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Season 1, Episode 2: Bridging The Skills Gap: A Different Way of Thinking with Kate Griggs, Founder and CEO, Made By Dyslexia

Season 1, Episode 2: Bridging The Skills Gap: A Different Way of Thinking with Kate Griggs, Founder and CEO, Made By Dyslexia

Join us on the 2nd episode of The Transform Talent Podcast as we ask Kate Griggs, Founder and CEO of Made By Dyslexia, about closing the growing skills gap for Gen-Z, the link between dyslexia and the in-demand soft skills that are so important now, such as creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence.

What is dyslexia and how can we change the misconceptions around it? What are the gains of harnessing neurodiversity in teams to ensure we have a diverse workforce that is fit for the future? How can companies create a healthy environment where ALL employees can thrive? These, and many more questions in this episode!  

–Hosts: Roberta Cucchiaro and Dominika Gałusa

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Full Transcript

Roberta Cucchiaro: Hello and welcome to the second episode of The Transform Talent Podcast! Today we are talking about the most in-demand soft skills: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, critical thinking, innovation, complex problem-solving, leadership, and emotional intelligence. Those are the skills of the future. As companies around the world adopt more and more technology and automate the more routine tasks, human skills and emotional intelligence will define workers and entire organisations, especially now when managing teams remotely is becoming the norm. 

We are going to focus on how to close the growing skills gap, especially for Gen-Zs, the generation that is expected to bear the worst impact of workplace shifts due to COVID-19.  

We are going to challenge you to think differently about gaming (yup, you heard that right, gaming! More of that in a bit!) and we are going to have an incredibly inspiring conversation with Kate Griggs, founder of Made by Dyslexia, on how dyslexia could provide an opportunity for organisations to bridge the skills gap of the future.  

Dominika Gałusa: Talking about Gen-Z, I’d like you to remember listening to your favourite songs from a cassette player, surfing on MySpace, sending a memo on a fax machine and looking up a company’s phone number in Yellow Pages. Gen Z has never done it. To determine birth years of GenZ, researchers and popular media use the mid-to-late 1990s as starting birth years and the early 2010s as ending birth years. Gen Z will soon surpass Millennials as the most populous generation on Earth, being the first generation that has never known a world without internet, has never used a landline, and has no idea what floppy discs are. It’s not then surprising that this generation is dubbed as “digital natives”. As Gen Z is stepping into the world of work, companies must think and prepare not only to attract the best talent on the market, but also to nourish skills that the new generation brings to the workplace.  

With new skills and mindset also come new core values.  

According to Deloitte, Gen Z desires diverse and entrepreneurial job opportunities and they no longer form their opinion based on the quality of company’s products or services, but rather ethics, practices and social impact. As the world of work fills with more sophisticated technology, human skills are defining workers and entire organizations. With prioritizing in-demand skills the younger generation has, such as creativity, collaboration, and emotional intelligence, organizations will thrive in this new reality.  

The recent The Future of Jobs Report that was published by the World Economic Forum in October 2020 mentions that these social and emotional skills are the top in-demand competences in the next 5 years besides skills related to problem-solving. Additionally, LinkedIn’s Learning Report reveals that 57% of leaders globally say soft skills are more important than hard skills.  

What’s interesting, employers are no longer looking at the traditional candidates. At IBM, one third of employees in the US do not have a traditional four-year degree. Some organizations are even looking for candidates with a two-year degree as they have a baseline knowledge that can be further expanded with skills needed within a company. As a result, there is a growing misalignment between labor skills and employer expectations, and we must bridge the skills gap for Gen Zs.  

Roberta Cucchiaro: There is a really interesting quote from speaker and generations expert Ryan Jenkins who says that “The Industrial Revolution required muscle from its workers. The Information Age traded muscle for mental capacity, which explains the rise of “knowledge workers”. The future will require workers to be emotionally intelligent.”. Funnily enough, all of those soft skills so sought after can actually be found among gamers. So all of the frustrated parents who have kids gaming for endless hours in front of the PS, Xbox or computers, can now take a deep breath.  

With travel restrictions, rising unemployment, repeat and shall we say, ongoing, lockdowns and lengthy quarantines in place around the world, video game sales in August 2020 were up 37% year over year and gaming itself up a staggering 75%! But, what’s important here is that those future job candidates gaming away the pandemic have been developing many of the in-demand skills we are talking about. 

