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Lifelong learning

As cute catchphrases go, ‘lifelong learning’ doesn’t quite cut it.  Perhaps it’s the unfortunate association of ‘lifelong’ with ‘learning’ – evoking memories of self-indulgent professors whose  lectures seemed to go on forever, or of being kept back at school to complete an assignment that was so boring it seemed kinder to leave it unfinished.

Lifelong learning is, however, a hot topic.  So, if it isn’t a never-ending stint in the classroom, what is it and what does it mean for you and your business?

Lifelong learning recognises that the nature of work is changing faster than ever before, and that organisations and employees need help in adapting to a business environment where traditional jobs are disappearing or changing all the time in response to new technologies.  Regardless of the size of your business, you and your employees must continually enhance your skills or be left behind.  For the first time in history, learning throughout one’s life is truly necessary for economic survival.

As work practices change, if companies are to succeed they need flexible, motivated employees willing to update their skills and acquire new ones.  It’s about new ways of doing business and the part you can play.  Directors set the agenda with business plans, corporate and individual objectives; a lifelong learning programme supports and facilitates the employee development that is key to achieving those objectives.

Lifelong learning is a combination of formal training, on-the-job coaching, a willingness to share your knowledge with people and for them to share their knowledge with you.  It’s a realisation that learning and work are intrinsically linked.  It recognises that the concept of job-for-life is probably older than Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess and less resilient …

The ‘new’ workplace puts responsibility for career development back to each individual. Gone are the days of employees being spoon-fed. Today, it’s about taking initiative and recognising that change is the norm and it isn’t going to go away.  As an ancient Chinese proverb says, “Teachers open the door.  You enter by yourself.”

New working practices and technologies challenge and frequently overturn traditional notions of business management and relationships. It can be difficult for some people to accept this – after all, training employees to move to a new job is not part of the traditional management skill-set. Today, the emphasis is on managers being good coaches and facilitators, able to recognise and bring out the potential of their people. For smaller businesses in particular, the aim should be to respond to change using the enhanced skills of their own people, rather than having to recruit.

Emerging technologies, while prompting radical shifts in the nature of business, also underpin and promote lifelong learning. The Internet is creating a single global market; ‘e-learning’ can create a single global classroom, where employees can collaborate with colleagues all over the world.  Like so much else it touches, the Internet has changed forever the way people participate in the learning process.

A lifelong learning programme gives a genuine alternative motivator for employees other than remuneration.  As such, it’s a powerful component of your employee engagement portfolio.  Investment in your people is not simply trading your money for enhanced skills – it’s forming relationships over time and continuously encouraging development.

Where change is a constant, people with the capacity to adapt and recreate themselves – time and again if necessary – will be the most successful. Business owners, in return, need to continue to provide challenging work in an environment where our people can develop and grow.  Lifelong learning is a way of life.

Consider this:

  • The British economy is increasingly knowledge-based.
  • Traditional jobs are disappearing or changing with the introduction of new technologies.
  • Flatter business structures and an emphasis on teamwork and multi-skilling demand new skills, increased mobility and ‘global’ attitudes.
  • More and more jobs are being created in the services sector.
  • In the 1950s, radical business change took place every 3-4 years; by the 1970s it was once a year, in the 1980s every six months and in the 90s: quarterly.
  • The Internet and ‘e-learning’ online methodologies are driving radical changes in corporate training and development programs.
  • To succeed and prosper, the employees of the future need to be prepared to ‘recreate themselves’ continuously, updating their skills and acquiring new ones

Are you ready? 

Or are you more likely to agree with a recent survey on training, which indicated a major obstacle to learning is that lots of people simply prefer to do something else?  43% of respondents expressed this view, while 26% claimed no interest in any kind of learning.

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