Offer Three Types of Learning To Your Employees … Or Else!

This pandemic is a perfect storm of three crises: a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a social crisis. Australia has done an incredible job of managing the health crisis, but the economic crisis is far from over. If you’re a leader or manager, one of the biggest challenges you will face is people worrying about employement. And if it’s not worrying about losing their own job, they are probably worrying about somebody close to them losing their job.

A recent World Economic Forum survey said more than half (54%) of working adults worldwide worry they will lose their job in the next 12 months. That’s a global average, but the number for Australia is not much better, at 48%. Yes, that’s more than 6 million people.

But on the positive side, 71% of Australians think their current employer will help them learn the skills they need for the future (again, slightly better than the global average of 67%). And other surveys say that if you don’t provide that kind of support, employees are increasingly looking to learn the skills themselves – so they can leave and work for a better employer.

Are you providing those learning opportunities?

You might already have a customised learning and development plan for each person on your team. If so, great!

I hope it includes a variety of activities – perhaps including training, online courses, mentoring, shadowing, coaching, and other learning opportunities. Another tick!

Finally, I hope it covers a range of topics – not just the immediate skills they need for their current job.

You need to provide three kinds of skills …

Long gone are the days when employees were happy to just get regular training workshops to build the skills needed for their current role. Now they want a much bigger “Personal Learning Network”, which helps them build a range of skills from a variety of sources.

People have different preferences for consuming information, so choose what works best for each person. Whatever sources you choose, include three specific kinds of learning: deeper, wider, and further:

  1. First, they need deeper learning, which are the skills unique to a job, profession, industry, or discipline. You want a cardiologist to know about heart surgery, an auto mechanic to know about cars, a cellist in an orchestra to know how to play the cello, an Instagram marketing consultant to know about Instagram marketing, and so on. If you don’t have those skills, you can’t do that job.
  2. We also all need wider learning, for the transferable skills that span different disciplines. Some people refer to these as “soft skills”, usually to suggest these are more about people than technology. But that’s the wrong distinction, because they include technology-related skills that aren’t specific to a discipline (for example, numeracy, new media literacy, and the ability to work with AI).
  3. Finally, encourage them to see further into the future, so they keep an open mind and explore ideas that are just possibilities, potential, and even wild speculation.

How are YOU helping your people develop these skills?

The World Economic Forum predicts we all need about 25 days (yes, five weeks!) of learning and development each year to “upskill” for the future. That’s why we need to proactively choose to be a lifelong learner, and actively engage in learning, re-learning, and even “unlearning” what’s no longer true.

Many organisations have clear learning paths for deeper skills, but far fewer learning opportunities for wider skills (and even fewer for “further” skills). Even when those latter skills are taught, they are often taught in specific circumstances (For example, a small cohort of “emerging leaders” might be taught leadership skills).

If you’re a leader, manager, or HR professional, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Are we biased towards deep skills at the expense of wide skills?
  2. For each person in our team, what wide skills could help them perform better?
  3. How could we encourage people to explore “further” skills?



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