ManpowerGroup analysed more than 11,000 games across 13 genres - from action adventure to role-playing to music and indie - to identify the top soft skills developed in each gaming category and then mapped gaming skills to work skills. All the results are shared in the latest Game to Work report. What we have learned is that the world’s 2.5 billion gamers are mastering a wide variety of in-demand skills - everything from teamwork and collaboration to critical thinking and decision-making: exactly the talent employers need to unlock a competitive advantage. 

Dominika Gałusa: At the end of the day, if you are looking for a creative collaborator with complex problem-solving skills, you might want to look for an avid Fornite player or League of Legends champ. 

Roberta Cucchiaro: So I think the lesson here is for companies to be open to, let’s call it, non-traditional talent, and for candidates to share their gaming experience and highlight those transferable soft skills in their CVs! 

Another extremely interesting link is between those in-demand skills and dyslexia. This is because dyslexics are really good at creative, problem-solving and communication skills. As the strengths of dyslexic thinking matches what the jobs of the future will need, dyslexia can be an opportunity for organisations to bridge the skills gap of the future. 

We are here today to challenge you to think differently and help you connect the dots, and we are going to do this today with a very special guest, Kate Griggs. She is the founder and CEO of Made by Dyslexia, a global charity led by successful dyslexics, which aims to help the world understand, value and support dyslexia. Dyslexic herself, Kate attended a pioneering school that nurtured dyslexic strengths. She was trained in dyslexia and has worked in the field for many years as a campaigner and researcher. She has spoken around the world, including a brilliant TEDTalk. Which is fantastic and I would recommend everyone to go and watch it. Welcome Kate, how are you? 

Kate Griggs: Thank you. I'm very well. Great to be with you. 

Roberta Cucchiaro: Well, fantastic to have you here. I came across something you said recently: “in an era of automation where facts can be Googled and spelling can be corrected at the touch of the button, it’s creativity, imagination and intuition that sets us apart from machines… and that’s Dyslexic Thinking”. I love this sentence and I think it really sums up why dyslexia can be an opportunity to bridge the skills gap of the future.  So, can you tell us what is dyslexia exactly and how can we change the misconceptions (and unfortunately there are many) around dyslexics? 

Kate Griggs: So, dyslexia is literally a different way of processing information. Dyslexics think differently, quite literally. And with that different way of thinking comes this amazing pattern of strengths, creativity, innovation, big picture thinking. There is a whole range of very solid and real skills, but also with dyslexia comes some challenges within traditional education and certainly a lot of things that we're expected to do in the workforce. So, dyslexics can have problems learning to read, remembering lots of information, passing exams, anything that tests standardized skills are areas that dyslexics will struggle unless they're given the right support early to help them. In which case they will be able to move past those challenges. And now the use of technology is removing a lot of those barriers. So, it really is the case dyslexic thinking is all about strengths. And that is what we are trying to help the world understand, because they're super valuable right now. 

Roberta Cucchiaro: And I want to mention as well that you are behind a truly provocative imaginative and culturally powerful campaign where you had the Made by Dyslexia Dyslexia Sperm Bank pop-up and film. And you went around asking people in the streets if they wanted to have a dyslexic child and people's reactions were everything. It made you think, maybe not surprisingly, unfortunately, but it really made you think. So, what are your thoughts from that? 

Kate Griggs: Yeah, so that was our launch campaign. We're a global charity, as you said, and we're led by successful dyslexics and we absolutely know the power of dyslexic thinking and what an amazingly vital role it will play in the future. So, we also know that it's been deemed as a difficulty and it's seen by almost everybody as a challenge. So we wanted to come up with a campaign to launch the charity that would really, really shock and be provocative and be cheeky and everything that feeds into our brand values, which are really to get the world to focus on this once and for all, and to try and shift perceptions. So, we can actually nurture the talents that these people have. 

Dominika Gałusa: Earlier in our introduction we mentioned the growing skills gap and skills that are in demand in the next five years. However, we cannot forget the recent economic shifts due to the pandemic. According to ManpowerGroup’s What Workers Want report, the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the demand for human skills as they're more important now than ever. The top three are communication, prioritization, and adaptability. And you've just mentioned these skills that the future workforce needs, skills that dyslexics have such as innovation, creativity, and thinking outside of the box. Could you tell us more about these dyslexic thinking skills? Are there any other dyslexics strengths and competencies that help individuals flourish in the workplace? 

