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Fixing the learning dilemma

Ben Chatfield

In developed countries learning and earning has generally followed a simple rule: get all the education you can, as early as you can, and reap the rewards for the rest of your career. Contributor Ben Chatfield, CEO and Co-founder – Tempo.

For years, having a good degree from a respected university was the best indicator of professional success – there were exceptions like Richard Branson and Duncan Bannatyne, but statistically very few. Today, while having a degree still makes a lot of sense, the pace of technological change and the growing length of careers have forced a change in the way we learn. Accumulating skills while still in formal education is no longer enough. Learning has become a lifelong endeavour – employees must continually acquire skills while in work or face becoming obsolete.

The training dilemma
This shift in learning creates a dilemma. Currently work simply doesn’t incorporate a range of learning opportunities, let alone make them a priority. Expertise is supposed to be acquired while working, but many employers have become less willing to invest in training their workforces – indeed, according to the CIPD, investment and participation in vocational training has dropped significantly in recent years. Market pressures and an uncertain economy have added another element of risk as has the significant rise of the professional gig economy. The rise and normality in hiring freelance and contract workers has led many employers to ask the question, ‘why train people who are only with you for six months?’  The pace of technological change has also made it harder to design training courses and understand the inherent value of skills – by the end of a six-month coding course, everything learnt could be useless. This is all taking place while those entering the workplace are prioritising flexibility in how they learn, develop and work.

We clearly need to fundamentally rethink the relationship between working and learning. We must provide training and educational opportunities throughout people’s working lives, which sounds simple in practice, but is far harder in reality. For the reasons already mentioned, is it fair for companies to bear the responsibility? Likewise, should we expect employees to? Even though, according to a Manpower study, 93 percent of millennials are willing to spend their own money on training, why should they have to pay for something that benefits their employer and the wider economy? To address learning, we must rethink the nature of employment.

Disincentives to employee development
When a candidate is employed they are hired for their current skill, experience, and personal qualities. This being said, employers also expect new hires to grow, enhance their skillset and strengthen their expertise continuously throughout their careers. As humans, we are inveterate self-improvers, striving constantly to increase our intelligence and abilities. With skills shortages and the war for talent dominating the media, employees are firmly in the driver’s seat. Businesses are compounding the issue by only using short-term, reactionary recruitment and retention strategies such as flexible working and remuneration packages. In turn this has resulted in a growing number of companies forgetting to prioritise and invest in training, career planning and development programmes. Failing to carry out these initiatives leads to disengaged and unhappy employees, with productivity and performance suffering as a consequence.

Employers who refuse to pay for training seem not to realise that this training will make their employees stronger, more valuable assets to the business. With the current instability in the workplace, where flighty millennials flit easily from job to job, employers are naturally nervous about investing in career development. Many fear they will spend time and resources training employees only to lose them to a competitor further down the line.

The benefits
Although paying for employee training is not a mandatory practice in the workplace, it is well-recognised as one of the most effective ways to drive staff motivation and engagement. The fear of losing employees to competitors should not be the reason to avoid promoting staff and providing them with opportunities for improvement. In fact, failing to invest in and develop employees creates an invidious office culture that will cause companies to lose ambitious workers.

Companies will differ in their stance about whether to pay for training, but there is no debate that it leads to a more prosperous and healthier working environment. Computer animation giant, Pixar, is well known for the memorable feature films it produces, but it also provides a unique and attractive employee package. Pixar University is a professional-development program that puts as much emphasis on personal development as it does on company training. It’s regarded as the company’s secret weapon to achieving their ambitious goals. Pixar University Dean, Randy Nelson stated that the courses don’t simply help educate and develop employee skillsets but brings teams together, building morale, spirit and communication.

Training is an area where technology can play a vital role. Some businesses may choose to use technology to create bespoke training courses that employees can undertake at their own convenience. Others may help workers with their career development by encouraging them to undertake relevant courses through a host of accredited online training providers – even temporary employees. At Tempo, we’re currently using technology to create an arm within the core platform that provides company benefits and training opportunities to temporary staff on our system – they are often the ones who miss out on these recognised opportunities due to not being enrolled in the company systems. With the rise in temporary workers and this way of working predicted to become the norm within the next few years, we noticed a gap in the system that needed to be addressed – bring training into the job-searching process.

A new mindset and learning model
Businesses today need to embrace a new, fluid model of employment underpinned by technology to facilitate life-long learning. Incorporating training not only into company packages but also into the recruitment process would change the way we perceive the relationship between work and learning. With contract workers set to overtake permanent employees by 2023, the UK workforce is changing dramatically. Using technology to offer candidates the opportunity to train while they hunt for jobs would change mindsets and make the job-searching process feel more productive. Moving companies, changing industries, sectors or roles wouldn’t be feared, but embraced.

It would provide employees with the opportunity to diversify their skills, enable them to demonstrate their adaptability, flexibility and ambition, while rewarding them with learning. Employers too wouldn’t fear the hiring process, since it gives them the ability to scale and adapt to technological and market changes. Technology underpins this seismic shift – we’re already seen Uber transform transport and Airbnb holidays; now we need to see how technology and training can be used to find, hire and ultimately keep teaching employees throughout their careers – whether that be a permanent or temporary position.

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