Upskilling higher education: University staff need professional development too

I left my last job in higher education because I saw no professional path forward. When I looked at my options for professional development I saw a future with no chance to upgrade my skills.

Despite loving my job, the students, and my talented colleagues, I left my job in pursuit of new challenges.

I hear from many talented people in higher education who are curious about leaving. They feel torn. They love the work but worry about their professional futures. They don’t see a path forward. They have ambivalent managers. They also don’t know how to leave.

I hear this from others outside the higher ed too. These are common complaints in my generation:

My job doesn’t offer any opportunity to learn anything new.

My job doesn’t challenge me.

My manager has no idea how to help me.

The data shows that higher education staff want to upskill

While I’ve been collecting anecdotes from higher education staff, the researchers at Academic Impressions have been collecting quantitative data. In the report, Beating Turnover in Higher Ed,Academic Impressions surveyed 2,577 higher education professionals.

Among their top findings: people in higher education leave because they’re not provided with professional development opportunities.

The numbers are rather shocking, even for someone who is used to hearing from people asking how to leave higher education:

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The new world of work: Skills > Tenure

Here’s a quote that should light a fire in any mid-career professional who’s been on a corporate treadmill the past five years:

Constant upskilling and digital dexterity will outweigh tenure and experience

6 Ways the Workplace Will Change in the Next 10 Years

We’ve all been raised and educated to think that tenure and experience will keep us employed and indemand as we grow in our career. It appears that is no longer the case, at least according to research from Gartner. More on that:

By 2028, the most high-value work will be cognitive in nature. Employees will have to apply creativity, critical thinking and constant digital upskilling to solve complex problems. “The demand for digital skills has grown by 60% over the past several years. In today’s digital economy, the demand for new ideas, new information and new business models that continually expand, combine and shift into new ventures and new businesses will increase,” says Griffin. “Employees must consistently refresh their digital dexterity to meet these needs.”

Predictions are never for sure but one thing that is for sure is that we’ve already seen tenure become less valued in the workplace. We saw it after the crash in 2008 when our friends and family were laid off without any regard for experience. We see it in older workers who struggle to get work despite having decades of experience in our industry. We see it in discussions about the future of work, as employers debate whether to train their existing workforce or hire new people with the digital and data fluency to thrive in digital transformation (the implication being that the old workforce will simple be laid off).

As I write in my book, skills are the currency in our new world of work.

The brutality of work as a content moderator

We talk a lot about emerging jobs in the future of work. One job that has emerged in the last decade is content moderator. Content moderators work behind the scenes – invisible to most – to help keep horrific content out of our social feeds.

And they suffer greatly for it. A new report by The Verge, The Terror Queue, presents the horrible reality of content moderation. In the article, they share that moderators are often underpaid and subjected to horrific mental working conditions. This quote puts it into perspective:

“Every day you watch someone beheading someone, or someone shooting his girlfriend.”

Imagine that were your job. Then imagine this is how management supported you:

Google content moderators in Austin are required to view five hours of gruesome video per day.

Managers for Accenture routinely force employees to work into their break time, deny them vacation time

Google offers one standard of medical care to full-time content moderators, another for contractors. Contractors get almost no paid medical leave. –

Workers at Google are often not informed about the potential mental health consequences of content moderation when they apply for jobs.

Content moderators, according to the article, make roughly $18/hr, or $37,000 a year. And not all of them have the same access to medical care, with contractors having little to no access.

In one example, moderators with rare language skills, are immigrants trying to become US citizens. They’re employed as contractors to review Middle Eastern content:

Peter, who has done this job for nearly two years, worries about the toll that the job is taking on his mental health. His family has repeatedly urged him to quit. But he worries that he will not be able to find another job that pays as well as this one does: $18.50 an hour, or about $37,000 a year.

Like many of his co-workers working in the VE queue in Austin, Peter is an immigrant. Accenture recruited dozens of Arabic speakers like him, many of whom grew up in the Middle East. The company depends on his language skills — he speaks seven — to accurately identify hate speech and terrorist propaganda and remove it from YouTube.

Several workers I spoke with are hoping to become citizens, a feat that has only grown more difficult under the Trump administration. They worry about speaking out — to a manager, to a journalist — for fear it will complicate their immigration efforts.

There’s a cruelty here that is hard to reconcile. I don’t know if the managers at Google and Accenture know what content moderators deal with, or if they’re happy to just ignore it.

In all honestly, I don’t even know what the answer is for this type of work. The article profiles other content moderators who are making more money, and even they are having breakdowns and PTSD.

The brutality of this type of work can’t be overstated. Yet it’s invisible to most of us as we carry along scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through our social feeds.