Kate Griggs: So dyslexic thinking skills. The reason they're very, very important is because as I touched on earlier, we have sort of a range of strengths and challenges. And if you think of dyslexia as a spiky profile where the difficulties and the challenges we are normally really bad at, so we're kind of right down at the bottom of a graph, but then the strengths we're normally really, really good at. So, they're right at the top of the graph. And the reason it's important to actually really understand that is, is most people without dyslexia will be very even across their range of abilities. So, they may be above average, but they will be above average in almost all things. Or if they're below average, they probably will be slightly below average in almost all things, whereas dyslexics have this massive disparity between what they're good at and what they're not so good at. And what dyslexics also tend to do, if they really focus on their strengths is hone in and become much better at them. So, a lot of people refer to them as superpowers, which is, you know, a nice way of thinking about it. But actually, the research that we did when we worked with EY and I'm sure we'll touched on that a bit further later on. Steve Varley, the chairman of EY made a fantastic comment, which was you don't employ superwoman and focus on how bad she is at with kryptonite. And I think that's a really important point to make with dyslexic people, because we tend to be really, really good at the things we are good at. And as you just touched on, then there are the soft skills. But there are also skills, reasoning skills for instance, and this is something that GCHQ tap into very much. The ability to understand very, very complex things but then simplify them. So you can actually get to the crux of a problem very quickly or simplify complex things and explain them very easily and simply, and those are all things that in the age of automation, when we have so much information at our fingertips, I mean, you can literally Google anything and find the answer. It isn't so much retaining information and regurgitating it that we need people to do, whether it's in the workplace or really in education. It's actually being able to look across all of that information and pick out what is the most important part of it and what it is we really need to get to a solution or to understand.  

Dominika Gałusa: And I think it's really important now also to know that those skills are relevant in remote teams. They are transferrable, I would assume. What do you think about it? 

Kate Griggs: Yeah, absolutely. I think skills possibly are even more important in remote teams because you really need to be looking at where your strengths are and delegating your challenges and the things you're not so good at. More so, when you're working remotely, having that collaboration between teams to actually be able to decide who is best at what and who is going to do what is really, really vital. In the workplace, when you're actually physically in the office, it tends to happen more naturally within teams, but when we're working remotely, there is that real need to make sure we're still collaborating in that way. 

Dominika Gałusa: I completely agree. And you know, when we're talking about working remotely, and you also mentioned that technology is advancing and workplace skills that dyslexic individuals typically find challenging will largely be impacted by forms of automation and creating more and more jobs that match the strengths of dyslexic thinking. My question is that, how great do you think are the gains to be had from harnessing neurodiverse teams which could unlock talent and ensure we have a diverse workforce that's fit for the future? Especially that aligning automation, culture, and diversity could be the key for bridging the skills gap. 

Kate Griggs: I think neurodiversity or cognitive diversity as a term I prefer personally, because it's that sort of diversity of thought. You know, we have diversity in every other field, and we understand how important diversity is for the world and for teams. And diversity of thought is exactly the same. We can't all think the same and nor should we all think the same. And I think the danger we have at the moment, particularly with our education system, but also with the general recruitment process, particularly the kind of the initial sifting of CVs is all about, let's try and have some quick and easy standardized measure that sifts people out. And I think the danger for dyslexic people is they often lose out in that initial sifting process. I mean, if you look at it from an educational perspective, the standardized tests that we ask kids to do, are testing the things that dyslexics naturally struggle with. So, if you're looking at how good a child is at creative writing, so, you want to understand how good a young person is at writing or being able to express their ideas. If you're putting too much emphasis on spelling, punctuation, and grammar, then the dyslexic kids who may have phenomenally brilliant ideas, will be filtered out at the first step because they won't get the grades or people won't understand how good their ideas are. And I think the same thing really is happening in a lot of workplace situations where we're looking at those kinds of measures to see whether we're actually going to let these people onto the next level.  

