Tech and Innovation Education at Work: Yay or Nay?

In the world of tech, it is easy to get caught up in the “bubble” we live in. As part of an innovative, competitive, and motivated community, most employees are constantly looking for opportunities to progress for both personal and career-related gain.

Leading tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft compete to hire the most innovative team of employees, while striving to achieve high employee retention rates. We are even starting to see tech startups, who are usually aiming to minimize costs, invest in opportunities for their employees to learn new skills. And forget the tech industry, we are seeing this sort of behaviour in other industries such as fast-food, with multinational corporations such as McDonald’s leading the pack.

Out of curiosity, the team at Extreme Venture Partners (EVP) sent out a one-question survey to 800 Canadians (ages 18–65+) from all over the nation, asking them for their thoughts on tech and innovation-related education in the workplace, and its association to their interest in/attraction to employers. Note that “employers” could refer to past, current or future companies that an individual hypothetically might consider working for.

Before we get into it,

What is Technology and Innovation (T&I) Education, in our opinion?

To us, any sort of education regarding computers (as basic as Microsoft Word, to as complex as computer programming), improving efficiencies and/or reducing costs, could be viewed as “technology or innovation” education. Education could be served in the form of lunch and learns, hackathons, conferences, online/third party training, book clubs, case study analyses, etc.

At EVP, we like to educate our community’s high-potential startups by inviting them to an exclusive EVP Speaker Series, where we invite successful CEOs/Founders to speak about a topic of interest and share their experiences with the group. We have also been lucky enough to have worked in partnership with Techweek Toronto this summer, and were invited to attend a week’s worth of tech education sessions that covered topics such as VC, startup, social media, blockchain, etc. As for my role as a Community Manager, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend BrainStation workshops covered by Extreme, which have enabled me to integrate best practices for social media and create new strategies for our brand. While it is arguable that one can easily find such material online for free, it is rare that one gets the chance to ask high-level/experienced individuals about first-hand knowledge and receive advice from them face-to-face.

The question:

Given the rapidly increasing pressure for companies in various industries to upgrade and integrate technology, the staggering unemployment levels, and the tough domestic/international hiring processes that Canadians are dealing with today, I assumed that “Yes, it influences my interest in employers” would be the most popular answer.

Why I thought “Yes” would be the most popular response:

  • Increasing use of technology at work: Employers and employees are looking for ways to implement the latest and most efficient technologies in the workplace to reduce costs, while still finding a way to make human power relevant. In the construction industry, virtual reality and 3D realization is allowing construction workers to better complete on-site projects. In the fast-food industry, McDonald’s has recently implemented automated ordering kiosks, allowing more workers in the kitchen and drive-thru. In the education sector, teachers are receiving intensive training on how to use technology in the classroom. Even the insurance industry, which is known for its lack of innovation, is using Financial Technology to improve customer satisfaction and client acquisition. While tradition is great and works in some industries, I assumed that given the trends stated above, workers would be more inclined to work for firms that are forward-thinking.
  • Informal education is still valuable education: With increasingly more aggressive hiring processes and stiff competition, any extra (and free) relevant knowledge that one can receive is beneficial. It shows that one is “well-rounded” and motivated to learn. By being offered T&I opportunities at work, employees could expand their resumes without having to go back to school or stop working.
  • The battle between humans and machines: As automation and machine learning becomes more apparent, workers are trying to stay relevant. In a study conducted by ADP Research, 45 percent of those surveyed said that they fear “automation, smart machines and artificial intelligence will replace people for repetitive work” (Forbes 2015). With this in mind, it makes sense that workers may be looking for new job opportunities with companies in the tech industry and/or working with tech at work. This is why I thought that more people would be attracted to working for employers that facilitate T&I learning, as they aim to enable their employees to work with technology, rather than against it.
  • Formal tech-related education is said to be irrelevant/outdated: Students coming out of post-secondary studies, especially in tech-based programs, may not have learned how to implement the latest technologies into everyday, practical work. Business Insider says that “interdisciplinary and collaborative courses are offered as electives but don’t really close the gaps between design, engineering and business” (Business Insider, 2011). Furthermore, it is often said that the technology curriculum at universities is outdated, and is more focused on teaching students problem-solving skills rather than how to implement up-to-date technology in typical workplace scenarios.
  • The growing interest in tech as a subject: Students who may have “missed the boat” on pursuing a tech-related field of study may still have a great interest in learning about tech or switching to a tech-based role. For example, I wanted to learn how to use InDesign, even though I am not a Graphic Designer, and was given the opportunity to learn it at Extreme. While there are great third-party programs and bootcamps such as Ladies Learning Code, BrainStation and HackerYou, those with busy schedules or little disposable income may find it difficult to integrate further education into their current lifestyle.
  • Employee retention and job satisfaction rates: Employers would attract and retain highly-skilled workers, as those who obtained the provided training would likely have a higher job satisfaction rates. A member of Extreme Innovations said: “I wouldn’t even consider working for a company that didn’t offer education in technology/business/startup. It is a direct correlation with company culture, and that’s important to me.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “organizations should promote from within whenever possible” (CIO, 2015). Whether it is out of loyalty, potential opportunities to move up the ladder, and/or love for company culture, employees may be more willing to stick around if their employer shows that they are willing to invest in them as people, and not just in their time from 9–5.
  • Positive employer perception post-exit: Even if employees did choose to leave the company, they would likely leave with a positive perception of the employer. They likely would be happy to refer someone else to the company, on a review site like Glassdoor, for example. McDonald’s is a company that supports the idea of employees taking training and leaving the company to work in tech. Last year, they launched an employee-pilot program in partnership with General Assembly, that offers Web Development and User Experience Design courses. A McDonald’s employee mentioned that while “some of the people who go through the course will end up leaving the company for a better job, [he wants] people who got through the program to end up at Salesforce, Google or some other high tech company” (TechCrunch, 2015).

