When an economist named Fritz Machlup first described the “half-life of knowledge” — the time it takes for half of someone’s expertise to become obsolete — he probably didn’t fully anticipate the race against time that had already begun.
Machlup talked about the half-life of knowledge in the early 1960s, when an engineer could spend at least a decade in the workforce before he had to re-skill or build upon his existing education.
The rise of information technology, and the speed at which AI and automation are reshaping the labour market, has shrunk that to five or even three years for a software engineer today.
I believe the lesson for CEOs and their teams is that continuous learning, for individuals and companies alike, is an economic imperative.
The connection between corporate learning and innovation is well documented. But companies that implement successful strategies reap benefits that go beyond more innovative and productive teams.
Employers who establish a strong foundation for on-the-job learning also experience lower turnover and higher-than-average employee retention and loyalty. A recent study by PwC shows that millennials rank training and development as the single most valuable benefit an employer can provide.
So why are companies failing to implement corporate learning strategies that would lead to better businesses and a more competitive workforce?
Course Compare’s recent survey showed workers give their employers a score of 68 per cent on average when it comes to learning and training on the job.
Surprisingly, 70 per cent of employers offered education allowances to their employees in 2017—yet 64 percent of workers did not use that funding, even though 76 per cent of all survey respondents said they believe learning a new digital skill is essential to their career success.
The reasons for lackluster corporate learning programs are varied and often more complex than they may seem.
For some, improving corporate education is partly a matter of better communication.
Others say they’re eager to learn but need help identifying the skills necessary to advance their organization’s objectives—that companies should better anticipate the skills they’ll need five, 10, or even 15 years in the future.
Empowering managers to champion education initiatives, identify the most valuable skill sets, and measure learning outcomes with staff on an ongoing basis will be critical to long-term success.
Canadians also told us employers need to improve the diversity of courses offered on their approved vendor list.
But companies alone shouldn’t be tasked with preparing Canadians for the future of work.
Efforts to address the growing “skills gap” should include corporate learning programs driven by public- and private-sector collaborations; short, modular programs focused on in-demand skills in continuing studies departments at colleges and universities; and government-supported national funding strategies that arm a wider group of Canadians with the digital skills needed to succeed in a rapidly changing labour market.
In addition to being unsure about what to learn and where to find the best learning opportunities, employees told us they don’t have enough time to pursue new skills; that they’re concerned they’ll fall behind at work if they take on more education.
This brings us closest to the foundational lesson for Canadian CEOs.
Continuous learning should be built into every company’s culture. That means, at a minimum, that employees should be encouraged to view skills development as part of the job.
Interestingly, companies with senior leadership dedicated to ongoing education as a company-wide process shared other desirable attributes in common. These weren’t only fast-growing startups but established firms with a characteristic openness to disruption, coupled with a belief in the power of quick iteration and collaboration. They had organizational cultures with a high-tolerance for making mistakes. They viewed their learning cultures as an asset, and corporate education as a competitive advantage instead of a distraction.
Not least of all, they were among Canada’s fastest-growing companies with some of the highest overall scores in employee satisfaction.
Tomorrow’s corporate leaders should take heed. The best way to steer your team through the coming tech tsunami is by building a culture of learning, then harnessing educational and training opportunities that are as flexible and forward-looking as today’s digital economy itself.
Robert Furtado is the founder of CourseCompare.ca, Canada’s online marketplace for tech education. He is also a mentor at The Founder Institute, the world’s premier idea-stage accelerator and startup launch program. Robert was formerly a marketing executive in Toronto and an instructor at the Humber School of Media Studies.
If you’re interested in upgrading your digital skills, you can explore Canada’s leading coding bootcamps, digital marketing courses, UX/UI courses, product management courses and more at CourseCompare.ca.
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