2020 is the Year of Upskilling


Last August, I spent the month teaching my audience how to upskill themselves. Upskilling is one of those words that’s still a little bit out of reach for most people. It hasn’t entered mainstream just yet.

While term upskilling isn’t at the top of most people’s minds, it’s about to go mainstream in people’s professional lives in 2020.

First, people love to kick off a new decade with big, bold moves. People are eager to build on ideas from the previous decade and start again, both in their professional and personal lives.

Second, the pace at which change is happening in our workplace is staggering. LinkedIn featured two posts this past week that highlighted the shifts we’re already seeing in the workplace. The first, “Where have all the secretaries gone?” covered the disappearance of administrative assistant jobs, often staffed by women without degrees. There was a quote in that article that really struck me:

Rita Maxwell had no idea she was about to lose the job she’d had for nearly 20 years when her boss told her to meet him in the conference room at the end of the work day. “I was completely taken aback when he called me into the meeting room to let me know my position had been eliminated,” said Maxwell, who was let go in early 2017. “There’s just not a lot of loyalty anymore.” Administrative assistant jobs helped propel many women into the middle class. Now they’re disappearing.


The death of employee loyalty is just one of many changes happening in our workplace.

Traditional career paths are changing

The second article that LinkedIn highlighted was on the teacher shortage. More teachers are opting out of teaching because of low pay. While our lack of teachers is a national problem, it struck me because teaching used to be a sure fire fulfilling career path. It was the secure job that people often changed into when they wanted an escape or were burned out. Now days, not so much.

In addition to the two articles, I also stumbled on this map of the fastest disappearing jobs in the US by state.

On top of that, we see more articles about the new types of jobs created by new technology. Articles like this one, which highlights architects working in video game design as a creative way to apply their skills. It’s yet another traditional career path that’s adapting to our new world of work.

It’s also enough to get any burnt out architect thinking, how do I get into that?!

It’s time to upskill yourself

The result is that a lot more people are starting to see the impact of new technology in their workplace. And they’re looking for ways to adapt.

Upskilling is adaptation. Though upskilling isn’t a household term just yet, it will be in 2020. Recent changes in the workplace are forcing us to look at our future job security.

Upskilling is a verb and a mindset. It’s the act of learning new skills to improve your professional life. It’s also a willingness to accept that things are changing. Upskilling is also the ability to take charge of your learning and development. The takeaway is that you can’t rely on employers to teach you the skills you need. You have to go after them yourself.

While the term upskilling is frequently thrown around in articles as if one can just upskill tomorrow, upskilling takes work. Every time I read an article in a big publication (looking at you HBR) by a corporate leader declaring that our collective workforce simply needs to upskill, I roll my eyes. Often the authors of these articles haven’t actually upskilled themselves.

In fact, upskilling is downright hard. I say this as someone who’s upskilling to learn data science. I also write that as someone who just wrote a book teaching people how to upskill. It’s hard because we haven’t been taught how to do it.

Last year, the publication Tech in Asia wrote a piece called How to stay relevant in today’s rapidly-changing job market. They put the challenges of upskilling in focus:

The benefits of the comfort zone are appealing. Steady (though not always satisfying) incomes, “secure” jobs, relaxed routines, and predictable schedules are as comforting to humans as they are to animals. In this phase, people limit their learning to things they learn on the job, not knowing that yesterday’s lessons rarely solve tomorrow’s challenges… Without skill upgrades or a willingness to learn, people are caught in a rut. They are unable to see when the next trend is about to catch up or when the current one is about to die. For the few that can see the new trend, the pain of having to upgrade their skills far supersedes the pleasure of staying in the comfort zone.


The comfort zone is cozy. But it’s the opposite of adaptation. A lot of mid-career professionals need to escape the comfort zone.

Making a plan in 2020 to upskill yourself

If you’re curious about how to upskill yourself I have two podcasts for you.

To understand why upskilling is so important, listen to How to Outsmart Artificial Intelligence and Develop Your Future.

The listen to How to Upskill Yourself.

And if you’re really into it this year, I wrote a book that teaches you how to upskill yourself. My book, Punch Doubt in the Face: How to Upskill, Change Careers, and Beat the Robots, shows you exactly how to learn new skills and change paths.

Find it wherever books are sold online. Get a free chapter by signing up (at the top of this article!)

New career advice book: Punch Doubt in the Face: How to Upskill, Change Careers, and Beat the Robots
I wrote a book to teach people how to upskill.

