Advice for Employers – Guest Column

Endless Education

By Susan Sterritt Meyer  |   Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), MS, BS, BA. Meyer helps individuals and companies craft credible, image-enhancing communications. She served nine years in the Army Reserve, with two activations. She devoted more than 20 years of her career to management positions in human resources, and now uses her expertise to teach, coach, and develop leaders.

Published in the May/June 2010 issue of print Search & Employ®

The Good Old Days. Remember the days when school occupied a finite phase in our lives? After senior year, it was over: we graduated, sighed, and moved on to an entirely new phase – that of work and responsibility. Our education was officially complete.

In what now seem like halcyon days, companies relied on school systems and vocational facilities to provide prepared employees for their workplaces. Learning post-hire was mostly limited to on-the-job acclimation to equipment or procedures. Sometimes, supervisors received rudimentary management training tossed in for good measure. But generally, once we arrived in the workplace, learning was over. Producing was the new order of the day.

The current and future view. The cyber age has changed this model forever. Consider the ever-expanding explosion of technology. Geysers of ideas and information bubble up all the time, readily available to anyone around the globe. The implication is clear: education is always incomplete. It can never stop.

The depth and immediacy of information needed by organizations to remain competitive will require their employees to learn throughout their careers. It will no longer suffice to rest on past educational laurels.

Today, employment and education are like water and air: intertwined and necessary for personal and business survival. Companies that embrace the new model and take steps now to create a culture embracing ongoing education are more likely to stay the course and flourish.

How to start the embrace. Adapting a company culture to one of ongoing learning is not easy, and the change cannot happen overnight. However, you can take some sizable steps now to start the momentum moving in the right direction.

Understand what a Learning Organization is all about. A good starting point is a patient read of Peter Senge’s seminal work, The Fifth Discipline. You will see the scope of what is ahead of you.

See and sell the benefits to top management. Consider these:

*  The most obvious – the ability to stay up-to-date on industry-specific knowledge and, hopefully, a step ahead of your competition.

*  The ability to attract and retain, at least for a while, millennial employees who are now beginning to enter the workforce. This Gen Y mass, 81 million strong, grew up using technology, has never known a world without it, and expects ongoing learning to take place. Your company is going to need what they have to offer. And significant to that cohort is mentoring and development, including regular, ongoing feedback.

*  More bang for the labor buck. The idea that managers and employees are actually human capital and have an obligation to appreciate in value via continuous learning is a paradigm shift. The old view of someone increasing in value based on length of service is outdated and a drain on your labor budget.  Keep this in mind as you re-evaluate what inputs you value, and how you should compensate employees.

*  The idea that employees are responsible, encouraged, and expected—with their employers’ full support—to continue to grow and to think. Deep hierarchical management is ineffective with Gen X and Gen Y, and hoards the “thinking” toward the top, with “doing” relegated to those down below. In a culture that embraces learning, everyone is expected to think and contribute. The view from 40,000 feet is no longer sufficient. Your company will need the wisdom and insight from boots on the ground.

Tap the brains of CEO’s, CIO’s and Learning Officers of progressive companies. Network through your usual business channels to gain access to them. It is time to think way beyond tuition reimbursement. Find out what is working for those companies, how they are making it happen, and how they are budgeting for what they are doing.

Brush up on change-management tenets, because moving to a learning culture is nothing less than radical change. Just as individuals are responsible for preparing themselves through education for employment, companies must champion employee viability through ongoing preparation as a matter of course.

Your new model for success: endless education.

About the Author

This article was written by Jay Myers