The Power of Learning
“Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
There is little doubt that the ongoing COVID19 pandemic has left everyone somewhat perplexed and disillusioned as to what the future holds. The reality is, every time a government locks down a postal code or a city, even an entire state, there are businesses that have no choice but to permanently shut the doors. It literally becomes impossible to balance the books when predicted income falls well short, making it impossible to cover predicted expenses. On top of that is the layer of Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which when paired to the working from home scenario, makes for a potent cocktail that must lead to one question. What will jobs look like in a post-pandemic world? More importantly, what implications might this post-pandemic world have for training and education? After all, if Tolkien is right, the pandemic may well give way to hope for a promising future!
The important thing to note here is that you do not need to be a ‘Futurist’ to get a handle on which occupational groups are likely to be in demand over the next decade (2019-2029). In the United States, this information is readily available via the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov). A fairly comprehensive analysis of the data was provided in February 2021 by Lindsey Ice, Michael J. Rieley, and Samuel Rinde in their report entitled “Employment projections in a pandemic environment.” In their report, they discuss the ‘Difference in percent changes in employment between the baseline and alternate scenarios, by occupational group, 2019–29.’
One example of this would be the teaching profession. Through COVID19, much learning and teaching occurred in the virtual world. For teachers who had a strong skillset in Information Communications Technology (ICT), eLearning, and the like, the transition to learning online may well have seemed natural, especially if their students were already familiar with Blended Learning. Moving forward over the next 10 years, teacher proficiency in the use of ICT in the classroom will be expected. This expectation is already found in the work of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (USA).
Teachers Know the Subjects They Teach and How to Teach Those Subjects to Students:
Teachers Command Specialized Knowledge of How to Convey a Subject to Students.
“They explore the influence that technology has on their subject areas because they know that it frequently affects the structure and process of thinking within disciplines. Importantly, accomplished teachers position themselves as critical users of technology, ensuring that it is employed to enhance student understanding.”
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (2016). What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do. Arlington. VA: National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. p21.
Obviously, not everyone wants to be in the teaching profession. It has been mentioned here merely to highlight that many occupations have an expectation that you will be up-to-date with what is expected of you as a professional, in your chosen career. More broadly this brings into relief the question as to whether it is better to be a specialist in your chosen profession or a generalist? If your government agency or your organization is opting to keep their staff in the ‘working from home’ mode, this question may be more pronounced. To be more effective, whilst working in isolation from others on your team, most likely will demand a broader skillset, as broader expectations may follow you as you continue to work from home.
Ultimately, your education and training, your professional development should be the main concern for yourself and for your employer.
This was recently captured well by Harvard lecturer, Dr. Vikram Mansharamani, in an article entitled: “Harvard lecturer: ‘No specific skill will get you ahead in the future’—but this ‘way of thinking’ will.”
“It’s just that our world is changing so rapidly that those with more tools in their possession will better navigate the uncertainty. To make it in today’s world, it’s important to be agile and flexible…Because generalists have a set of tools to draw from, they are able to dynamically adjust their course of action as a situation evolves…If you’re relatively new to the workforce, my advice is to manage your career around obtaining a diversity of geographic and functional experiences. The analytical capabilities you develop (e.g. basic statistical skills and critical reasoning) in the process will fare well when competing against those who are more focused on domain-specific skills. The one certainty about the future is that it will be uncertain.”
Dr. Vikram Mansharamani (February 2021). “Harvard lecturer: ‘No specific skill will get you ahead in the future’—but this ‘way of thinking’ will.”
This notion of continuous professional learning and development might well also extend to personal development as well. This is where a coach may be valuable. It is important for employers to understand how critical training and education are to your present and to your future. For employers, if having an agile workforce means having more generalists on board, then realize it won’t happen without investment in your people. This means seeing education and training as a strategic imperative. If the employer knows that in 5 years’ time, position x will be available as the incumbent will most likely retire, then start now to plan opportunities for professional education and training that will ensure a pool of candidates exist that could take that job on.
A relative of mine started his working life as an Apprentice Electrician in what would be known as the Services Division in the Public Works Department. A decade later he studied Mechanical Engineering and moved into the Engineering branch within the Division of Building. Approximately two decades after qualifying as an Engineer, even teaching Engineering Drawing to future engineers at the local university of technology, he went back to study Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations. He soon received a promotion from an Assistant Director of Services Division to Director of Administration and Finance. In doing so, he had now worked in all three divisions of the Department of Public Works. Years later, the Director-General decided to retire. The government changed at a general election the following month. A restructure soon followed and my relative became the Acting Director-General for the next six months. During this time he reached the magical age at which he could retire and chose to do so. The moral of this story is that appropriate education and training, persistence and following your passion can lead you from an entry-level position to being in-charge of the whole organization, qualified in each part of the organization. That’s the power of a generalized skillset.
Tom Peters in the must-read book, ‘The Excellence Dividend’, really hits a home run on how absolutely critical education and training is to any organization.
“I see training as anybody’s or any organization’s “Success Practice #1.” And I am utterly dismayed, stunned, even enraged when others don’t see it the way I do. Moreover, I believe the “training/prep edge” is 10X or 100X more important in the midst of the age of disruption/tech tsunami in which we are embedded. With brand-new threats and opportunities, there may be challenging questions about the nature of the training, but there can be no question whatsoever about its importance.”
Tom Peters (2018). The Excellence Dividend. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. p122 of 298.
Ultimately, your education and training, your professional development should be the main concern for yourself and for your employer. It’s a fine dance that requires each person to take part. The employee should map out a professional learning plan which they can in turn share with their manager/employer. Map it to professional standards, the organization’s strategic plan, your own personal plan and any other documents that may help guide your professional growth and development. Discernment is important, as is a willingness to undertake such learning. It may be on-site learning, specific in-house professional development or it may be formal study at university. Staying across your profession is critical to your success and that of the organization you work for.
“For leaders, developing the competence and confidence of their constituents so that they are more qualified, more capable, and more effective, and so that they are leaders in their own right, reflects their appreciation of the truth that they can’t get anything extraordinary accomplished all by themselves. Making people smarter is the job of every leader. In today’s world, if your constituents aren’t growing and learning in their jobs, they’re highly likely to leave and find better opportunities.”
James M.Kouzes, Barry Z. Posner. (2017). The leadership challenge: how to make extraordinary things happen in organizations. Sixth edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. p237.
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