lifelong learning theory

Once upon a time, the term ‘lifelong learning’ was a concept that encapsulated the ideal that you should never really stop learning no matter how old you were.

People were encouraged to learn all sorts of things in their free time, in the pursuit of becoming more ‘worldly’, or ‘well-rounded’ — dancing, another language or how to take great photographs.

The motives behind life-long learning or continuing education were predominantly personal enjoyment, but there was also the belief that learning a few new career skills could come in handy.

Today, the concept of life-long learning goes far beyond personal enjoyment and learning a few more skills you can apply to your job. Continuous education is necessary — for both businesses and individuals — if they are to stay relevant in the employment space.workplace

How the job landscape is changing

We all know that advances in technology are already changing the face of work as we know it. Automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology — just to name a few — are significantly impacting the workforce already, and will continue to do so well into the future.

The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2020, at least 5 million jobs will be lost due to the digital revolution. But changes won’t stop there, with a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute showing that by 2030, automation could kill as many as 800 million jobs globally.

In Australia, research suggests that as many as a third of jobs will be automated by 2030.

New technologies open up new opportunities, but they also create a sense of uncertainty. Many are worried that ‘robots will take their jobs’.

While it’s true that jobs will be lost, there are a host of new job opportunities that currently don’t even exist. In order to cope with this fourth industrial revolution, and the changes it will bring to our world of work, we’ve been warned to ‘keep up or get left behind’.

This has prompted many organizations to look at their current staffing models and existing skills and put systems into place in order to fill predicted knowledge gaps.

A key strategy that many organizations and individuals will adopt is upskilling and retraining, in order to address the enormous skills gap that machine intelligence is creating.

While job training isn’t a new concept; we’ve never had to do it so often or on such a large scale.

Continuous learning — not ‘one-off’ training

In the past, learning new skills or retraining for a new career often meant undertaking further study — often at a ‘bricks and mortar’ institution.

It wasn’t uncommon for individuals to gain post-graduate qualifications or even a new undergraduate degree. Some also undertook short courses.

However, new technology is predicted to change so rapidly that any new knowledge gained is expected to be relevant for less than a year.

While this doesn’t make longer-term study redundant, new data from the United States shows that rapid technological change, combined with rising education costs, makes tertiary education a risky path.

Once upon a time, degrees were for life (most of the time), because work was static, with any gaps in knowledge being easily filled with a training course or two.

That’s not the case today. For example, it’s estimated that up to 65% of Generation Z’s (born mid-1990s to mid-2000s) jobs don’t even exist yet.

In order to stay relevant in the digital age, we need to shift our mindset from short-term, one-off learning, to continuous learning, throughout the course of our careers.

While education in using new technology will be necessary, these skills will become obsolete more rapidly as technology continues to advance, so workers will need to continually upskill and retrain, as new developments continue to roll out.

In addition, individuals will need to develop softer skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, people management collaboration, judgment and decision-making, adaptability and resilience — all of which will become increasingly more important and in demand as the digital age takes hold.

The war for talent

The traditional career path of university graduates who go to work for large organisations is on the wane, with increasing numbers of them going to work for themselves, either in a freelance capacity or in a startup enterprise.
It’s estimated that as many as 50% of employees will be working in a freelance capacity in 10 years’ time. This cohort is nearly twice as likely to reskill, because they realise more than most, that education is a lifelong learning process.

Their willingness to upskill and remain in touch with technological advances will mean that their services will be in high demand.

With digital developments changing the way we do work so rapidly, most organisations won’t have the necessary talent already on the payroll, and so will need to recruit skilled workers from the outside.

This is likely to come from freelancers or contractors, which statistics show are the fastest growing segment of the workforce.

The rise of the contingent workforce, along with the skills gap that new technology, will eventually lead to a war for talent, with organisations competing for a workforce that is skilled and relevant, as they jostle to stay relevant in an ever-changing digital landscape.

This in turn offers two possibilities for organisations:
1. pay top dollar for permanent, freelancers and contractors, who are not engaged with company
ideals, nor have loyalty to the company knowing the costs to recruit are high
2. capitalise on the need for continuous learning, by becoming learning institutions within
themselves, and thereby attract and retain talent.

Opportunities for organisations

According to a study by Deloitte on the digital readiness of companies, the second most important characteristic of a future-ready organisation — after flexibility and adaptability — is learning ability and a skilled workforce.

Not only do companies need to identify employees with the right education, new talents and necessary transferrable skills, but they need to reinvent themselves as learning institutions, if they are to attract and retain employees.

Organisations are perfectly positioned to develop ‘professional development hubs’ of learning in order to keep their workforce up-to-date and competitive.

Family commitments, work pressure and other factors are often barriers to workers committing to further skills development and training.

However, if organisations provided relevant training for the emergent leader, they could reduce the amount of time and money spent on hiring freelancers, and invest it into growing their people instead.

Building a culture of lifetime learning promotes a motivated, engaged and loyal workforce. Investing in people and their continued development not only ensures companies can compete successfully in the new world of work, but it sets the organisation up to be an employer of choice.

This in turn makes it easier to recruit new talent, and retain the talent that already exists.

Professional development for the future

Certainly, there needs to be a certain level of reskilling and retraining, but workers and organisations must look to the future and ensure that the skills they are investing in, will carry them forward into the new order of work.

Having learning platforms in place for workers is certainly a good start, but unless this is coupled with
experiential activities that are either self-organised or supported through coaching, there can be a great deal of investment with a limited return.

Offering professional development opportunities simply to meet stakeholder expectations, or as part of a ‘tick-box’ exercise will fail to deliver the desired results.

In many cases, it may be necessary for workers to undertake a range of professional development activities in order to successfully retrain and upskill.

Learning new skills through a course or further education, coaching, and mentoring are all excellent ways to ensure workers and organisations are equipped for the future.

Traditionally, coaching and mentoring were reserved for senior managers and company directors. However, companies now understand the need to invest in their people and are increasingly making them available to assist the emerging leaders within their organisations.

However, it’s not the sole responsibility of organisations to train and reskill their workers. Individuals must take greater responsibility for their personal and professional development.

Using the services of a professional career coach or mentor is becoming increasingly necessary for those who need to investigate a career change, or to maximise their potential with their existing employer.

How will coaching or mentoring help?

Organisations will need top talent to succeed. The key to retaining staff, or even long-term contractors is by building a culture of excellence by investing in people.

Research by Ceridian, a global human capital management technology company, shows that 91 per cent of top performing workers believe it’s important to work for an employer that provides development opportunities.

One way to develop talent is through coaching to improve performance by enhancing current skills, or or acquiring new skills by helping them to see things differently.

Days of face-to-face coaching are dwindling with the future of coaching based in technology. People with busy lifestyles Coaches can now connect with coaches through online platforms, and that offer webinars, online training and digital coaching delivery methods.

Another valuable vehicle for learning is mentorship, with research showing that high-potential employees, or emerging leaders, who participate in job-focused mentorships can increase their potential by up to 32%.

It also provides new opportunities for learning, which helps employees remain engaged, and increases corporate performance.

It’s clear that lifelong learning is a non-negotiable when it comes to surviving and thriving in the digital
revolution. However, it’s up to organisations and individuals to both take the lead and actively seek out
opportunities for continuing education if they want to keep up with the pace

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