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Working the Future

Our future of work blog 

13/09/2018, 15:45


 Lifelong learning is the new normal. It’s no longer enough to think that your career is safe based on past credentials or delivery. We should all now be consistently scanning the horizon to see what new tools and techniques...

In 1996, I was sent to London to attend a two-day recruitment training course. I can’t tell you a thing about what I learned, but I can tell you I was in London the night that England was knocked out of the semi-finals of Euro ’96.

Back then, to be sent on training of any kind, certainly in my industry, was a novelty, and I remember feeling ahead of the game in so many ways. If only I could remember what that course was about.

Learning and Development (L&D) has become big business since then. A report published in 2017 estimated that there are over 4,000 training providers in the UK alone, and so the size of the professional L&D sector isn’t to be under-estimated. With the arrival of (almost) ubiquitous high-speed broadband, digital or e-learning has exploded, making it far easier for organisations to provide training to employees.

A key challenge for organisational L&D however is the way in which it is currently approached and delivered. With so many changes already impacting our workplaces, and so many more on the horizon, the requirement for continuous workplace L&D is only set to amplify, and for us, we sense an imperative need to shift L&D from strategy to culture.

What do I mean by this? Up until now, workplace L&D has largely been business-led. Where learning needs are identified (and it should be noted that this is far from the norm; at the CIPD Show 2018, the CIPD’s Andy Lancaster referenced survey results reporting that 66% of employees felt they’d gone two of more years without any training), it is usually the business that sources a suitable training product to try and fill the skills gap. 

The future of work, however, will be full of complex challenges that will fundamentally alter the way we work and what most of us deliver to the workplace. As technology becomes ubiquitous and embedded into both our consumer and work lives, we will increasingly recognise the value that digital brings to the work that we do, and how it impacts our customers.

Moving at breakneck speed, the applications used to deliver the best commercial results will be subject to continuous evolution and upgrade. As Kevin Kelly so succinctly wrote in his 2016 book, The Inevitable:

"Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or your experience."

This has significant impact on workplace L&D. As no business exists without customers, customer experience becomes mission-critical, with a core focus on finding innovative ways to build loyalty and commitment. Innovation requires baked-in continuous improvement, to ensure that product and service offerings remain consistently relevant.
What does this mean for business?
In order for business to survive these tough new commercial landscapes, L&D must become fully embedded into corporate culture; simply ’the way we do things round here’. Continuous L&D is the flip side of innovation, and only organisations that continue to remain relevant to users or customers, through innovation cycles, will survive.

Incumbent L&D practitioners should, if not already, now be transitioning their approach towards that of digital curator, providing both the platform, and stimulating content, to encourage and enable workers to take charge of their own learning. Workplace learning is about to become highly customised and bespoke.

Successful learning will combine a blend of digital (’show me’), social (’let’s talk about this’) and experiential (’let’s try this out’), with coach-facilitators on-hand to encourage the process and resolve any blockages.

What does this mean for individuals?
Lifelong learning is the new normal. It’s no longer enough to think that your career is safe based on past credentials or delivery. We should all now be consistently scanning the horizon to see what new tools and techniques we can embrace to remain relevant and add value to our work environments.

Fortunately, the range of low-cost/no-cost resources is growing. Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide an amazing variety of free learning opportunities, and the explosion of the Internet has seen a vast array of ’how to’ blogs and videos.

In parallel, peer and experiential learning aren’t to be underestimated; in fact, evidence suggests that learning through your friendship or professional network, or ’on-the-job’ learning are two of the most effective methods of learning. As long as business provides an environment of psychological safety, the sky is the limit to try out new things.

When business adjusts mindset from L&D strategy to L&D culture, workers automatically gain a sense of autonomy in their work lives, which in turn builds engagement and loyalty. Returning to the survey results mentioned by Andy Lancaster in April at the CIPD L&D show, 84% of respondents said they would feel more loyal to an employer if they were offered training opportunities more regularly. Gallup also recently revealed research results highlighting that the most talented workers will move on if they feel they’re not being exposed to the maximum amount of development opportunity. This may be particularly the case among younger cohorts.

Once business revises its approach to workplace learning enough to encourage learning beyond the workplace, our guess is that it will benefit from enhanced loyalty AND a freshness of perspective that truly accelerates innovation, evolution and commercial resilience.

Kelly, K. (2016) - The Inevitable:  Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. New York: Penguin Random House

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