A selection of dystopian af quotes on surveillance in schools

I’d love to write a more thorough post on this subject (and maybe soon I will) but for now I’m just going to drop some terrifying quotes from a recent Guardian article, Clear backpacks, monitored emails: life for US students under constant surveillance. The entire article should be a must-read for all parents in hopes that the more we understand, the better we’ll be about asking tough questions on surveillance in schools.

I’m dropping these quote nuggets for thoughtful discussion for you and your partner:

Tech companies are now offering a range of products that help schools track the websites kids are visiting and the searches they are making; that monitor everything students are writing in school emails, chats and shared documents; or that even attempt to track what students are posting on their public social media accounts.

Some parents said they were alarmed and frightened by schools’ new monitoring technologies. Others said they were conflicted, seeing some benefits to schools watching over what kids are doing online, but uncertain if their schools were striking the right balance with privacy concerns. Many said they were not even sure what kind of surveillance technology their schools might be using, and that the permission slips they had signed when their kids brought home school devices had told them almost nothing.

“It’s the school as panopticon, and the sweeping searchlight beams into homes, now, and to me, that’s just disastrous to intellectual risk-taking and creativity.”

As of 2018, at least 60 American school districts had also spent more than $1m on separate monitoring technology to track what their students were saying on public social media accounts, an amount that spiked sharply in the wake of the 2018 Parkland school shooting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive advocacy group that compiled and analyzed school contracts with a subset of surveillance companies.

There are virtual learning platforms, platforms for coordinating with teachers, platforms that specialize in teaching kids math.
“They are all mandatory, and the accounts have been created before we’ve even been consulted,” he said. Parents are given almost no information about how their children’s data is being used, or the business models of the companies involved.

Will the data generated by the accounts his kids use at school be factored into decisions about whether they get a job later in life, or how much they have to pay for insurance? “It’s not really a far future,” he said.

Parents, I encourage you to read the whole thing. Then start asking questions and hosting discussions with your community and school about the impact of surveillance in schools:

  • Who benefits from the surveillance of children?
  • Who suffers from the surveillance of children?
  • How much money is made off of the surveillance of children?
  • What are better ways to solve problems around safety in the classroom?
  • How are children responding to increased surveillance?
  • How would you feel if this tech was incorporated into the workplace? (btw this surveillance tech is surely coming for the workforce and in some places, it is already here.
  • How might the data that is being collected going to be used in the future?
  • What predictions are being made with this data?
  • How many false positives occur with this technology?
  • What is the recourse for someone falsely identified as a suspect/troublemaker/future crime commiter by surveillance technology?
  • How should children or parents challenge surveillance in schools?
  • How should children or parents opt out of surveillance in schools?

And if you’re reading this and you’re thinking, my family has nothing to hide, we follow the rules, then I encourage you to read this entire piece by a leading AI researcher and teacher:

8 Things You Need to Know About Surveillance

Here’s the tl;dr outline from the article:

surveillance in schools

What if students created online content for career services?

This is a follow up to my last post about career services: Career services is competing with YouTube and influencers. With close to 300 views in past five days it’s clear the themes resonated with professionals in career services.

In the prior post I advocate for creating online career content that doesn’t recreate the wheel. I also make the case that career services leadership needs to hire people with content creation skills. Just because someone can coach doesn’t mean they can develop engaging content.

Today I just stumbled on this article about students creating their own content for university marketing (h/t to @TaylorLorenz who write about how students (teens) actually use the internet and whom I learn everything from):

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The “I hate my job/I’m miserable at work wtf do I do now” advice dump

I once worked with someone who did exactly this. Left on the her lunch break and never came back. It was glorious to see.

I hang out in a lot of new mom Facebook groups which means I see a lot these types of “i hate my job now what” posts. Being a mom, new or experienced, is tough. Adding to it a terrible workplace/boss/workload creates an overwhelming sense of failure and frustration.

I see a lot of women asking for a way out. And they should. Turning to your community – online and offline – is a good start to leaving your shitty job. There should be no shame in leaving something so unfulfilling, so toxic.

Since I just wrote a book that basically encourages everyone to leave a bad workplace (and change careers), I’m writing a lot of career change advice in Facebook groups lately. It reminds me of the days when I was a professional career coach and someone at a bar would ask me what I did for a living. I’d tell them I was a career coach and they’d tell me how much they hate their job. It’s impossible to stay quiet in those conversations. People who are stuck in their jobs need perspective, a bit of direction, and a friendly ear.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are stuck are hung up on the idea that they should go back to school right away. But they aren’t sure how to go back to school because it costs so much and even then they don’t know exactly what they want to do for the rest of our lives. That’s totally normal.

We were all raised with the idea that to make a career change we needed to go back to school. We were also taught that we were supposed to figure out the one thing we’d do for the rest of our lives. Going back to school is a debt-filled experience packaged as a investment in our professional selves. It creates a lot of pressure to choose the one right path. The result is often paralysis for those who are stuck.

