Education has lessons for other UK sectors according to new global research
Lego classroomInnovation alive in UK classroomsIt's difficult to work out whether the UK workforce is an example of healthily techno-cynical Brits when you delve into part two of "The Evolving Workforce", a major research project from Dell and Intel. Or whether it's the product of a national leadership that has failed to deliver a technology-adept nation while developing countries race ahead.

But what emerges clearly from the views of more than a thousand UK workers – in a major canvas of 8,360 people across 11 countries – is the vanguard position of education across all sectors, whether public or private. And a key trend is employee-led innovation where teachers are playing a crucial role.

"The Evolving Workforce" tracks the phenomenon known as the consumerisation of IT – "the migration of consumer technology and experiences into enterprise computing environments" – around the globe. And its broad finding is that workforces in developing countries are more open to change and new technologies than those in developed countries.

"It is in the fast-growth developing economies where optimism is greatest," says the report. "The aspirational value of consumer technology, well established in countries like China, India, Brazil and Mexico, has clearly migrated to the corporate environment.

UK views on technology sobering

"Workers in the developing world are particularly likely to see corporate provision of technology and devices as a perk, and have greater say in their own choice of devices; they welcome the transformational nature of technology and are much more likely to see the benefits than perceive concerns."

The UK views on technology in the workplace are especially sobering when put alongside those from the other countries taking part –  Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico and the United States. The key concerns from the UK report are:

  • Less than half of British workers believe that employers use the latest technology, although they hope this will get better in the future;
  • The UK lags behind with adoption of consumerised IT in the workplace; only 27 percent of UK employees are offered technology choice compared with emerging markets like China (59 per cent) and Brazil (57 per cent);
  • UK workers struggle with their work-life balance (teachers more than others), with only half of all UK workers able to complete their work in a 9-5 working day.

So UK workers don't feel they have much of a say about the technology they use at work. They feel they are monitored (especially young people) and are only lukewarm about the prospect of being able to download software, a capability which appears to mark out the innovators. They are far less likely to adopt one digital device for work and personal use (only 29 per cent) than workers in other parts of the world (73 per cent in Mexico).

The UK appears to lag behind other developed countries in its engagement with technology. And in some areas, for example in the use of the internet to create new ways of working, there's a gulf between the Brits and developing countries: "A stark difference is observed between developed and developing countries – 83 per cent of Mexicans and 76 per cent of Brazilians believe that it is a good thing for ‘technology and the Internet to allow [them] to do business in different ways’ compared with 43 per cent of British workers and 46 per cent of Americans."

It all adds up to an impression of a workforce not particularly open to new technologies and new ways of working. While that may initially appear disappointing, it certainly presents policymakers and organisations with clear opportunities to develop the use technology to improve performance, productivity and self esteem.

The questions put to the workers surveyed were based on 44 statements created from feedback to the first survey. They are focused on the seven emerging trends the researchers identified:

  • Crowdsourcing and crowdsource as a service;
  • Productivity measured in outputs, not hours;
  • Changes in the adoption of devices;
  • Intergenerational 'kiss and punch';
  • Values versus rules;
  • Many hats of the IT manager;
  • Employee-led innovation.

Engineering and education lead other sectors on engaging with technology

Dean van LeeuwenDean van LeeuwenThere were surprises. Researchers had expected to find evidence of the "digital natives-immigrants" generation gap, but the results concurred with the findings of Open University research (see "Open University research explodes myth of digital native") which found variations within age groups but very little between them. However, futurologist Dean van Leeuwen, who was part of the panel of experts presenting the findings in London, said that he felt there was evidence of some generational difference.

He suggested that young people were more likely to gravitate to employers using better technology, and their higher frustration with technology was likely to be because they understood what could be achieved with it but were frustrated when that didn't happen.

There were also interesting contrasts between the attitudes of public sector and private sector workers (more positive). And there's more positivity among employees of small to medium-sized businesses than among their corporate colleagues.

Stephen YapStephen Yap

However, the education story is extremely positive and endorses the major investments made by previous UK governments. "There are probably two verticals that really best define the leading edge of consumerisation of the workplace; one is engineering, the other is education," says Stephen Yap, group director of TNS Technology, the market research company commissioned to carry out the study. "I think you can draw some interesting conclusions from that. In those two verticals you have characteristics relating to furthering knowledge, to pushing forward boundaries. Verticals where you find, in my opinion, passion and vision are very, very important.

