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As part of Learnovate’s Meet the Patrons series, we speak to Fation Draghoshi, Project Manager with Swisscontact, a Swiss non-profit organisation which carries out projects designed to reduce poverty in developing countries through vocational education and private sector partnerships.
The foundation was founded in 1959 when a collection of private interests came together under the name Swiss Foundation for Technical Cooperation to provide economic support to developing countries. Renamed Swisscontact in 1971, the group focused on building schools across in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to provide vocational training in areas such as engineering, agriculture, tool manufacturing and maintenance mechanics.
Swisscontact employs 60 staff at its headquarters in Switzerland and another 1,200 people across the world. The group continues to provide education services, training, retraining and labour market integration and is in the middle of a ten-year project in Albania, which Fation overees as Project Manager.
Fation has been with the organisation since 2015, occupying various roles before becoming the head of the Skills for Jobs Project in Albania in 2016. As team leader, he manages the project’s €26million budget but is something of a late convert to development work having first studied music at Tirana University of Art.
He later earned a master’s degree in Cultural Management and Policies in the Balkans, and a second master’s from the University of Lyon. He has a diploma in International Relations and Affairs from Albania Diplomatic Academy and an International Fellowship Certificate from the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts’ DEVOS Institute.
What are the biggest lessons you learned in your career?
What we call soft skills – critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, attitude, and so on – are the only transferable skills, no matter the profession you enter. We change so many professions in our careers that the expiry date of what we learn is only getting shorter, so personal skills are the most important. If you want to grow, you must be a people person. That was not easy for me to come to terms with. When I became a team leader, it took a lot of reading, understanding and experimenting to get better at it.
Team cohesion is fundamental to your success as a leader. But once you work out how to guarantee team cohesion, you also realise that there are so many other things to master – like communication, understanding your role and how to get your team to buy in.
I know what it’s like to be managed by someone who was liked by everyone while, at the same time, not everyone on the team liked each other. I realised that as a team leader, I shouldn’t be the most-liked person, although that could come later. It’s so much more important that people don’t have to struggle to co-exist with one another.
What was the best advice you ever received?
The best advice is to find a good work-life balance. I’ve struggled with that in the past because I wasn’t always convinced that I was good enough. I would try to convince others and myself and then I would get lost in a malaise of objectives and priorities. I have less of that frustration now, fewer shocks to my anxiety levels. I’ve learned to see the big picture and not freak out about small steps.
How would you define your work style and how has this changed over your career?
I used to be very much a doer, but I’ve tried to make myself more of an enabler. To do that, you’ve got to craft a vision, communicate it widely, feed it out and bring stakeholders on board. You’ve got to excite others so that they can become stakeholders and enablers themselves. The trick is to envision the environment of which you would like to be a part in the next 10-15 years and try to make it a reality.
What have you learned about managing teams and individuals?
I’ve learned a few tricks on how to create a more effective structure and system through a self-learning programme with Harvard Business Review Literature. The biggest lesson is around the importance of keeping people’s jobs interesting, to keep them engaged and willing to hold a share in our aspirations for the future.
If the leader is bright enough to focus on the future and communicate their plan effectively, there is less room for people to fight one another. The more you give people the big picture, the busier, more constructive, and positive they are.
I have this article in mind when new people come into my team. It’s about how to motivate your employees. It says forget financial incentives, you need to work with people to understand what interests them, what their personal vision is for the next 15 years and then figure out how to relay that with your project.
In what sectors and markets do you see untapped opportunities for Irish and Northern Irish companies?
From the point of view of my current project, the level of technology used in education in Albania is zero. As an active citizen here, I know that nothing is happening in that area. We’re doing a lot in vocational education, which is very modest education, but nothing into augmented realities or anything that’s going to be big in the future. That needs to be developed.
Albanian isn’t a global language. We don’t have much in terms of online open courses or any kind of open-source learning in Albanian. Because of that we have a growing gap between those who speak English and the rest. No more than 15% of the population can consume reading materials in English or any foreign language. The idea that you go online for learning purposes is not really common. Again, that’s something that needs to be developed further.
Why is R&D important in the learning technology industry?
