The Secret to Succeeding in the 21st Century? Lifelong Learning
One of the most delightful movies I’ve seen that also offers a strong commentary on self-improvement is Groundhog Day. It’s about a weatherman played by Bill Murray who finds himself living the same day over and over again (literally). Murray’s first response is to live every day into the ground: repetitive, mundane, unenthused. He just shows up. But he quickly finds this existence unsatisfying. About halfway through the film, he has an awakening and chooses to invest in self-improvement and grow as a person. He picks up French, ice sculpting, piano, and several deeper learnings. The point is: he becomes keenly aware of the value of personal growth and development. I think this is rather analogous to where all of us find ourselves in business today.
The workforce is changing rapidly, thanks to advancements in technology, automation, and AI. People are no longer hired to stay in one role for the duration of their time at any company, and the tools and skills they need to do their jobs continue to evolve and change at breakneck speed. To this end, it’s become imperative for employees to keep pace and run their careers as thriving businesses do—proactively adapting and developing to drive innovation and growth. In short, the quality most needed in workers today is a propensity for learning.
Lifelong Learning Is a Two-Way Street
Consider these stats: research by Harvard Business Review and Deloitte found that the skills acquired during college have an expected shelf life of just five years. Most graduates haven’t even paid off their loans by then! A recent report by the Society for Human Resource Management states that nearly 40% of hiring managers cite lack of technical skills as a key reason why they can’t fill positions. Even more stunning, according to Willis Towers Watson, 90% of companies expect digital disruption, but only 44% are sufficiently ready for it—and bridging the skills gap is chief among their threats to readiness.
AT&T is a company addressing this issue head on, having invested nearly one billion dollars in the reskilling of almost half its workforce to be “future ready.” The initiative, introduced in 2012, includes a combination of classroom-, web- and mobile-based training that prepares employees for the types of jobs most in demand at AT&T today and down the road: data scientist, computer analytics, app developers, and cloud computing.
It’s a bold move and early results are promising: the company is using fewer contractors because the talent now resides in-house, other companies are taking notice as salespeople are asked routinely about the program by their customers, and the investment in people gives AT&T a competitive edge in the war for talent. “It’s important for companies to engage and retrain workers rather than constantly going to the street to hire,” says Bill Blase, senior EVP of HR, AT&T. He’s right. The average cost to replace an employee is about 21% of that individual’s salary (and that number rises dramatically based on how much the worker earns annually).
Starbucks is another company brewing up the concept of lifelong learning. In 2014, the Seattle-based business introduced a program that allows employees to receive full tuition through Arizona State University’s online program, giving them a chance to earn a bachelor’s degree for free. Starbucks founder Howard Shultz said the program’s aim isn’t about money but to add more educated workers to the labor force. When a reporter suggested that the program would see employees leaving Starbucks after they completed their degree, Shultz responded: “If they did, their experience would be accreted to our brand, our reputation and our business. I believe it will lower attrition, it’ll increase performance, it’ll attract and retain better people.” These are words of a true visionary. (Seeing companies lead in this way is exactly what Sara Broadbent championed in her recent blog on the Case to Make Humanity Great Again).
Keeping up with the skillsets needed to compete effectively in the 21st century is both the responsibility of the employee and company. Employees need to embrace the concept of proactive, lifelong learning, and companies must invest in providing employees with access and opportunities to reskill and retrain. It’s a quid pro quo endeavor with no end date in sight and—as I explain in my blog What a Rubik’s Cube Can Teach Us About Employee Engagement—one that provides the foundation for a strong, thriving people-first culture.
“Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”—Albert Einstein