Hartmut Hahn on why continuous learning is the key to a digital-first future of work
Until relatively recently, it seemed perfectly possible to go through an entire career with the same skillset. Today, the picture is somewhat different. The automation of business processes, combined with constant technological innovations, are causing the world of work to shift faster than ever.
Now, it is increasingly common for workers to engage in a cycle of reskilling or upskilling. In fact, the World Economic Forum estimates that, within the next five years, 50% of the workforce will need to update their skillset.
This process of automation has largely been welcomed by business leaders. However, it is imperative that we understand the effect on the workforce as a whole. As the economy embraces digital technology more and more, job losses will be inevitable. Indeed, a PwC report estimated that 30% of current jobs will become obsolete by the year 2030.
This then begs the question: what will become of workers in those 30% of jobs? The good news is that new positions will open up, but they will likely be more complex, digital roles that, at their core, will involve the use of a multitude of software applications.
Many of the world’s leading enterprises believe continuous learning offers them a competitive advantage
Navigating the future of work: the role of digital adoption
What does this mean for business leaders? The new world of work, underpinned by rapid digitalisation, will leave them with much to think about.
At the most fundamental level, businesses are focused on remaining commercially agile and competitive by ensuring that they always have the right talent, with the right skillsets, at the right time – something which is easier said than done given the sheer pace of change in the modern world. Hiring new staff is a big enough challenge on its own – but HR and learning leaders are now coming under increasing pressure not only to acquire, but also to engage, retain, and develop talent.
Similarly, technology leaders have two critical future of work challenges to address. Firstly, they must select the most suitable technologies to keep their enterprises ahead of the curve. Secondly, and perhaps more pressingly, they must ensure these products actually deliver measurable business value. This ultimately depends on the strength of the company’s ‘digital adoption’ – or, in other words, how well employees can use and maximise newly-acquired software and other technologies.
However, building a strong level of digital adoption isn’t possible without the right approach to employee training – one which prioritises the concept of ‘continuous learning’. Continuous learning is the process of learning new skills and knowledge on an ongoing basis, and it is essential to how employees are adjusting now – as well as in the future – to increasingly digital-based roles. It’s no surprise, therefore, that many of the world’s leading enterprises believe continuous learning offers them a competitive advantage.
Identifying barriers to continuous learning
However, there are various obstacles that must be navigated before continuous learning can be successfully implemented. Many of them are relate to the limitations of traditional training methods.
More ‘traditional’ training methods such as one-to-one or classroom-based learning can certainly be beneficial, but they are certainly not cheap, either. If you then add in the need to both onboard new employees and to retrain existing ones with regular sessions, the cost starts to mount significantly. In fact, recent research revealed that an average mid-large sized UK business will spend more than £2,000 per employee per year, just on software-related training.
Another issue is how steep the “forgetting curve” regarding training really is. The average employee will forget around 90% of what they have learnt within just seven days. Central to this is the lack of practical-based, interactive training sessions which are particularly important for complex software or technology-focused learning. A lack of “hands-on” activity means that employees do not engage in active, independent, and continuous learning. Purely passive learning leaves employees far more prone to forgetting information and less confident overall.
The rise of hybrid working has created problems for organisations which rely on classroom-based training sessions as the core of their L&D approach. While some businesses have successfully experimented with conducting virtual or hybrid training sessions, they can prove a logistical nightmare if not managed correctly – and are especially hard to organise at scale across a larger enterprise. The effectiveness of virtual training can also be questionable, especially when “zoom fatigue” and general disengagement start setting in.
Diverse learning need
These days, many organisations are conscious of the fact that all employees are different. Everyone has their own learning style, uses technology differently, and has a preferred style of working. For this reason, there is no universally successful approach to training. This is of course a major hurdle – how do you provide enough variety, personalisation, and freedom to get the most out of each employee?
Building a strong continuous learning culture
Continuous learning, like digital transformation, requires an ongoing commitment and organisation-wide change in culture. Here are three tips to drive it forward in your business:
1. Offer something for everyone
Businesses must start by acknowledging the range of learning styles and opportunities in the workforce. Everyone brings different skills to the organisation, and everyone learns differently, so a continuous learning culture must include a range of resources for employees and facilitate a variety of training approaches.
Success also rests on an understanding of the workforce’s needs, so decision makers must maintain an open dialogue with employees. This is especially important due to the rapid pace of digital change: ideas that work one day may not work the next.
2. Encourage ‘learning by doing’
At the heart of continuous learning is the idea that, where possible, it is most effective to “learn by doing” – especially as roles become increasingly reliant on technology. Classroom training – “learn and then do” – certainly has its place, such as when employees are introduced to a new concept or application for the very first time, but it shouldn’t be the entirety of the L&D effort. Instead, businesses must embed learning into the everyday routine.
One way to achieve this is through a Digital Adoption Platform (DAP), which provides training in real time from directly within the software that employees use. The content is contextually relevant and enables employees to complete tasks while remaining in their workflow. A DAP is also easier to scale and more cost-effective than traditional approaches to training.
3. Lead by example
Leadership also has an important role to play in establishing continuous learning into the organisation. Senior staff must lead by example and demonstrate a genuine commitment to learning by integrating it into career development plans and funding L&D wherever possible. They must also encourage internal knowledge sharing, especially as it becomes more common for people to move laterally.
Digitalisation demands change
The digitalisation of work is demanding change to the way we train and develop our employees. This change is a process, but there’s little doubt that the organisations that invest in transforming their approach now will be the best prepared for whatever the future looks like.
Hartmut Hahn, CEO, Userlane