"What we see across large swathes of the UK workforce is that people are relatively apathetic. Technology is a function to them; they don't really care that much. In India you care a lot because technology is incredibly transformational. If you are in the UK, the chances are that you don't get much technology interest. When it works, fine, when it doesn't we have a problem.

"Education is an exception to that. It reflects educators' increased awareness of the opportunities and the potential of technology to help them do their jobs in better ways. And to drive forward new ways of innovating. I think also that when we look at some of the aspects of consumerisation that relate to finding new ways to do things, educators are absolutely at the forefront of doing that. They are less encumbered by legacy. And intrinsically more freedom is given to educators to find new ways of doing things – there's no down side to that. And other parts of the workforce, other verticals, can learn from that.

"Education sits in private and public sectors – and leads in both," he added. "What is consistent across education whether it's public or private is that they are further ahead compared to other public or private verticals. But private education is even further ahead than public education as probably one could expect.

Bryan JonesBryan Jones"We're finding that, first, educators are ahead in terms of the hunger, the desire, the understanding of technology as an empowering agent. The private sector is ahead anyway and private educators are in the forefront and top of the ratings in a number of key statistics."

Bryan Jones, Dell's executive director for public and large enterprise in Europe, said, "There's a lot less apathy in the private education space. They recognise the importance of technology. They see the investment opportunity and take it."

He pointed out that all young people in schools were now "digitally connected". They all had access to technology in one way or another. However you could not say the same thing about all employees in most companies. He described education as "an innovation hotbed".

Reasons to be cheerful about education culture in the UK

Stephen Yap pulled out responses to the following statements to demonstrate the more positive attitudes to technology that were encountered in education:

  • "Internet and other technological advances allow me to get things done more productively" – 88 per cent in private education agree, 81 per cent in public education, 77 per cent overall;
  • "Working remotely away from the office helps me get more work done" – 59 per cent in private education, 46 per cent in public education, 40 per cent overall;
  • "I can use my computer for both work and personal reasons" – 76 per cent in private education, 59 per cent in public education, 49 per cent overall;
  • "It is important to be able to use my computer for both work and personal" – 56 per cent in private education, 29 per cent in public education, 29 per cent overall;
  • "My employer monitors my e-mail" – 18 per cent in private education, 34 per cent in public education, 41 per cent overall;
  • "My employer trusts me to use company resources responsibly" – 97 per cent in private education, 89 per cent in public education, 90 per cent overall;
  • "I can freely download software for work" – 53 per cent in private education, 40 per cent in public education, 44 per cent in overall private sector, 25 per cent in overall public sector
  • “Those comfortable with the latest technology are at an advantage in the workplace” – 82 per cent in private education agree, 77 per cent in public education, 74 per cent overall;
  • "I find it difficult to switch off from work when I should be relaxing" – 44 per cent in private education agree, 56 per cent in public education, 46 per cent overall.

The best news for schools, in the context of cutbacks and the Coalition Government's demonstrable weakness in technology leadership, particularly at the Department for Education, is evidence of grass-roots innovation in schools that is the result of bottom-up organisation.

"A key trend is employee-led innovation," said Stephen Yap. "That's teachers and pupils creating new ways to learn – by themselves. That's not the school or the headteacher saying, 'This is the way to do things.' That's people using the technology to create new and innovative ways of doing things. And that's happening in education today. It's not happening in other parts of the workforce.

"There are other examples as well where education stands out and they consistently tell a story of a category of people who are passionate about what they do. They have a vision and an appetite for change. They have a recognition of technology's ability to help empower that change and they are given the leeway to do that. They are less constrained – but they do take their work home with them!"

More information

The Evolving Workforce"
UK Evolving Workforce report 

Consumerisation of IT – questions schools should consider

Bob Moore, director of business development, global education, Dell, poses questions for schools (full article downloadable here)

  • Know your school community. How many students have access to mobile devices? What kinds of mobile devices do they have? What kind of internet access do they have? WiFi, 4/3G, etc?
  • Ask yourself: What problems would consumerisation of IT seek to solve? What are your goals?
  • Does the school have sufficient, high-quality digital content and communication tools that the students can use with the mobile devices?
  • Do you have policies in place to help manage access and use of the devices while at school/in class?
  • Seek community input. This should be a community initiative as much as it is a school initiative.