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Lifelong learning: Jump on the bandwagon

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BandwagonContinuing with her series exploring the findings from the five components of the Adecco Institute’s ‘Demographic Fitness Survey’, this month, Donna Murphy examines lifelong learning.


“We live in a world where change is the only constant.” Change comes at us at a furious pace – from technological change packaged as a new software product or a new gadget, to improved work methods and new tools, to entirely new ways of doing things.

Think internet: for all intents and purposes, it didn’t exist for the average person fifteen years ago. Today it is an integral part of our lives and our work.

Think mobile phones: even 10 years ago they were relatively uncommon, and those that did exist were three or four times the size of the phones we all carry today.

“Employers must provide the opportunity for employees to upgrade and enhance their skills, and employees must embrace these opportunities.”

We are all familiar with the reality of change, and the need to embrace new skills on a regular basis. If we, as individuals and as a nation, hope to compete in an increasingly global market, we must excel in innovation, design, and inevitably, new applications of technology. To achieve these lofty goals, both employers and employees must be committed to lifelong learning.

Employers must provide the opportunity for employees to upgrade and enhance their skills, and employees must embrace these opportunities and commit themselves to continually acquiring and developing new skills.

The Adecco Institute Survey on Demographic Fitness – a European-wide study that examines the extent to which companies are preparing to work with an increasingly ageing workforce – measures the extent to which firms offer – and employees embrace – lifelong learning tools.

As companies become increasingly dependent on an older workforce (due not least to the shrinking population of young people in most industrialised nations), the ability to continually acquire new skills over the course of a working life will become a key determinant of both individual success and corporate growth.

The traditional model of a period of education followed by a period of work followed by a period of retirement is about to be replaced with a model that emphasises continuous skills acquisition throughout our lifetimes.

The UK is already a leader across Europe in offering lifelong learning tools: the average UK employer offers 5.8 of the 8 types of tools evaluated in the Demographic Fitness Survey, and fully 96% of all British companies offer workplace-based training.

Only 61% of all employees, however, use any of the available tools. (Notably, this is the highest adoption rate among the eight countries studied in the Demographic Fitness Survey). Almost 40% of employees fail to use lifelong learning tools that are readily available to them, depriving themselves of opportunities to learn, grow, and particularly, to advance in their careers.

Why the gap?

To truly derive benefits from lifelong learning tools, employers and employees must actively participate in their utilisation – and both have room to improve. The first step, the availability of the tools, is well underway:

  • 82% of employers offer schemes for imparting technical skills

  • 79% offer training initiatives outside the workplace

  • 77% analyse individual training requirements
  • To make training meaningful and relevant for employees, employers need to highlight their commitment to lifelong learning by (1) making time available for employees to participate in training, (2) demonstrating that participation increases career opportunities and prospects, and (3) promoting use of training tools at every level of the organisation.

    In today’s increasingly demanding workplace, employees often have difficulty just finding time to get their jobs done. Carving out time for training is often seen as frivolous, taking time away from other essential tasks. This attitude has to change if companies want to maintain a competitive edge. Thinking creatively about how to integrate training into the work schedule can ease this transition: offer targeted training courses for specially designated teams over breakfast, lunch, or tea; designate regularly scheduled ‘training time’ each week or month to promote learning throughout the organisation; invite trainers to address large groups of employees. Setting aside time for training will emphasise to employees the value that employers place on training, and will start to erode the perception that training is anything less than a critical job function.

    “Every level of the organisation needs to get on the training bandwagon. Ensure that key executives and managers participate in (or lead!) training courses.”

    Employers can demonstrate that ongoing training increases career opportunities by walking the talk. Provide career advancement for employees who hone their skills. Emphasise the role that training plays in advancement. Never miss an opportunity to trumpet the value of training to both the employee and the employer.

    Every level of the organisation needs to get on the training bandwagon. Ensure that key executives and managers participate in (or lead!) training courses. Encourage managers to integrate training initiatives into projects, linking project participation with skills enhancement. Use management presentations and discussions as opportunities to discuss training and its relevance for the company.

    Many highly respected professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and accountants, are required to participate in ongoing training as a fundamental condition of accreditation. This theory underlying this practice needs to extend to employees at every level and in every organisation. In the Knowledge Economy in which we now live, education, in its broadest sense, is a key to survival. Employees must understand the importance of lifelong learning for both themselves and the firm, and employers must make ongoing training an integral part of the workplace.

    Employers who successfully integrate lifelong learning into their corporate culture have the opportunity to develop true competitive advantage in a rapidly globalising and increasingly competitive world. Those who neglect this opportunity will find it increasingly hard to compete – and increasingly hard to attract and retain employees who will instead migrate to firms that provide the best career advantages: lifelong learning opportunities.


    Previous articles
    Career management: A strategic tool

    Donna Murphy is managing director of the Adecco Institute. For more information, please email her at [email protected]

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