If you look at the EY report, in specifically the second report that we did with EY on The Value of Dyslexia, there's an amazing graph that divides into four squares. It looks at the skills that are going to be taken over by automation, which are down in the bottom left-hand square, and then the skills that won't be able to be replaced by automation, that's up in the top right-hand square. It also maps it across dyslexic thinking. And there's, as I’ve said previously, all the things that computers are going to be taking over, all of those things, the skills that we don't need, down in that left-hand square. So arguably all of our challenges will now be replaced by technology. Whereas all the things we're absolutely brilliant at will never be taken over. So we have to shift the way we think in education and how we think in the workplace to be actually attracting the thinking that is in that top right-hand corner, which is all the soft skills and all the things we know we really, really need. 

Roberta Cucchiaro: So picking up what you've mentioned about the education system, I know you launched the Dyslexia Awareness Training with the aim of training every single teacher in the world to recognize dyslexia, decode and demystify it. And you are also launching the Dyslexia Workplace Training. Can you please tell us a bit more about these and how, especially the workplace training can help organizations rethink their talent strategies?  

Kate Griggs: Sure, so we have a campaign called Connect the Spots and we are looking at two streams of that. One is education. One is workplace. The education dyslexia awareness training that we launched about just over a year ago and we have a quarter of a million people through it already. But during dyslexia awareness month, actually on the world dyslexia day, we announced our big, bold mission to get every single teacher in the world trained. We've worked with, partnered with Microsoft. So, the training is online for free on the Microsoft educator center. It takes about two hours to do. It's very, very strength focused. But in those two hours, every single teacher who takes it, I mean, we've had the most incredible feedback from it, but every teacher who takes it will have a really, really good idea of how to spot, support and empower dyslexic students. And the reason that we wanted to start with education is that there are one in five kids in every single classroom, across the world that have exactly the skills that we know are needed for the future. So, we have to start early, we have to start changing the education systems view of how these kids think and how valuable their thinking is. And then that will in turn start to feed into the workforce. So we are creating exactly the same concept but for the workplace.  

With our education training, we worked with two of the world's greatest or most well-known and oldest dyslexia schools. We got their teachers to help us with advice and support and techniques that will empower teachers. And we're doing the same thing with workplace training. We're working with some amazing organizations that are already doing fantastic things to find dyslexic talent in the first place, but then to nurture and support it and retain it going forward. But we're also working with some organizations that want to get it right, but aren't quite there yet because we have in education and in the workforce, we do have a long way to go to really understand how we attract dyslexic people in the first place. And then how we actually support them through the process. So, we're hoping to release that. Well, it will be released at some point next year. We don't have an exact timing for it yet because it is all filmed based and that's been slightly delayed obviously with the coronavirus and not being able to physically get into film with people. But we're really excited to release that, it's going to make a huge difference when it comes out. 

Dominika Gałusa: I also wanted to touch upon GCHQ that you mentioned earlier. Could you tell us a bit more about it and how the connection with dyslexic strengths started? And I just wanted to mention how they said that “thinking different isn't optional, it's mission critical”. 

Kate Griggs: Yes, absolutely. We partnered with GCHQ about a year or so ago. And what's very interesting about GCHQ: If you look at what they actually have to do as an organization, they're looking into communications across the world and listening in on how things are being portrayed, whether it's over the internet or broadly across communications. And then they have to work out where cybercrime is, where there might be a potential terrorist threat. So, their analysts are tapping into all of the communications that are happening, so massive amounts of information, and they have to simplify that. They have to connect the spots or the dots. So, they have to recognize patterns very quickly and be very agile in recognizing where there is a threat. So for a dyslexic person, that's absolutely fantastic because it is about seeing the big picture, looking at lots of information and being able to work out where the strands are that linked together and just make those really quick decisions that connect separate parts to show that there is a pattern and there is a problem, and there is a threat.  

So it's about that ability to think differently, to be able to see things others can't and their history with dyslexia and dyslexic thinking goes right back to Alan Turing, the famous code breaker who made the code breaking machine in World War Two.  And it goes right back to that. Because he was dyslexic as was portrayed in the film, the amazing film that was made about him. They have for a very, very long time recognized that they need people who think differently. And they put in recruitment processes and all sorts of amazing support for dyslexic people. 

Roberta Cucchiaro: And that's wonderful. It makes me think about the movies, you know, where you have to decode things and just think outside of the box. So, it's a beautiful story and great to see organizations stepping up as well. 

