Enterprise Strategies

Continuous Learning and Talent Development: Key to Competitive Growth

Continuous Learning and Talent Development: Key to Competitive Growth

continuous learningCo-Author Tobi Anderson

The need for knowledge work continues to grow.

You’ve likely heard the recent buzz about artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, chatbots, and the like – and the threat to jobs by these disruptive technologies. Despite the threat of automation, the reality is that knowledge work continues to grow.

About 1.9 million knowledge work jobs are added per year – more than any other occupation since the 1980’s. Many jobs have critical components that are social, emotional, creative, or relational, which make them unlikely to be easily replaced by automation. It’s routine jobs that are most likely to be under threat. The growth in knowledge work requires education, training and rapid skill development which can be met through continuous learning.

How will learning evolve to meet the needs of the future workforce?

Just as work is changing, how we provide and receive learning also needs to evolve. Workers’ needs are going to drive this change, and if organizations don’t provide solutions, workers will find them on their own.

“87% of workers believe it will be important or essential for them to get training and develop new job skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace.” — “The State of American Jobs,” Pew Research Center

On the flip side, when checking in with industry, the sentiment is that traditional learning structures have not evolved to meet the changing demands:

“Today’s educational and training institutions are a shambles. They take too long to teach impractical skills and knowledge not connected to the real world, and when they try to tackle critical thinking for a longer time scale, they mostly fail.” — Jerry Michalski, Founder at REX

This is an extreme example, but it is thought-provoking and reinforces that formal and informal learning structures need to evolve to meet the needs of the future workplace. If traditional learning institutions cannot keep up, then employers must assess their role in ensuring workers remain productive and engaged.

Whose problem is it anyway?

In Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, 90% of CEOs surveyed recognized the problem of disruptive change driven by digital technologies. The majority of those CEOs said their organizations lacked the necessary skills to adapt.

digitalDespite this, the report found that overwhelmingly, US workers feel responsible for preparing to meet these changes. However, traditional education systems are not yet ready to meet the challenge. If they cannot get the skills that they need rapidly enough, who will suffer?

Workers need to build new skills quickly and easily, and they expect input about the way that they achieve this goal. They are looking for integrated learning experiences which are digitally enabled, always on and available from anywhere. Organizations that want to sustain productivity in the face of rapid change need to be ready to help workers gain necessary skills. When worker expectations drive the talent market and organizations want to attract and retain top talent, they must be ready to support the need for professional and skill development.

The nature of work is changing.

In the rapid change environment of the future workplace, learning will become much more important. If you are changing jobs and re-skilling or up-skilling every five years (see figure above), you need to be continuously learning. The traditional ways for workers gain new skills are too slow and inflexible.

The skills required for success are also changing. As we de-emphasize hierarchies and move to more agile and connected teams and networks, the focus will shift to working across disciplines and functions, working more collaboratively, and embracing the technology that enables the change.

The good news is that we have systems, platforms and processes to support this, and new systems are evolving to meet the needs of continuous learning.

Continuous learning is critical to business success.

The systems that currently enable knowledge sharing and collaboration – the digital workplace, intranets, knowledge management systems, social networks, mobile and team messaging – can accelerate learning and aid in knowledge transfer, capture, creation and innovation. They provide a good place to start. Don’t begin with shopping for new solutions, first start by understanding the current state of learning in your organization.

The biggest change which should be considered immediately is lowering barriers to learning. For today’s digital organizations, the new rules call for a learning and development organization that makes these opportunities always available, and over a range of channels and mobile platforms.

In addition to leveraging existing technology to gain that understanding, also utilize existing teams, networks and communities that are already learning together. Formal and informal learning can happen when you connect with mentors, experts and peers.

Accelerate new skill development through technology-enabled channels. Examine the current systems and platforms that are being used to connect learners with one another or with knowledge or information vital to their development.

A continuous learning culture doesn’t happen on its own.

While we have many technologies to enable continuous learning, technology alone isn’t enough. Having the tools needed to allow for learning to happen at scale is just the first step. Having a learning culture in place is also key, and learning must be fostered at all levels of the organization.

So, what does a learning culture look like? It has a community of workers who enjoy learning, applying what they learn, and sharing knowledge with others. You may find people working out loud – sharing their work, knowledge, and expertise openly and transparently. People in these cultures are encouraged to try and fail, and to capture learning along the way.

Another important aspect of supporting continuous learning is harnessing free or low-cost content. Workers will find the content they need, so organizations have an opportunity to curate engaging content that meets organizational needs and will help focus employees on the most useful content.

In addition to encouraging a focus on learning, it’s important to lower barriers to participation and make it easy for all employees to access the learning. This may mean mobile access but can vary depending on workplace needs. Another example could be providing digital signs, shared devices, or workstations in break rooms for workers with no assigned computer or mobile device. Workers must also feel supported and given time for learning at work.

Lastly, facilitate learning across the organization using cross-functional team workspaces, classrooms, communities and forums. An ideal culture acknowledges that learning can take place across hierarchical and role boundaries and spur true collaboration and innovation.

What can you do to get started?

Evaluate your current learning environment and culture. Does your organizational culture support continuous learning and knowledge sharing at all levels? Download the checklist for some questions to get you started in thinking about cultural readiness for continuous learning at your organization. And feel free to contact us for more help!