It might seem overly ambitious to consider the needs of every student. But to me education is about changing the lives of each young person for the better. When I think about what we’re trying to do, I remember the old story about the child who was walking with her father along the beach as the tide rolled out, stranding thousands of starfish. Seeing one at her feet, she picked it up and tossed it back into the surf. ‘Don’t waste your time,’ said her father. ‘There are thousands of stranded starfish on the beach. Saving one doesn’t matter.’
‘It matters to that one,’ she replied.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Wyman a workforce development and skills expert, author, speaker, and CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation (IWSI Consulting). Wyman is a leader in developing skills-building, mentorship and apprenticeship programs that close the gap between education and careers around the world. He is a regular contributor to Forbes and Quartz, and was named LinkedIn’s #1 Education Writer of the Year. His award-winning book, Job U, is a practical guide to finding wealth and success by developing the skills companies actually need.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Myjourney started in high school in Australia, where I grew up. What I didn’t know at the time was I wasn’t doing well academically because I learn best by doing. I didn’t get much support from my school. In fact, the school discouraged me from completing my final year because they were worried their overall grades would take a slump! Part of the problem was that I wasn’t good at sitting still and memorizing. But I was good at hands-on work. I used to cook with my grandmother, and really loved that concrete learning — chopping, combining, cooking, tasting, adjusting spices and ingredients. I channeled that passion for cooking into a position as an apprentice chef. It was challenging, but I stuck at it and ended up as national apprentice of the year. After that I captained a gold-medal winning culinary youth team in Germany, which led me to a job as a fish chef at a Michelin-starred hotel in London. Later, I supervised apprentices, which led to a management role in corporate human resources.
By age 40, I was ready for university and got a Master’s in Business Administration, with additional study at Harvard and the Kennedy School of Government. When I finished my studies I started thinking about how I could help others who’d been discouraged in school achieve success. I created two non-profit organizations in Australia specifically to help young people who aren’t academically inclined get the skills they need for work, and then find apprenticeship positions with local employers.
Next, I set up an international consultancy in America, the Institute for Workplace Skills & Innovation, to help companies and governments expand the range of skills-based careers. The insights I gained from my work in Australia and the U.S. led me to write my 2015 book: Job U: How to find wealth and success by developing the skills companies truly need.
I now specialize in the skills gap and future workforce issues. The series of steps that led me from high school under-performer to international expert in career and technical education was utterly unpredictable but at the same time entirely logical. I built on my own interests and skills and leveraged doing what I loved. I never stopped learning. Because I did it, I know others can do it, and therefore I feel so strongly about helping others get the skills they need to find great jobs. It keeps me raring to go every day.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I had an opportunity to spend time with Clayton Christensen and attend some of his classes. One of his books stuck with me — Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.
I know there’s no shortage of books that talk about the challenges in education, but this book focuses on individual students — what individuals need in the classroom and how we can transform classrooms, transform entire schools, to make sure students get what they need.
He argues for an end to the monolithic classroom where teachers present the same content in the same way to a large group of students. What’s needed instead is a custom curriculum molded to the student, and Christensen thinks we have the technology to do this. In fact, since this book came out in 2008, we’ve greatly improved hardware, software and communications technology, so there’s even more of a possibility to create a truly student-centered school experience. If they had something like this when I was in high school, I could have been learning math, science, history and languages through a specialized cooking curriculum.
It might seem overly ambitious to consider the needs of every student. But to me education is about changing the lives of each young person for the better. When I think about what we’re trying to do, I remember the old story about the child who was walking with her father along the beach as the tide rolled out, stranding thousands of starfish. Seeing one at her feet, she picked it up and tossed it back into the surf. ‘Don’t waste your time,’ said her father. ‘There are thousands of stranded starfish on the beach. Saving one doesn’t matter.’ ‘It matters to that one,’ she replied.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Consume less — of everything. What can and can’t you manage financially? What subscriptions and services can you let go. What products can you also do without.
- Spend time to nurture your own wellbeing and mental health.
- Just accept the situation you (and we all) are in. That that the global economy is undergoing huge shifts that may result in stronger and more self-sufficient local, regional and national economies
- Communication is key. Make and refresh connections with people and companies.
- Consider some reflection about your problems and seek out those that you couldn’t resolve before the crisis.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
I think there’s one thing we can do, and encourage others to do, that will help reduce anxiety around this crisis. And that’s take some time to stop, to settle yourselves, breathe and reflect. Research shows that even the busiest person has at least 20 minutes a day to engage in reflection. Stop all activity, calm yourself, breathe — this will help.
Of course a little assistance in this endeavor can be very useful, as some people really don’t know how to stop. I’ve got a friend who’s a local fire chief — a job that includes dealing with wildfires and is extremely stressful. He recommended Andrew Johnson’s online recordings to me — MP3s you can listen to online or download. These are guided meditations that help you bring down your own stress levels and develop strategies for staying calm when you get back into your busy day. I’m listening to the recordings myself and finding them very helpful.
Right now you can listen to eight of his most popular meditations for free, and during the coronavirus crisis he’s made numerous other recordings available at a sharp discount. There are some meditations specifically for children as well, which is a great way to introduce children to habits that will help them their entire lives.
I think developing this capacity — the capacity for self-calming — will bring great benefits during and after the current crisis.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“There’s more than one way to cook an egg” — as a former chef it appeals to me! And yes, there is a story behind it.
When I was a chef’s apprentice, I learned how to make chicken soup under the watchful tutelage of an European chef. This simple stock was used as a base for many of the hotel’s famous signature dishes and she showed me how to make it step by step. Eager to show off my new skills, I rushed home that night and made the stock for my parents. By this time, my father was coming to terms with my career choice and was happy to sample the fruits of my labors. True to his European heritage, he put some semolina dumplings and a few carrots in the stock and declared it delicious. Clearly, I’d mastered chicken stock.
A few days later, another chef in a different part of the hotel offered me the opportunity to showcase my new skill. ‘Mr Wyman, make some chicken stock!’ he ordered. ‘Yes, Chef,’ I dutifully replied, and followed the recipe exactly as I’d been taught. So, I was shocked when he was less than pleased with the result.
‘That’s not how you make chicken stock!’ he exclaimed. What had gone wrong? The hotel’s executive chef, pulled me aside. ‘Nicklaus,’ he said in his Germanic accent, ‘when this chef is in charge make it her way and when that chef is in charge make it his way. He said “When I am in charge make it my way. When you are in charge one day, make it your way.”
That’s when I realized there’s more than one ‘right’ way to make chicken stock.
Of course, this story isn’t really about chicken stock. It’s about getting where you want to go, on your own path. There’s plenty of career advice out there. I can’t tell you what’s right for you. Take in as much information and guidance as you can, but ultimately only you can make the decision about what job or career will be the right fit.
The possibilities for your future are virtually limitless and there are many ways to get there. Whatever path you take, I hope it’s one that leads you to the unparalleled sense of meaning and satisfaction that comes from skilled work.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think what we might get from our reaction to this virus, and our recovery from it, is a greater sense of community. Businesses should think very hard right now about how to contribute to their communities — repurposing their facilities for storage or care; managing volunteer efforts to help the most vulnerable; or donating goods, services and money to assist in the community effort — whatever they can manage. A reorientation toward the local, toward the customer, people who are ultimately your friends and neighbors, can really contribute to the health of the community and the health of the business.