From education to employment

Understanding the value of continuous learning in the workplace

James McLeod, VP of EMEA at Faethm AI

It’s easy to point out the specific markers of human ingenuity that have separated historical epochs from one another – whether it’s the discovery of electricity prior to the Industrial Revolution, or the rise of the internet in the Digital Age.

There are countless examples of such innovations throughout human history, which is testament to our propensity for turning ideas into reality. It’s an ability that has propelled us forward at an astounding rate, and made our work faster and more productive with each passing year.

Each of these innovations has fundamentally changed the nature of work, and required us to learn and develop new skills to make effective use of these novel technologies. With centuries passing between the discovery of each one, in the past we’ve been able to refine our understanding of specific skills over hundreds of years, and pass them down through generations.

However, constantly accelerating change means this is no longer the case. Where once it was enough to rely on the skills and techniques learned at the beginning of your career, today the relentless pace of innovation, with new technologies emerging and becoming mainstream on a regular basis, means demand cycles for certain skills or even specific job roles can now rise and fall in just a few years.

Many jobs that exist today may see their functions fulfilled by automation and AI in years to come.

This presents a significant challenge to our current approach to learning and development. With the recent passing of Learning at Work Week 2021, a government-run awareness campaign that aims to celebrate building lifelong learning cultures at work, we must start to question the way in which we learn and teach skills.

We have to acknowledge that traditional methods of learning and development have become obsolete in the context of constantly accelerating technological change.

Instead, the time is now for us to amend the principles of continuous learning.

Changing the conversation

Fortunately we aren’t beyond the point of no return just yet; there’s still time for us to shift traditional attitudes toward skills and learning with the help of both employers and employees. Employers, on one hand, should ensure agility and adaptability are key pillars of future learning programmes. Giving staff the ability to adapt to new demands and actively learn and develop new skills will help them remain employable whatever changes technology may bring, and ensure our work complements these innovations in our hybrid working future.

Employees on the other hand should view their skillset as an ever-evolving toolbox – one that adapts to new demands, and updates and expands in accordance to changing demand for skills. Placing emphasis on the continuous learning of new skills makes adapting to the demands of new roles a much easier prospect, and makes it far more likely that an employee is able to retain employment by retraining in new skills, should their existing role become redundant.

Embracing new opportunities

Whether it’s emerging technologies being implemented, or new applications and systems being put in place, the modern worker will have to be agile in order to progress in their career. Employees should be willing to diversify their skillsets, and recognise that with technology comes new opportunity.

We mustn’t forget that need for human input will be ever-present, meaning new roles requiring existing skills will always appear. Allowing for fluidity in career progression will ensure that when opportunities present themselves, workers can smoothly transition into new roles without the daunting feeling that career change may have presented to past generations.

Generalisation over specialisation

Just as the above advice is important to the employee, so should it be taken into consideration by employers. For businesses to adapt to the challenges that the coming years look set to bring, they must also alter their approach to career trajectory. Rather than setting employees on a fixed path of progression, companies should be mindful of the fact that the needs of their business could change at any moment. Technologies are available that can support this shift in approach by identifying which skills will be more in-demand in future, allowing employers to focus their efforts on augmenting roles and reskilling employees to meet future demands.

The talent pool of available workers with the requisite skills is shrinking every day, and so the ability to continuously learn must be at the forefront of employers’ minds when considering new candidates. Whilst industry-specific skills remain an important asset for workers to have, when the job role being filled today not exist in the near future, a humanistic view of workforces that encourages constant learning and development is essential.

The ability to adapt to new demands and actively learn and develop new skills can not only help employees in retaining their role, but it can also present cost saving opportunities to businesses. When taking into account the investments of time and money needed to recruit new workers, it becomes far more cost-effective for employers to retrain workers to fulfil new roles. Continuous learning holds the key to making this easy.

James McLeod, EMEA Director, Faethm

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