Life-long learning

Liz Taylor 2013Two angles spring to mind when the term Life-Long Learning is mentioned: the individual and the organisational or business perspective. What does Life-long learning mean in each scenario and what difference does it make?

Starting with the individual perspective and talking personally. I can’t imagine a life where life-long learning wasn’t required,how boring would that be? Life-long learning matters for personal and career reasons.

I love variety, new people, new places, new challenges as they broaden your view of the world and help you develop awareness that there is no one “right” way. That’s all to the good as the world becomes a much smaller place due to the pace of technology, social media, international travel and so on.

I am always impressed by people taking an active interest in learning new skills, whether work-related or hobbies, for example, at the weekend, I visited a 90 year old lady, who is extremely spritely both mentally and physically. She was telling me about the IT skills classes she’d recently completed, how fabulous it was to use Skype to talk to her daughter in France and how she was researching which laptop to buy when her HomeHub was installed this week.

A clear example of someone who embraces life-long learning and enjoys the impact it has on her life. Mindset has a lot to do with it, I guess, and Betty certainly demonstrated that age is just a number. Her curiosity and interest in continuing to learn new things seems to be keeping her young and I’m all for some of that!

Listening to the Breakfast News recently, there was a piece on the growing problem of older people who feel isolated, alone and rarely leave their homes. How sad and in marked contrast to Betty’s determination to stay in touch with the world today. Taking up new interests or hobbies is one way to meet new people and add some sparkle to life and not just for 90 year olds.

As well as having real benefits in your personal life, life-long learning is an essential for anyone who wants their career to develop. Some roles, such as accountancy and indeed HR (I’m a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development) require you to demonstrate CPD or Continuous Professional Development on an annual basis to maintain your membership of the Professional Institute. Even where there is not this impetus for action, it’s important to keep learning new skills and gaining new experiences so that you remain “marketable” in today’s challenging jobs market.

At a minimum, it puts you in a stronger position to retain a role when restructuring happens, as employers value people who embrace change by learning new skills and show an agility in adapting to new circumstances. Ensuring your skills are marketable also helps you secure a bigger or promoted role in-company or elsewhere, based on a track record of learning to maximise your contribution.

Thinking about life-long learning from an organisational perspective, it’s a depressing fact that many employers when faced with tough economic conditions will immediately cut their Learning & Development (L&D) budget. It’s seen as an easy target, but this is short-sighted.

The UK Commission for Employment & Skills (UKCES) publishes comprehensive and robust surveys on skills needs and training in the UK. In 2011, 87,500 businesses from all sectors took part with survey results showing that 59% of businesses invested in training with an equivalent of 4.3 days’ training per employee per annum and 7.8 days per person trained. UKCES acknowledges that organisations that train and develop their staff will not only survive in a tough economic climate, but are also two and a half times less likely to cease trading. A compelling case for the value of learning you would think, so why is the figure only 59%?

Learning & Development needs to make a business case at all times and particularly in difficult times. In 2009, the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) published a guide titled ‘Promoting the value of learning in adversity.’ Its messages are still relevant and emphasise the need to show how L&D can strategically add value, by focusing on how L&D can help solve problems, build agility in the organisation and support change, all outcomes that employers value hugely, especially when times are tough. The report also recommends continually selling the benefits of L&D, getting early buy-in from stakeholders and using appropriate business metrics to measure contribution.

For me, life-long learning is a given and the benefits are significant.

On a personal level, it makes life a lot more interesting and supports career development and progress.

On a business level, it delivers improved performance, more cost-effective solutions and a capability to stay ahead of the game.

There is also strong evidence that employers who invest in L&D improve staff motivation and increase employee retention. So, what are you doing today that’s new?

Liz Taylor is an independent HR Consultant with a FTSE 100 background in high street retailing and the drinks industry. She specialises in practical solutions in times of significant change by supporting individuals to make the most of their careers and organisations to maximise their performance. Liz is also a Trustee of Upward Mobility, an Edinburgh based charity working with people to develop self-confidence, the opportunity for expression and the making of friendships.

3 Comments on Life-long learning

  1. Anne Casey // July 2, 2013 at 6:58 pm // Reply

    Curiosity has been mentioned several times in the articles this month. It is a trait which keeps us searching and asking, why? Something that as we get older helps us to stay healthy in our mind. Obviously training is required in business but it is just as important in all aspects of our life, throughout our life, as Liz makes clear with her example of Betty.

  2. Training = investment.
    Investment = spend
    Whilst this simple scenario dominates the leadership mindset accomapnied with the drive for ROI then genuine corporate/business learning will suffer. As long as pure financial return and self preservation dominates corporate culture then true development of individuals will never happen.
    It is short sighted and self protecting but unfortunately true.
    “Let them continuously improve if they want to, we are safe and sound in our own World of the past. Oh, what do you mean, what is my exit strategy?”

    • Liz Taylor // July 10, 2013 at 9:00 pm // Reply

      Hi Phil, many thanks for your comments …… the good news is that enlightened companies do see the benefits, although they are in the minority. I was fortunate enough to work for one of them and know firsthand the impact on motivation and teamwork. Liz

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