, Singapore’s best-ever football team captained by Fandi Ahmad (still our only world-class footballer). Ranking high in our memories was the National Stadium’s greatest goal — THAT Sundram bicycle kick against Brunei. I was seated near the corner flag where Nazri delivered the cross. It was magic.

Singapore football’s greatest goal | Image credits: The New Paper

The ill-fated “Goal 2010” initiative was mooted some years later. Perhaps coincidentally, Singapore football began its downward spiral.

Today in 2017, Singapore is nowhere near the World Cup. We’re not even Southeast Asia’s best team any more. There is little joy in watching Singapore football. We’ve no more local football heroes, and struggle to fill our stadiums.

I’m no football expert, so can’t analyse what went wrong.

But the good thing about hitting rock bottom, is there’s no way to go but up.

Grassroots Football and Intrinsic Motivations

Commentators point to strong “grassroots” movement as the driving force behind the rise of Iceland and Belgium from football minnows into world beaters.

Where you would once struggle to name even 1 Belgian or Icelandic player, they are now lynchpins in top European clubs, including the Belgian trio (Vertonghen, Alderweireld & Dembele) of the mighty Tottenham Hotspur, who stand toe-to-toe with Champions League winners Real Madrid. =)

One reason for success stemming from grassroots movements is the internalisation of motivations, which propels us to work harder than if change was pushed from external sources. Everyone fights harder when it’s a change WE believe in.

We’ve not had good grassroots football in Singapore for some time.

But there are green shoots.

A “grassroots” movement of kids’ football is taking flight, ironically from a government-led start: ActiveSG Football Academy (which must rank as one of SportSG’s best initiatives). Hundreds of boys and girls train in satellite centres all over Singapore 3 times a week: learning football, teamwork, sportsmanship and discipline. Parents are involved too; some join as assistant coaches, some form their own ancillary sports activity groups. Fun and healthy, while spending time with the kids outdoors.

Grassroots Football: ActiveSG | Facebook

My daughter trained at the centre run by Malaysia Cup ’94 champion Steven Tan (how cool that Papa grew up watching “Coach Steven” as a player). I’ve no expectations she will be a professional footballer, but we will support her if it’s what she chooses.

I see the bunch of kids at training every weekend and can’t help but harbour hopes for our football future. Singapore still may not get to the World Cup, but we’ve started a movement, and our kids are better for it.

Multipliers through Upskilling Local Coaches

“Training the trainers” create multiplier effects, as great coaches spread good football techniques and life skills to ever-larger audiences of young footballers.

First Kick Academy (“FKA”) is doing just this. Their coach training programmes concentrate on training good people first, before training them to be good coaches.

FKA boss Jimmy is a former youth football player. Jimmy embraces the best coaching methods and partners with top football clubs world-wide such as Dutch club Sparta Rotterdam to import best-in-class coach training methods, infused with his own local knowledge and expertise.

ArcLab and I are big fans of Jimmy and FKA. We admire their international outlook, adoption of best-in-class methods, and embracing of technology to increase their programmes’ effectiveness and reach.

In a world where we need to keep “upskilling” ourselves, FKA is leading the charge with football coaches.

If you’ve interest to be a football coach, try FKA’s Nano Coach Profiler (which ArcLab worked with FKA to digitally embed their coaching philosophy using our nano learning tool) to see if you fit the bill. Or send it to those you think could benefit from FKA’s programme:

Singapore will never make the World Cup…

But I’m waiting for ActiveSG and First Kick Academy to prove me wrong, and look forward to the day that the Singapore Lions and Lionesses fly our national flag at the World Cup…

(And if you want to create your own Interactive Nano Learning content, it’s as easy as 1–2–3).