Don’t Wait For the Future to Arrive to Build a Learning Culture

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Oct 26, 2018

Emerging technology like automation and advancements in data analytics will require vastly different future work skills.

This change is already apparent with the rise of roles in fields like social media marketing and artificial intelligence — disciplines that hardly existed 10 years ago. But how do company leaders ensure employees have the future work skills they need to fill these continuously emerging (and ever-changing) roles? For Trish McFarlane, author of the HR Ringleader blog and a 25-year veteran in the HR industry, this question is personal.

When she left her job as an HR leader at professional services company PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2007 to become a consultant, McFarlane was asked by one of her first clients to develop their corporate trainings around social media. McFarlane threw herself into the work and became an expert on a subject that, at the time, was new to many.

“When I think back to my own career and getting into social media, I remember there were people at the company that hired me who didn’t understand what I was doing, and honestly, neither did I,” says McFarlane. “But I knew enough to know my future job had not been created yet and I had to somehow figure out how to prepare myself.”

Over the last decade, McFarlane has made it her priority to help companies and their employees embrace future work skills by adopting the ethos of her first project — jump into the unknown head first and be willing to learn. Here, she explains how managers can help employees grow in an ever-evolving workplace.

Future skills

Many jobs are being replaced by automated technology, paving the way for new positions that require a new set of skills. In order for organizations to prepare their employees with the skills their workforce will need in the future and provide the right training for those skills, McFarlane encourages companies pay close attention to the latest trends impacting their industry. For example, how will the growing popularity of AI in recruiting change the skills recruiters need to do their jobs? Are there online courses or trainings recruiters can take now to familiarize themselves and prepare for the technology their company will be using in the future? By maintaining an awareness of industry trends and helping employees develop a web of transferable skills, organizations can better prepare for the future.

Encourage continuous learning

The best way to help employees adapt quickly to rapidly changing technologies and acquire the work skills of the future is to have learning be the norm—not the exception. Make continuous learning part of the company culture, encourages McFarlane. This way, when your company decides to introduce new software or make a big change, employees can simply build in the new skills to their learning routine rather then having to figure out how to balance learning a new software and a full workload at the same time.

To initially get employees interested in learning, McFarlane encourages HR leaders to find out about employee interests and passions outside of work — hobbies, side gigs, volunteer opportunities. Are they using a skill during their time outside of work that might prepare them for a future opportunity in the pipeline?

“If someone was a deacon in their church or maybe they did bookkeeping for a volunteer organization, consider how to bring those skills into the workplace and enhance and grow them even if it’s not in their day-to-day job right now,” McFarlane says. These hidden skills can also be discovered through assessments, mentorships, ongoing discussions or performance evaluations. Then, set aside some time during the work week for them to improve on those skills.

Increasing employee skills beyond what is immediately required for their current role will help prepare an organization for future jobs that may need to be filled. By paying attention to workplace trends and making learning a staple, employees will have the skills they need to thrive in the workplace of the future.

This article originally appeared on ReWork, a publication exploring the future of work.