Kate Griggs: It's interesting because actually, if you look at MI5, MI6, any of the American intelligence agencies, there are a vast number of dyslexic people who are there, whether it's spies or agents or whatever, who are there making these connections, solving these crimes. And many of them will never hear about because they can't tell us who they are. But we went and filmed at GCHQ and met a lot of these incredible people. And there really is just such a strong pattern of how we think, that is so exciting. And so powerful and important. And it is really important that we get the world to understand that. 

Roberta Cucchiaro: Yeah, absolutely. So, I know you are always working on a campaign and while you're planning one, you're already thinking ahead and planning the next one. So, what's coming up from Made By Dyslexia in the next few months or 2021 as well. What are you planning? 

Kate Griggs: Well, we've got lots planned. Well, sadly we usually have a global summit which brings together amazing speakers and it's open to the public. And last year we held it at the science museum in London. And it was a really, really exciting event. We had lots of those planned in 2020 and 2021, but obviously that just had to be put on the back burner, but we have some incredible ideas of having those events and that interaction and that content, but doing it virtually. So, expect lots of exciting things happening on that. And in fact it is going to open up our audience and make our reach much greater. So, there are some huge benefits that have come from that. We have another campaign that we're working on, which will be coming out at the same time as we're launching a lot of these big content ideas. So yeah, masses and masses coming up over the next few months.  

Dyslexia awareness month has been really focusing on getting teachers trained and we've had just the most incredible response from that. And some fantastically exciting announcements that will be coming from that just on who's picked it up and who's running with it and how we are literally going to make sure it reaches every single school. 

Roberta Cucchiaro: And that's great. I have seen it was all over the internet, Twitter, LinkedIn. So, I would like to close this interview with some words of encouragement from your side. One of the biggest problems is that many employees hide dyslexia in the workplace, especially because of this misconception that we talked about at the beginning, or they just don't want to be discriminated against. So, what would you say to, especially the younger generations who are entering the workforce and are finding it challenging, what would you say is the best approach and mindset to have? 

Kate Griggs: So, we always say that you should talk about your dyslexia. I think that one of the biggest issues is that when you look at a recruitment form, there's a box that you can tick over whether or not you have a disability and dyslexia comes in that box and we can leave it in that box if we really need to, but actually we believe that dyslexia should be seen as a skill. And that's exactly what our EY reports are actually saying. It isn't really about the diversity and inclusion or the disability space. This actually should be viewed as a skill because dyslexic thinking without a shadow of doubt maps directly across the skills for the future as mapped out by the World Economic Forum. So I think one of the reasons that we are spending such a lot of our time, trying to change perception and get people to think differently about dyslexia is for that very fact, we should be proudly putting it in as a skill. We should be putting it on our LinkedIn profiles. We should be encouraging everybody to be open about it because it's what you're good at that will actually take you far in life. And the things that you do struggle with, you should be able to ask for help and get technology or somebody to support you with that. So, you can focus on your strengths. 

Roberta Cucchiaro: Also important to mention what we covered at the beginning, that skills such as leadership, emotional intelligence are the key skills to succeed. And I’ve been doing a lot of research and from also talking to you in the previous months. I found out that really a lot of great minds today, and in the past, were dyslexics. So we are looking at, for example, Richard Branson, Walt Disney, John Lennon, Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs. It's very, very inspiring and they all had those skills that lead you to succeed. And for those curious minds out there, I was curious myself to understand, how could you tell that Leonardo Da Vinci was dyslexic? It was mainly because of his use of mirror writing, spelling of course, but as well, his incredible accuracy in his drawings. It's very inspiring. 

Kate Griggs: Yeah, I think so. I think with some of the posthumous claims of dyslexia, I think you're absolutely right, Roberta. They've looked at how they spell or how they write things, or their mirror writing and all the things you've just mentioned. But there are so many incredible dyslexic people out there today in all sorts of walks of life that are just achieving fantastic things. And I think it's really important for those people to come forward and start talking about the dyslexia. And that's one of the big campaigns that we're going to be working on over the next few months to really highlight some of the, just people in incredible organizations and places and careers that are just changing our world for the better. And they may not be famous, but they're doing incredible things with their dyslexic thinking. 

Roberta Cucchiaro: Thank you so much. This has been really, really inspiring and we hope that it has made our listeners also think differently about dyslexia and the workforce as well. So, thank you so much.  

Thank you for joining our second episode of The Transform Talent Podcast, we hope you enjoyed it and if you did, don't forget to subscribe in your favourite podcast listening app and leave us a review. See you at the next episode!