The Future Job Skill That’ll Change Everything

School is back this week in Western Australia, and last week I worked with two forward-thinking schools who ran professional development conferences for their staff. They wanted to know more about jobs, careers, and the future of work, so they could make their teaching more relevant for students.

One of those schools puts ‘learning’ at the top of its core values. Wait, what? Shouldn’t that be the top priority for all schools? Well, yes, it should – but that isn’t always the case. So it’s refreshing to see this school proudly proclaim it.

More importantly, they want this to go further than just learning for students. It’s just us much about learning for everybody else in the school community (especially staff, but also parents, board members, and others).

They embrace the skill of active learning.

When the World Economic Forum identified the key skills we would need by 2023 (next year!), active learning was one of the top five.

Futurist Alvin Toffler put it like this:

‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.’

Another World Economic Forum survey, this time conducted in ther depth of the pandemic in 2020, said 71% of Australians think their current employer will help them learn the skills they need for the future (slightly higher than the global average of 67%).

And other research says if you don’t provide that kind of support, employees will learn the skills themselves – so they can leave and work for somebody better.

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 cardiothoracic surgeon 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?

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).

Are YOU an active learner yourself?

Active learning isn’t only for your team members; it’s just as much for you.

What’s in your active learning plan for the year ahead?

If you want to explore some professional development opportunities, try Coursera.org, which offers high-quality tertiary level online courses in many professional areas.

And if you want something at a more personal level, I recommend Masterclass.com, where you can learn a variety of personal skills:

I enrolled in ‘Learn Comedy from Steve Martin’ a few years ago, and learned a lot (my family and friends don’t agree!). At the time, it was $100 per course, but now they’ve switched to a Netflix-style model where you get access to everything for $30 a month.

Thinking Ahead

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?

None of us can predict the future, so we can’t be future-proof. But active learners are more future-ready.



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