Hiring recent grads: Must be a strong writer, public speaker, critical thinker and complex problem solver. Well-developed analytical, technical, interpersonal and communication skills required. Looking for a team player who also possesses effective leadership qualities. Focused attention to detail and solid data orientation a must.
Congratulations, class of 2016. You’ve successfully completed your education. As for your learning, well, it’s only just begun. (Graduation ceremonies are called “commencement” for a reason.)
A recent survey by Payscale highlighted 9 specific “hard” and “soft” skills hiring managers say are lacking in new graduates, and those deficits are all over the map, ranging from communication skills to data analysis to teamwork to critical thinking.
These findings are more than just fodder for discussion about whether or not our formal educational systems are adequately preparing students for the “real world”; they’re also a reflection of the increasingly complex and varied nature of work in today’s world.
And they’re a good reminder to anyone who is involved in putting together employee training strategies that one of the most important things you can develop in your workforce, from recent grads to seasoned leaders, is a mindset for lifelong learning.
Learning and the ROI of Employee Training
Human beings are learning machines. The name of our species is homo sapiens—literally, “wise man.” Despite this, our culture tends to shove learning to the sidelines. We see learning as our primary job for the first 18 to 21 years of life. Then it stops being our job and becomes an extracurricular activity. After we graduate from school, learning becomes a luxury.
To many of the people who run organizations, learning is also a burden. It’s an expense, a drain on the bottom line. Learning competes with marketing, sales, product development and a dozen other activities that seem more important.
A more sustainable option is to view employee training that inspires learning as one of our biggest competitive advantages. All the processes we associate with business—generating ideas, screening them, designing, modeling, prototyping, implementing, testing, marketing, sales—are simply other names for learning. The same is true for many of the qualities—such as influence, creativity and agility—that we ascribe to effective leaders. Our ability to thrive in the new economy hinges on our ability to constantly activate the learning cycle.
How can anyone be a knowledge worker if they don’t focus on learning? What if learning is the most important thing that your employees do every day? What possibilities emerge if you help people drop the distinction between living and learning?
Workplace Learning Doesn’t Have to Look Like Schooling
As you design employee training programs, remember that the brain is built for learning. This means that you can use any experience as a stimulus for change.
Learning can take place anywhere, at any time. Traditional classroom lectures are just one option. Role-playing, simulation, visualization. journaling, gamification, mentoring and shadowing are others. When you open all the doors to learning, you allow people to learn in ways that make sense for them—to learn through their preferred thinking and learning lens.
Firing Up the Learning Machine
Here are some strategies you can suggest to help employees fire up their own personal learning machine:
1. Get used to being uncomfortable: Discomfort is a sign that your brain is engaged and learning. Seek out the people who challenge your thinking. Embrace the areas that make your head spin. When you work through the discomfort and stretch your perspectives, you’ll reach new understanding.
2. Challenge your assumptions: Rather than take the quick leap to conclusions, ask yourself, “What if this were not true?” It will force you out of your comfort zones and into new and potentially much more effective—and interesting—solutions.
3. Embrace the unknown: The known may be your worst enemy. Change presents a great opportunity for new thinking, but only if we deliberately and consciously take advantage of it.
4. Create a portfolio of learning accomplishments: Think outside the resumé or CV and document your learning journey, recognizing that much of this may occur outside the workplace. You’ll find that documenting this “body of work” can provide a major affirmation of your ability.
5. Make it a mental habit. The difference between success and failure, particularly in work that requires new learning, is often the personal discipline and commitment that you put in. Decide what you want and go for it, working at it daily if possible.
Lifelong Learners are Good for Business
“The lessons learned in school can become outdated long before student loans are paid off." – Mind the (Skills) Gap
Any employee who isn’t learning is stagnating. It’s not good for the employee, and it’s not good for business. As the world continues to change at an escalating pace, lifetime learning is the new competitive advantage.
Your job: make sure your employees are in touch with their preferred learning processes and then help them use them every day to fire up their own personal learning machines.