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Working to Learn Must Underpin the Future of Work

By 24/05/2021No Comments

Technological innovations have helped humans separate industrial ages and define periods of time throughout history, thanks to their transformative effect on people’s lives. From the rise of industry to the dawn of the internet, innovation has provided regular timestamps which we have used to define eras. But categorizing history in this way assumes innovation and major socio-economic developments occur simultaneously. In reality, the time difference between the two can be vast.

For example, business models that have characterized work since the outset of the First Industrial Revolution in the late 18th Century can still be seen in otherwise modern workplaces. Organizations often still view work by the ‘input/output’ model established more than a century ago, measuring employees by their cost (input) and value (output).

Despite drastic changes to work over the past 100 years, this model has remained largely unchanged. As innovation continues apace and working practices rapidly evolve, how much longer can we measure humans based on input and output?

Prioritizing agility and adaptability

More recently, workers have begun to reject the idea of the input/output model by mastering a specific skill set and becoming an expert in a particular field, decreasing costs and increasing value for businesses. Developing this concentrated expertise made sense when demand for skills lasted at least as long as a person’s career, but the constant and accelerating change of the 21st-century workplace means this is no longer the case. Now, due to the relentless pace of innovation, demand cycles for certain skills, or even specific job roles, can rise and fall within the space of a few years. We can only expect these timeframes to get shorter in the future, too.

As a result, agility and adaptability are superseding specialization as the most valuable qualities for workers to exhibit. Organizations must shift their perception of workers so they are no longer viewed as ‘assets’ with an inherent cost and value, and are instead viewed as part of a humanistic approach predicated on constant development.

Putting learning and development at the heart of work

Traditionally, people began their careers with little experience and knowledge, joining a business to grow industry-specific skills and progress upwards by mastering one role. Today, we’re seeing a shift away from simply ‘learning to work’, as modern generations must now incorporate a ‘working to learn approach’. Where individuals could once expect to obtain a job for life and hone a specific skill set for the duration of their career, modern workers must continue the learning process. The speed of technological change means the next workplace disruptor is always right around the corner. To embrace the challenges and opportunities that innovation presents, employees should view their skillset as an ever-evolving toolbox – one that adapts to new demands and expands in accordance to change.

Replacing expertise at work

It’s not just the responsibility of the employee to adapt to new workplace demands. Business must also alter their approach by no longer prioritizing and rewarding specific expertise. Instead, employers should recognize that the needs of the business could shift at any moment, and acknowledge the value in rewarding and celebrating employee adaptability. Fortunately, tools exist that can assist businesses in this process by helping them identify which skills will be more in-demand in the future. This allows employers to focus their efforts on reskilling employees and augmenting their existing skillets to meet anticipated future demands.

Hiring practices must also change too. Businesses must cultivate workforces that are open to – and actively embrace – learning and development. The ability to learn and develop new skills not only helps employees in retaining their roles but also presents a more cost-effective approach by reducing the time and monetary investments needed to recruit new employees. By prioritizing adaptability, businesses can be confident in their ability to deliver a workforce that is fit for the present, and the future.

By James McLeod, VP of EMEA, Faethm.

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