In our project, we experiment by introducing education technologies in environments where teachers have a very hard time understanding how to teach subjects because the format changes every year. Most teachers come to education from poor-performing industries and they lack digital skills. Research is important because, as we throw these challenges to teachers, we need to see what works. We need to try new things. When people come to us with an idea, we want to let them try and monitor how they’re doing.
From your experience, what are the current trends in learning?
People are – in theory at least – exposed to learning opportunities all day long. My kids learn both English and concepts by watching Peppa Pig on Netflix before school. You also see so much in documentaries across different media channels. It shows you that the democratisation of learning is rapidly growing. More than ever before, people can learn new things and understand things in a better way. And there are so many learning products available that are either cheap or free.
Another element is that youngsters are getting smarter about searching for things. They’re developing an understanding that there’s information all over the place and they need to get better at searching for it. Teachers are in the spotlight, too, and they can be checked by students in real time, which will hopefully make them facilitators rather than dictators.
How should we prepare for the future of work?
The best way for someone to learn something is if they’re practically engaged at an early stage, where they see and try things and get some theoretical structure around what they’ve observed. In those early years when you’re aged 15-20, you’re experimenting a lot. The role of schools should be to harmonise with industries and companies. It used to be that after your 20s, you wouldn’t go back to school. It’s clear that for the new generation, it’s very normal that they will be learning every day.
An expert from the International Labour Organisation once told me that there will come a moment in 10 years when the knowledge you gain today will only be valid for one year or less. It stands to reason then that there will come a day when knowledge will only last for a day. It’s crucial that education institutions invest heavily in reskilling and upskilling, much more than anything else.
Any books that you would recommend on learning or managing people?
Total Leadership by Stewart D. Friedman.
It’s about how to make your dream a reality. It gives you the tools to measure whether you are really working towards your dream. If have achieved it, you are happy. If haven’t but are working towards it, you’re also happy because you’re trying for the right thing.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
When you work in development, you’re distracted by too many needs. People bring them with a lot of emotion because they want to change something that’s terribly bad and you can get distracted by that. If you want to do great work, you have to be very efficient and do things slowly and instinctively. You must develop some things as habit, so you’re working properly and in the right direction.
Why do companies in Ireland & NI need the support of a centre like Learnovate?
You need a sounding board as a starting point. The more prominent a structure, the more people invest trust in it and want to be part of it. Becoming a Patron Member of Learnovate gave us the opportunity to team up with the right guys, be inspired, chip in on some initiatives and collaborate on projects.
What does Learnovate do well?
Learnovate are connecting very interesting people from very interesting journeys. I love that Learnovate has a lot of private sectors entities involved. In this corner of the world, we’re not as bright when it comes to thinking about development work. For example, yesterday a colleague told me that a university is reviewing a memorandum of understanding with a platform that wants to develop the internship market. The university is hesitant because it’s coming from a private company. Because it’s private, we’re so confused. As far as they’re concerned, you can’t combine public and private and develop things together. But for us, it’s beautiful to see so many companies with Learnovate, developing and testing products, listening to us and getting inspired to develop new solutions. Learnovate is a great help.
What impact has Covid-19 had on your organisation and on your customers?
For our project in Albania, the pandemic was a big opportunity to serve our customers and guarantee business continuation. We were the only business in Albania investing in digital learning and the only ones that could help when the pandemic hit. Most of the time people didn’t want our help because they weren’t comfortable engaging with their students through technologies. It’s a different ball game now. We have people developing digital learning materials, we have invested in platforms and increased the government’s interest to the point where the government are investing money for the first time.
What have you/your organisation learned from your experience of Covid-19?
The pandemic made it clear that if you monitor global trends, there’s a high likelihood that you will be better positioned to face the shocks when they come. The investments we made in digitalisation throughout the pandemic guaranteed business continuation.
The same happened in the work-based learning and company schemes that we promoted. When schools could not open, companies could, and our clients had the opportunity to ensure some business continuation.
If we proceed along those lines and invest a lot now into green energy, we will empower and better position our customers to reap the benefits of the future. For bigger organisations like us, it’s very important to be serious about our analysis of global trends while we try to shape local solutions.
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