Thankfully things have changed. We don’t have to pick one thing for the rest of our lives. Our careers are flexible. We’ll change multiple times over the course of our careers. Sometimes it will be big changes, other times, smaller changes. There are also far more learning experiences available to us that don’t involve going back to get another degree.

The first step in making a career change isn’t deciding to go back to school or not (in fact for many you don’t even need to go back to school to make a career change). To escape a bad workplace, you have to get to know your options. Identify all the possible paths for change, pick one, and then learn the skills you need to get on that path.

I’ve given so much advice in Facebook groups lately that I’m starting to feel like a broken record. So I’m dropping off an advice dump from a recent Facebook group post that covers the first baby steps of a career change.

Share it with anyone else who is stuck in their job and wants a way out.

First off, GTFO of your place of work that doesn’t deserve you. You’ve given and given and now you’re drained. There are so many people in your situation.

Start simple: commit to changing it. You don’t have to have a plan or make a big step. You can start small and commit to the exploration process.

Talk to people about their interests. Learn what other opportunities are out there by asking people about their work, how they got into their field, what advice they’d have for you. You’ll learn so much.

Then check in with yourself. What skills do you have? What are you good at? Make a list. Take stock.

Read job descriptions like they are tiny short stories and pay attention to jobs that interest you, not what you are qualified for. What sparks your interest? What type of companies interest you?

Read newsletters from industries that interest you. Listen to podcasts from leaders, companies, or professional topics that interest you. Make notes on the type of work that interests you. Look for possibilities and resist the urge to talk yourself out of doing something.

The workplace has changed a lot in the last several years. There are really good places to work, good teams, and better managers. Take small steps towards finding them.

Commit to change even if you don’t know what shape change will take.

THEN focus on finding the learning experiences that will help you get new skills. 

Need more advice? Get the book. Available now.

A podcast interview from across the pond

It’s always a treat to guest on a podcast but I think the treat is even sweeter when the podcast is hosted by someone with a British accent. I had was thrilled to chat with Jane Barrett, Founder of Career Farm, all about our new world of work.

So enjoy this episode about how to adapt to changes in the workplace: How to outsmart artificial intelligence & develop your future. And if this really interest you, check out my new book.

Career services is competing with YouTube and influencers

UPDATE: This post blew up. Here’s part 2: What if students created online content for career services?

More than 500 million learning-related videos are viewed on the platform every day. These videos are made and shared by a highly-motivated group of creators, such as Linda Raynier, whose videos teach job seekers how to nail an interview or write a resume that gets noticed; or Vanessa Van Edwards, who helps people master soft skills like how to use body language in an interview or communicate a great elevator pitch.

How YouTube can help people develop their careers and grow their businesses

I just came across a job posting for a job in career services supporting online students. Online learning for higher education has grown significantly in the last few years. Inside Higher education reports that in 2017, “The proportion of all students who were enrolled exclusively online grew to 15.4 percent (up from 14.7 percent in 2016), or about one in six students.”

So it’s heartening to see a position that’s dedicated to supporting online learners. It was, however, disheartening to see the job description.

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Is management ok?

More than two-thirds of workers, specifically 64 percent, trust robots more than their managers…

Notably, 45 percent of workers—less than half—said managers are better than robots at understanding their feelings. Thirty-three percent believe managers are better at coaching while 29 percent said they’re better at creating work culture. However, 26 percent believe robots are better at providing unbiased information and 29 percent said they were better at problem-solving.

Conflicting Views on When Employees Trust AI, Managers

I don’t even know what to write about this survey and really I just feel like typing WTF over and over again. I didn’t dive into the report to see the methodology or question phrasing, so I’m taking everything surface value here. But I’m still floored.

What the hell is happening with management? I mean I’ve worked for some absolutely terrible managers. In a previous job I had a manager who stole my work and passed it off as hers, bad mouthed me to make herself look good, made my coworkers cry on the regular, and threatened to take away all the best parts of a job unless I did her pet project. She caused me all kinds of stress. And even then I didn’t wish to be managed by algorithm. I’m also firmly in the camp that AI will make managers worse.

It’s common knowledge that people leave their jobs because of bad bosses. Bad management is everywhere. But algorithms aren’t much better as bosses. Just ask the Uber and DoorDash workers how they feel about algorithms as managers. So why do so many workers think that algorithms > managers? That’s hella depressing news for managers in general.

I’m also curious who is working for robots that understand feelings. Is there some kind of virtual reality manager that’s more compassionate than a human?

Clearly I need to read the full report.