Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The education system was developed in the industrial age and a university degree is no longer enough for the realities of today’s ever-changing marketing world demands or what employers expect, Paper Plane’s managing director, Mike O’Brien, claims.
“Digital has disrupted the traditional way people think about a career, which is so much more portfolio-based now,” the project education provider’s chief told CMO. “It’s also disrupting the way we think about education.
“The idea that we say go to university, get a degree and that will set you up for a career – that only gives somebody an opportunity for employment for about a year. If you want to really maintain an edge, you need to invest in yourself and upskill across your whole career.
“That’s the reality for people in marketing when it comes to being able to stay at the top of their game, to drive their own career outcomes. The traditional education system fails them.”
O’Brien, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the education sector, said what marketers need are experiences that are real, and that give them relevant and in demand skills they can put on their CV to showcase an edge.
“Marketing and digital careers are no longer linear; more and more roles hybrid roles are emerging,” he said. “Companies want to see evidence of a range of relevant skills and they want to see them demonstrated through past experiences. Yet young marketers and UX designers are feeling like they don’t have the skills they need to fulfil the potential of the roles.”
Bridging the skills gap with project-based learning
In a bid to bridge this gap, Paper Plane developed a project-based adult education platform where companies are involved with its learners. Students then work on real projects to gain genuine, certified, on-the-job experience.
Paper Plane currently runs seven-week part-time projects that people who want to upskill in digital marketing and UX can do around their full-time work.
“The learner needs to commit to around 10 hours a week,” O’Brien explained. “Three of those hours are spent in a digital workshop also attended by the employer, who is sponsoring the project, and an industry expert who is the project lead on the particular skill the workshop is focused on. The leaner also has a personal one-on-one coach and we have a maximum of only twelve people on each project.
“The other hours are divided between actual hands-on, project work and working through weekly content playlists that Paper Planes curates specifically for each project in the form of talks, articles and research documents.”
Already, three leading brands have partners with Paper Plane: Scentre Group (Westfield), BT Financial Group and Foyster Media.
O’Brien said the projects are grounded in design thinking, so every project at its core requires a problem that needs to be solved. The learner needs to conduct research, brainstorm, ideate, synthesise and prototype solutions.
“Ultimately, they need come up with a solution that addresses the initial challenge in a creative and innovate way that can be pitched back to the employer,” he said. “And our proposition is two-fold. We say to learners here is a way to gain skills employers are looking for and here’s how you get access into the boardroom of a company to be able to showcase yourself, network and ultimately, gain relevant employment. For employers, our proposition is we’re giving you direct access to great talent, and also helping you at a business level crowd source innovation.”
As part of setting up the learning model, Paper Plane spent about 18 months researching and working with industry leaders and large employers to identify what skills are going to be needed in the future, as well as what are skills employers are currently looking for.
“Increasingly, that is a combination of soft and hard skills,” O’Brien continued. “Employers are increasingly looking for EQ over IQ, and a person’s ability to work in teams, collaborate, show empathy, build resilience and all those things that make them great employees. But also it’s about learning to embrace the latest thinking that’s happening in their industry.
“While automation is taking away a lot of technical requirements that the industry needs, being able to innovate and apply creative thinking to challenges that businesses face is becoming more and more important.”
O’Brien said its BT project is full and has already commenced, while the Westfield and Foyster media projects are set to commence in March.
Scentre Group Westfield general manager of strategic initiatives, Nick Gatehouse, said the company was using the project model to upskill learners in design thinking in a digital marketing environment.
“Our Paper Plane project focuses on the how to design and conceptualise a digital experience and prototype that experience with a particular focus on the arrival and departure from a shopping centre,” he said. “In doing this, participants are able to develop multifaceted practical and technical skills required for the modern workplace.
“Westfield Scentre Group also highly values integrity, creativity, problem solving and emotional intelligence. Paper Plane allows participants to go to the heart of a problem we’re trying to solve, while simultaneously developing these key interpersonal skills through personal coaching. This not only allows learners to develop these soft skills, but also allows us to identify potential employees who harness these highly sought-after skills.”
Understanding real-world marketing problems
Gatehouse said the company is excited about how Paper Plane brings a real-world problem from the commercial world into the educational space.
“We’ve never come across anything like Paper Plane before and for us, I think nurturing those possibilities and what could come from it is just as important as defining the exact outcomes we’re seeking,” he said. “Just as education is changing, our industry is changing and how we attract/recruit people needs to change as well. This is where Paper Plane really gives us an opportunity to really explore another avenue of getting the right people into our business to change our future. “
Gatehouse said the company could expect the education model to help feed its innovation pipeline.
“It will also give us an insight into a really esteemed bunch of learners,” he added. “To us, Paper Plane is wonderful opportunity to bring educators and our company together to solve real world problems, with mutual benefits for both our company and the participants.”