How Do You Discover and Develop Talent in Your School?

It’s hard to find good talent these days.

It’s a catch-cry becoming more and more familiar as the demands of our exponentially changing world force a quite radical shift in the way companies attract, retain, and build talent.

Over the years, the Human Resources Department grew from what was previously known as the Payroll Department, and in doing so, its role expanded as novel ideas such as professional development and staff well-being started to take precedence over the traditional bureaucracies associated with hiring, firing, holidays and sick pay.

But Human Resources never accurately defined the secret sauce of the people business and today the modern corporation has moved on, and talent has taken center stage.

Today’s workplace is all about Talent Discovery, Talent Development and Talent Management as (finally) companies recognize that they are only as good as the talent their employees bring onboard. Of course, this was just a question of establishing priorities, and common sense would say that any company will get far better value from the investment they make in identifying and developing the talent of their employees than focusing too much time on the distractions of taxation and retirement options.

Lynette Phillips Client Portfolio Director for On-Demand Talent at Future State suggests talent development is a key differential for successful companies:

Today companies are realizing that their people — and their ability to build diverse, flexible and versatile teams — are of the utmost importance to ongoing success….they need to build a Talent Development Framework that serves as a roadmap for how you attract, retain and build talent.

So what does this mean for schools?

The irony is, when we talk about talent in our schools, our first thoughts usually turn to sporting prowess or arts and drama. Sure, “America’s Got Talent,” but what about George, Michael, Jennifer, and Jill in your school? What’s their talent? What are they really, really good at?

When we talk about student ability, we talk in subject language. What does “Jill is good at Math” really mean? Is she a computational thinker? Can she apply math theory to practical applications? How does she solve problems?  Can she think mathematically and apply solutions in new contexts? Why do you think she is good at Math, and importantly does being good at Math accurately define her real talent? Just because you can ‘do’ Math well should not automatically say you want a career built around it.

Unfortunately,  genuine talent identification is simply not a high priority in most of our schools today. In contrast, we are quick to identify weakness rather than strengths… “George is struggling with his writing.Mary can’t handle science.

Surely our first task in schools should be to identify what each one of our students can do. What talents do they have?  There’s increasing evidence that suggests that if students show a preference, passion or natural aptitude for a certain area, then ultimately, despite what “school” might think, there’s a very good chance that it will be those areas that will provide them with their best career and life choices.

And then we have to have the discussion around expertise. To what extent do we provide our students with the opportunity to become exceptional? To be able to go deep, beyond class schedules, timetables and curriculum in search of greater expertise? Surely the agency that technology offers students demands that we let them develop talent even if it is far beyond our own knowledge or competence. But how often do we?

What if we decided that the mission of schools was to identify and develop talent?  No hard or soft talent. No adult or cultural bias. Just make school one big talent search. We would seek, identify, develop, nurture and manage our students’ talents.

Finally, it’s interesting to look at what online corporate recruitment company Monster found  out when they recently asked three top companies to describe the talents of employees they were looking for. Their responses were enlightening:

“We seek well-rounded individuals who are multi-dimensional and not so narrowly focused. People who are good communicators and collaborators and can easily adapt to rapidly changing environments. We look for those who inspire leadership that sparks innovation, change and business transformation.” (SAS)

 “We’re looking for team members who bring enthusiasm to everything they do. We look for employees who are constantly striving to attain individual goals while recognizing the power of working collaboratively.” (Seattle Genetics)

 “We’re a company of pioneers. We seek out people who want to make bold bets, take ownership and get their energy from inventing on behalf of customers.” (Amazon)

So how much focus do we have on these qualities in our schools? Are these hard or soft skills? How might we better identify students with these talents?

It’s now obvious that there are big cultural shifts happening in companies who recognize that our world today demands staff who are flexible, adaptable and above all have an insatiable appetite for learning.  Jane Hart, a pioneer in Talent Development and founder of the Centre for Modern Workplace Learning suggests, “we should recognize that learning is a constant process—something that simply can’t be solved by intermittent training. Employees need to be helped to become lifelong learners.”

As we seek schools models that are responding to the modern world around us, it is obvious that we ignore the identification and development of talent in our students at our peril. It’s not something that can be done in a trivial way that slots it into career guidance or subject choice, but rather one that show’s every child’s talent the respect it deserves; and not just those rated high on the academic calendar.

So next time you hear that it’s hard to find ‘good talent’ these days, maybe its because we are failing to identify the hidden talents that our students have, and our traditional focus on content is coming at a cost of the real skills and dispositions that the modern workplace, and society demands.

Btw, speaking of talent, there’s a lot on display during the 8 week sprints that are a part of Change School. Take 5 minutes and have a look at our latest magazine which gives a snapshot of what, why and how we do it. Enrollment is now open for CS 5 which kicks off June 6.

Five for Further Reading

 And don’t forget:

Photo by Michel Catalisano on Unsplash

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Bruce Dixon

Bruce Dixon

EML co-founder Bruce Dixon has spent the bulk of his career developing programs that assist governments to make effective use of technology across their education sector. His strategic work has enabled governments to better manage large scale personal technology deployments, and ensure outcomes that drive both school improvement and ultimately transformation.
Bruce Dixon

Latest posts by Bruce Dixon (see all)

Bruce Dixon

EML co-founder Bruce Dixon has spent the bulk of his career developing programs that assist governments to make effective use of technology across their education sector. His strategic work has enabled governments to better manage large scale personal technology deployments, and ensure outcomes that drive both school improvement and ultimately transformation.

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