Debate around PIAAC results is often expert-led, with researchers, analysts and politicians discussing skills needs of modern workplaces. But what do the people at those workplaces have to say about their skills? Do PIAAC analyses and recommendations ring true in everyday situations, for example in the private sector?
Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) is a multinational travel agency specializing in business travel management. The company, headquartered in Paris, employs 18 000 people in 150 countries.
Sanna Raiskio is Director of Traveler Services at CWT Finland. The Finnish branch of CWT is the country’s largest business travel agency.
Staff skills are an important component of Raiskio’s job, as her duties include in-service training of customer service staff.
Computer literacy comes first
PIAAC measures workplace skills, grouped in three categories: literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments, which is often summed up as “computer literacy”.
– This three-category approach seems relevant from our point of view, Raiskio says.
For CWT’s needs however, computer literacy of the staff is most important. A staff of customer service personnel takes care of the core activity of CWT, travel arrangements. The company needs skilled personnel to develop online and mobile solutions, and staff to train and help the online bookers. According to Raiskio, CWT’s travel experts face increasingly complex travel arrangements:
– Today’s businessmen’s travel itinerary might include 7 days of travelling with multiple stopovers, hotels to be booked and ground transportations reserved to all easy and odd distances.
Hence, typical staff has to find the best possible itinerary out of hundreds of alternatives so that both traveler’s individual needs and the travel policy of his company are taken into account. This requires knowledge of different booking systems and understanding that the internet is full of unreliable information.
– One crucial aspect of computer literacy for us is deep understanding of data security, as we operate with customers’ credit card and passport details, Raiskio explains.
Soft skills were key to adaptation
CWT Finland was formed when CWT bought the local travel agent Kaleva in 2011. Sanna Raiskio remembers the staff had to learn new skills to shift from local to multinational thinking. New procedures and facts had to be learned fast.
– The key was to network with new colleagues and ask the right questions. This was about social and teamwork skills in a multicultural environment, which are hard to measure in a survey such as PIAAC. And naturally language skills were the basis of everything!
Skill of the future: Self-management
CWT Finland is currently developing a distance-working scheme for part of the customer service staff. Working from home brings yet another skills dimension to the fore: self-management.
– In distance work our staff must, on one hand, be proactive and self-reliant but, on the other hand, know company policy and instructions better as there is less peer support in case of surprising situations, Raiskio explains.
Self-reflection and curiosity go a long way
With a degree background in adult education, Raiskio is very vocal in support of both formal and non-formal learning at the workplace. This includes her own learning needs. She has taken part in various in-house leadership training programmes.
– The quintessential question is of course: how do I know when my skills need updating? I think self-reflection goes a long way here, Raiskio believes.
When faced with a new demanding task, Raiskio consciously stops to plan her way ahead. She benchmarks possible earlier solutions to similar tasks and makes use of colleagues’ knowhow and company online learning materials.
On a more general level, skills maintenance is a continuous effort. Staying informed about global trends, developments and news is an important part of this for the travel professional.
– Reading up on, for example, the latest apps and mobile technology is vital for me. Business travel is an increasingly mobile industry, and professionals need to be early adopters of such technology.
PIAAC emphasised the importance of non-formal and informal learning in work skills development.
– Learning outside the workplace is very important! Being active in different associations and hobby contexts is a great way of developing the soft, interpersonal skills we discussed earlier, Raiskio exclaims.
An avid musician herself, Raiskio finds relaxation from work pressures in the ranks of a choir.
Another Helsinki professional, Miriam Attias, works not with human resources, but human relations. Her day job is in neighborhood mediation at the Finnish refugee Council NGO, helping refugees settle into the Finnish society.
She also works freelance as workplace mediator, attempting to solve problems such as workplace bullying, inappropriate behaviour or perceived injustices in work settings. She sees her role as an outside facilitator, helping people to solve their own problems through open communication. The first step is to acknowledge that no opinion or feeling is superior or more valid than the other.
Ask and fail
– My most important skills would have to be the ability to listen, to pose the right questions and sense of respect. In a mediation context you also need to tolerate uncertainty. If there is a genuine encounter between two parties in a mediation meeting, there is no way of knowing the outcome. That is the beauty of it! Attias explains.
Her professionalism does not rest on certain “tricks of the trade” or mastery of communication tools. A genuine desire to understand the other party is the foundation.
– Interpersonal communication is largely about interpreting the other: this is why misunderstandings abound. Don’t take any statements for granted and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, Attias describes her technique.
Moments of failure prompt Attias to think about new learning needs. Mistakes are also often followed by valuable feedback.
– Failure is a great teacher. Fear of failure blocks learning.
If you need it you learn it
Miriam Attias works daily with immigrants. The PIAAC study found that across the surveyed countries the skills levels of immigrants with a foreign-language background are lower than those of the native population.
Attias hopes that learning the language should not be viewed as a separate phase of integration. She hopes education policy would steer employers to shoulder more of the responsibility for immigrants’ language learning.
– We should understand that immigrants are more motivated to commit to this continuous learning process if they are in an environment where language skills are useful – the workplace.
Occupation: Director of Traveler Services, CWT Finland
Education: Master’s degree in Adult Education from University of Helsinki. Managerial studies at CWT e.g. LeanSixSigma, Leading leaders –studies.
Top 3 work skills of the future at CWT:
-Team work –Self-management
-Keeping apace with developments in technology
…”measures relevant workplace skills categories”
…”raises important issues such as equal opportunity to skills development for all”
…”cannot capture important skills factors such as interpersonal or multicultural skills.”
Occupation: Programme manager for neighbourhood mediation at the NGO Finnish Refugee Council, Freelance workplace mediator
Education: Master’s degree in education, Master’s degree in social science. Specialisation studies in workplace mediation.
Top 3 work skills:
-Ability to listen
-Ability to pose relevant questions
…”I have not heard of the study. Perhaps it is worth the while to look into it?”