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Why both employers and employees need to embrace ‘lifelong learning’

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Far fewer people in the future will be able to ‘leave’ education behind when they take their cap and gown off.

One needs to look no further than the impact Amazon has had on the world of retail and what Skype has done to telecoms to see how quickly industries can be flipped inside out; no sector or job remains long in a stable state anymore.

So how do employers and employees ensure they retain relevance and security to keep up with technological and cultural changes?

I believe that the individuals and companies that succeed in the future will be those that adopt the philosophy of ‘lifelong learning’.

‘Lifelong learning’ has been defined as an ‘ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated’ pursuit of knowledge.

The pace of technological change means that existing tools, structures and skills can rapidly become obsolete. It won’t be too long before the ability to use a smartphone or host a video conference call will become as relevant as knowing how to operate a fax machine or change the spool on a typewriter.

Companies, and by association the people within them, need to be agile enough to rapidly respond to change and innovation.

On an individual level, people need to recognise they must never feel that have finished learning. Graduation day is an early step, rather than the end of their educational journey. People must set ambitious goals and give themselves ‘authority’ over their own learning. They should challenge themselves, set targets, request feedback from others on how they perform and constantly keep their mind open to new information and perspectives.

People will benefit immensely from blending formal learning (education recognised by a qualification) along with continual self-study and personal discovery.

Most crucially, people need to know ‘how to learn’. Learning itself is a skill and one that can be refined and improved.

On a corporate level, companies must help foster this culture of learning. Firms need to provide the resources, tools and time to facilitate the learning of new skills and reward those who display the propensity to adapt to change. In turn, these people need to be given roles that allow them to further develop that culture within the organisation.

Organisations should strive to ensure training and qualifications are on offer to employees; that outside experts are brought in with new and fresh ideas and that all company guidance and teaching is constantly reviewed and updated to reflect the very latest best practice. The end result will be a company that can confidently face challenges and stay on the innovative cusp.

Pleasingly, there is evidence that business leaders are increasingly thinking this way. In 2014 Hyper Island commissioned a survey of 500 global business leaders and found that only 39 per cent listed a person’s current skillset as the most important asset when hiring. Cultural fit, including the ability to learn new skills, was rated of far more importance when recruiting.

A recent leading article in the Economist, looking at the impact of industrial and technological innovations on the workforce throughout history, made the point that it took the best part of a century for governments to make the investment in education that ‘enabled workers to benefit from the industrial revolution’. The piece finished with a call to action for the digital revolution response to be much quicker.

While institutions and governments respond faster to change now than they did in the nineteenth century, the point does indicate how long it can take to change a mind-set or culture.

And while individuals and companies must lead the way forward when it comes to lifelong learning, it is important that governments promote an education process which places strong emphasis on problem solving, creative thinking and allow students to try (and fail at) new things. In the days of Google and smartphones, the ability to use information is as important is as it to retain masses of it in your head.
u2028Governments need to set the future generation along the right path by ensuring they have the right mindset to tackle the future. The price of raising a generation with the wrong approach to lifelong learning will be costly.

The successful leaders of tomorrow will be those who welcome change, react quickly to new paradigms and keep asking how they can improve and what they need to know to succeed.

Organisations that fail to recruit these types of employees or don’t supply a platform for them to work from if they do possess them will struggle in the new world order. Technology will only move more rapidly, not less so.

Lifelong learning is a mantra that both employer and employee must live by. Learning is no longer something to be done only in the early years of life, it is now a way of life in itself.

Emma Scamell is head of UK marketing and communications at Hyper Island.

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