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Why You Need a Culture of Lifelong Learning

Saturday Spark #11

By Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder & CEO

A recent New York Times article on the job market in Phoenix could have been about most urban areas in America. “Tech is splitting the workforce in two” explains that high wage jobs are available for a small amount of highly educated workers at companies like Intel and Boeing, but the vast majority of job growth has come in roles with relatively low wages and fewer prospects for advancement:  restaurants and hospitality, health care services, and retail. As the authors of one of the reports stated, ““The challenge is not the quantity of jobs,” they wrote. “The challenge is the quality of jobs available to low- and medium-skill workers.”

The result is that in an age of incredibly high employment rates, the majority of Americans are still anxious about their job. According to the Edelman Trust Index, 59% worry about not having the necessary skills to get a good paying job. 55% worry about automation taking their job away. Even highly-skilled technology workers are nervous, with 25% saying they worry that their skills will be obsolete and nearly half worry that they will “age out” of the tech workforce.

As someone who has worked in the tech industry for twenty years, and not planning to age out anytime soon, intrinsic motivation to learn is a critical factor for success. WeSpire’s engineering team has learned at least three new coding languages in as many years. Our productivity apps have migrated from the Office suite to Google Docs to Notion, prompting a not always fun re-learning process for where everything is and how to get work done. We’ve switched marketing automation platforms three times, uncannily right when I’ve just gotten good at the existing one.

Our learning pace as a tech start-up might be accelerated, but the need to keep learning is critical no matter where you work. In an open letter to CEOs in McKinsey Quarterly, a Harvard professor and learning engineer make a very compelling case for why lifelong learning is critical to maximize the value and impact of every organization. It’s also why as a parent, I tell my kids that the most important thing about school is not necessarily what you learn, but learning how to learn. Especially when the value of a skill declines by 50% in just five years.

Our organizations benefit greatly from a culture of lifelong learning. Continuously educated and skilled employees, both in hard skills and soft skills, make our teams and organizations more competitive and innovative. A LinkedIn report found that 94 percent of employees would stay longer at a company if it invested in their career, and 87 percent of millennials say that development is important in a job. And when we need new skills, it’s often more efficient to retrain good people than to fire and try to hire. Building a culture of learning should also reduce that aforementioned anxiety, which improves employee health and wellbeing.

Purpose-driven leaders also have the opportunity to have a strong social impact by partnering with organizations who use learning as a way to bring more economic, gender and racial diversity into the high-skill workforce. At WeSpire, we have hired from Resilient Coders, but some of our customers have partnered with Per Scholas and Women Who Code. In addition to accessing great talent, there could be a ripple effect. If more people felt more confident there was a strong pathway into the new economy, they may be less susceptible to impossible-to-keep political promises to bring back the old one.

So as you head to work this week, look at both your process and your investment to support lifelong learning. Encourage people to seek new jobs internally. Support flexible schedules for taking courses. Create internship and apprenticeships, especially if they attract less traditional workers into hard to fill roles. When and if you need new skills, ask first if there is someone internally who could be retrained to do it. And last, but not least, don’t forget your own lifelong learning. No matter where you are in your career or life, create, and stick to, your own lifelong learning plan. Which is why it’s now time for me to go figure out Notion.

Quote of the Week: There is a cure for anti-aging that actually works. It’s called lifelong learning. — Robin Sharma

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What is Saturday Spark:
As the leader of a purpose-driven company, I’m challenged daily to ensure our company is “walking the walk” and that I’m personally leading with purpose and impact at the forefront. The result is that I read, think, and learn a lot about the intersection of purpose, impact and leadership and have a few successes and a lot more “lessons learned.” I realized that my own insights may be helpful to other purpose-driven professionals if I took the time to reflect each week. If you find this inspiring, practical or helpful, I’d be honored if you shared it with your colleagues, your families and your friends.

Read Previous Week’s Spark: How to Solve the Happiness Crisis

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