The results

Given the list of reasons mentioned above (and any others you can think of), do you think that most participants would hypothetically say that yes, ongoing tech and innovation-related education offered in the workplace impacts employees interest in employers?

Let’s see the results from the survey:

Okay, so I was wrong. The results show that 60% of participants do not associate technology and innovation education at work with interest in employers. The extreme’s (yes/do not care) both came in at 40%, not really giving us room to make a direct conclusion from one end or another. On a more positive note, while 20% say that continuing education in these fields are “nice to have” and that it does not influence their interest in employers, that still means that 60% of the sample believes that education is, at the very least, “nice to have” in the workplace.

What else did the study tell us? See Figure 2 further below for data details.

55% of participants ages 18–24 do not believe continuing tech and innovation (T&I) is important when choosing employers.

52% of individuals ages 25–34 say that this sort of education does influence their interest in employers.

51% of 35–44 year-olds surveyed say that T&I workplace education does influence their interest in employers.

63% of participants ages 45–54 do not hold T&I ongoing education as a factor of attraction when choosing employers.

65% of seniors 65 and older surveyed say that workplace T&I education does not impact their interest in employers.

So, now what? I was wrong. Most Canadians from the survey say that T&I education opportunities in the workplace do not influence their interest in employers. Regardless, there is still so much we can learn from this. My follow-up questions: why is the majority saying no, and who might these people be?

Possible reasons for saying no:

  • Unclear understanding of survey question, a poor choice of words: Individuals may not have a clear understanding of what we meant by “Technology and Innovation Education” in the workplace. While we were aware of this when preparing the survey, we wanted to keep the wording brief and open to interpretation.
  • No pre-determined expectations from employers: I was surprised to see that 45% of individuals 18–24 said that they had no interest in pursuing workplace ongoing education, nor did it influence their interest in employers. How could students not be interested in receiving extra (and perhaps free) education, especially since we are constantly being reminded of the notion that “everyone has a degree”? Perhaps it is because they are new to the workforce, and they have not yet formed a high expectation for prospective employers. Participants in the survey, regardless of their age, may also not be as concerned about being attracted to an employer as they are about getting hired by one (the saying “beggers can’t be choosers” comes to mind). Perhaps this will change in the years to come, as technology becomes more relevant in schools from an early age.
  • Lifestyle choices: Many workers with families may believe that generating a steady income while being able to go home at a reasonable time is more valuable than investing in further education, regardless of the convenience of it being offered at work. This also varies based on region. A farmer in Western Canada may not see the value of further T&I education as it is not pertinent to his/her role or industry. On the other hand, an individual in an urban and high cost-of-living city may see this as an opportunity to be promoted and have a greater level of disposable income.
  • Out of the workforce: Some individuals who participated in the survey may be out of/currently not in the workforce. In effect, their responses may reflect the fact that T&I education (in the workplace, anyways), is no longer relevant to them. They may also not have been involved in roles that required any integration of technology at the time. While I hoped individuals would have answered this question on a hypothetical basis, it is possible that these factors could have influenced final responses.
  • The tech learning curve is too “steep”: Older individuals, in general, may find that the technology learning curve may be too steep and not worth overcoming. A 2014 study by Pew Research Centre stated that “just 18% [of older adults] would feel comfortable learning to use a new technology device such as a smartphone or tablet on their own, while 77% indicate they would need someone to help walk them through the process” (Pew Research Centre, 2014). With this in mind, it makes sense that the majority of seniors (49%) responded with “do not care”.

Remarks

Of course, these assumptions have been formed based on my opinions, conversations, and online research. Regardless, the conversation is interesting, and is something I’d like to see other companies, tech-based or not, speak to. Thanks for reading!

So do you believe technology and innovation education in the workplace positively influences your interest in employers? Tweet to us at @evpvc and let us know. If you like what you’ve read today, please share it around!