Growing up, I always assumed that people who went to a good school and college would be set for life. Getting into a top ranked college and crushing a four-year degree course—once-and-done learning—was sufficient for both career and life success. In my defense, this mentality was very much the norm in social and business circles at the time, and it was an approach that worked well for decades. However, the rise of automation and AI, has raised questions about the employable skills, attitudes, and behaviors required for people to participate in the future of work and has made the traditional linear model of education-employment-career inadequate. Skills have become like mobile apps that need frequent upgrades, creating a sense of urgency among workers to learn faster or be left behind. The new world of work demands that our roles are continually augmented. As a result, continuous learning throughout the approximately 40 year working life of the average worker is becoming the new normal.
Numerous articles exist today about the importance of lifelong learning, and almost all of them lead in the same direction—guiding the individual as to what they must do to keep themselves abreast of current changes and how to develop new skills through formal and informal means. While there is nothing wrong with this approach for individual learning, it is not very effective when it comes to businesses for which learning poses both bigger challenges and greater opportunities. Many organizations believe they have done their due diligence by launching various reskilling programs for employees; however, no matter how great a company’s reskilling programs are, the future of learning won’t happen unless people are self-motivated and curious enough to learn. Consequently, reskilling needs to be tightly linked with the concept of lifelong learning because new organizational models will rely less on immutable hierarchies and structures, and more on teams that form and dissolve based on need.
To get there, leaders need to lead by example. My recent report showed that nearly 75% of businesses are concerned about their leaders’ abilities to handle new work introduced through digital technologies. If leaders aren’t sufficiently equipped with the skills required for the coming machine age, how can they expect their workers to adapt? That said, it’s time for leaders fix their own ‘learning quotient’ first. In order to make continuous learning a reality, business leaders must encourage people to experiment, take risks, and learn from new ideas and technologies, a concept that is still not strong in many businesses. In fact, only 28% of businesses foster a culture of risk-taking and tolerate failure when experimenting with new technologies. In the past, leaders had the most knowledge and experience necessary to move businesses forward. However, in the wake of today’s rapid technological and market changes, chances are slim that leaders still have all the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the digital economy. With this in mind, leaders that dare to admit they are not perfect are well placed to guide themselves and their entire workforces on a prosperous lifelong learning journey.
There are endless reports in the market today, highlighting the talent gap issue currently faced by many organizations—an issue that emphasizes why lifelong learning is critical for the creation of a healthy talent pipeline. Failing to encourage an environment of learning not only limits leaders’ personal growth, but also puts the talent supply chain at risk as smart employees flee to companies offering more robust learning environments. Realistically, we can no longer avoid the fact that the days of relatively immutable job descriptions and standard training programs will soon be over. Like algorithms, humans are also capable of continuous learning, but only if we are provided access to an encouraging environment and the right learning tools to effectively collaborate with AI-driven machines.
Looking ahead, the future of your career will not be based on your last job title but rather on the new skills and abilities you continue to develop. Believe it or not, it’s time to move from 4 to 40 years of learning—and we need to start now.