Continual learning: the education of the future

Written by
Kirstie Donnelly
ILM, a City & Guilds Group business

10 Jan 2018

10 Jan 2018 • by Kirstie Donnelly

Future Talent 2018 speaker, Kirstie Donnelly, explains why ongoing development is critical in a changing world. 

This article is provided to Changeboard by our Future Talent 2018 partners, City & Guilds Group. You can see Kirstie Donnelly discussing career transitions at Changeboard's Future Talent Conference 2018.

When it comes to the world of work, a priority for both organisations and individuals is making sure they are future-proofed. But being prepared for what’s ahead has become increasingly difficult with the fast pace of change in both work and society.

Let's consider two of the challenges, which instinctively should solve each other.

Firstly, that there are more people of working age in the UK than ever before; many are under-employed and both older and younger people are having difficulty entering the workplace.

And secondly, that the UK is facing a critical skills shortage at all levels and in all disciplines, which in turn is leading to poor productivity. Yet despite this growing working population, and the growing skills gap, there are not enough people who have the expertise required to address business needs.

This, for me, is the oxymoron of ‘jobs without people and people without jobs’ and it does not seem to be going away.

One reason for this discrepancy is the ongoing and rapid impact of the digital revolution and globalisation, meaning that both businesses and individuals struggle to keep up with tools they need to survive – let alone thrive.

Traditional approaches to workplace structures such as a) that you moved up the ranks in an organisation in line with time served, building only on the education you received at a young age, and b) that, once established as a success, the product or service supplied by a business only needs refining, are no longer "truths" for an ever-evolving and increasingly competitive environment. Instead, people and products need to keep developing, upskilling themselves and adapting their offer in such a way that they are more readily able to accommodate inevitable disruption.

A new attitude

While daunting, these challenges are not insurmountable. But they do require a fundamental shift in the thinking of both businesses and individuals themselves; that people must adopt a culture of continual learning throughout their working lives, from school to retirement.

For such a culture of continual learning to be successful, businesses must facilitate training and development at every point of need. And they must also recognise the the value of both formal and informal learning side by side.

Also, for the first time we have four generations working alongside each other, each having been educated in very different environments, and the way that each of those joined the workforce is fundamentally different, as are the skills each bring to the table. 

For example, older generations may have finely-tuned technical abilities, honed from years in the same role or organisation, whereas younger people entering the workplace on the other hand may be more readily able to pick up new digital technologies, and more comfortable with the ambiguity of the way roles evolve today or operating in the gig economy. 

This all means that upskilling is no longer a sequential, or chronological, phenomenon. With flatter, more collaborative cultures, it is not only the role of senior employees to adopt the role "teacher/mentor" but for younger workers to share their unique knowledge with others.  

If organisations map out where they need more skills, and teams look at where they have gaps in expertise, they will more often than not realise that they have people in their business who are able to support with developing others.

Whether that’s a millennial teaching a CEO how to code, or an older supervisor sharing tricks of the trade or insights into customer service with less experienced team members.

When both existing employees and new recruits start to realise the benefits both to themselves and their business of growing their skillset - whatever stage they are at in their career - they are more likely to proactively identify areas for development and ensure the relevant learning takes place.

In this way, continual learning will begin to filter through an organisation and its people, and ultimately inform and improve the development of its products and services.

Tools to embrace and making your case

Digital technology has fundamentally changed organisations, already transforming learning and performance management into continuous processes. The challenge for businesses is to use the data made available by new technologies such as artificial intelligence to create targeted, personalised, effective learning.

For example Filtered, one of City & Guilds Group’s partner organisations, interprets large amounts of technical data to be able to curate personalised learning plans for people that really meet their individual needs.

Data-driven L&D

Provided this process is influenced by the strategic planning of learning and upskilling - data-driven L&D has all the ingredients to be extremely high impact with a high return output. 

All learning, development and performance coaching needs to be about driving positive outcomes. Those responsible for developing a continuous learning culture should focus much more on outcome and impact, in order for the return on investment to be measurable and demonstrable.

Our most successful customers are those who embed learning into their organisation, touching every part of the business, and do not shy away from measuring the impact it is having on their bottom line.

Focus on future skills development

Good training, delivered properly, should be easy to justify as it slots into - or even dictates - business direction, focusing both on existing and future skills development.

With the constant report of skills gaps and skills shortages compounded by the stories about workers leaving the UK following Brexit, it’s clear that continual  lifelong learning is a crucial process  to future proof the UK workplace.

It will not only help individual organisations fill jobs and skills gaps, but will enable UK plc to pre-empt future skills shortages, and essentially become a more productive and attractive country to work in, as well as enable employees to take more ownership in their own career planning and career fulfilment too.

ILM, a City & Guilds Group business