December 1, 2014
Sharks need to swim continuously in order to breathe. In today’s global market, you must continue to learn to survive. The landscape around today’s workers is constantly changing, and you must change with it.
To meet these challenges, every business should be in the business of learning. Take advantage of any opportunities for training or professional development that your role offers you. And if you run your own business, be sure to provide learning opportunities for your employees. You’ll be rewarded with a smarter, more adaptable workforce.
Educate or Die
Businesses succeed in one of two ways: Either they achieve operational excellence or they innovate. Operational excellence means you do things your competitors do, but you do them better, faster or cheaper. In order to maintain this competitive advantage, you have to keep yourself and your employees on the cutting edge of new techniques and advances in technology. Otherwise, your competitors will catch up.
The other way your business could succeed is through innovation, i.e. doing things no one else does. Here the connection between learning and innovation is obvious. In order to continuously break ground in your market, you need managers and employees who keep their finger on the pulse. They must know about any new possibilities resulting from new research and development in their field. You can’t innovate if you don’t maintain your knowledge base.
Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. It’s also about recognizing what you are doing and how you can do it better. After Action Reviews modeled on the U.S. Army’s method for evaluating itself provide a good example. The key is to build into your process a time for your managers and employees to look back on their work, describe what they did, and consider ways they could improve their processes.
Such evaluations require a supportive, truth-friendly environment. Evaluations don’t work if employees are worried about speaking their mind. Those higher up the chain must be seen to be listening and accountable to feedback, and to model a good approach to receiving constructive criticism. Removing the fear of failure and making feedback a welcome part of the workplace education process will help you and your employees learn and get better.
Learning Goes Online
Education is happening online more and more. Colleges and universities are offering more distance learning options than ever before. Some are fully online. Others involve a mix of both, with an on-campus “bootcamp” opening the program before transitioning to a set of online courses.
The latest trend in online education is an explosion of mostly free courses called Massively Open Online Courses (or Moocs). Schools like Yale, Harvard and M.I.T. have begun offering these smaller, more adaptable courses for learners who need flexibility. The New York Times reports that over 4.5 million students enrolled in moocs last year, with that number expected to rise to 6 million in 2015. Whether distance learning or moocs work for you, the options are there to help you learn without having to attend a traditional classroom.
Funding for Continued Education
While many moocs are free, the vast majority of continuing education classes have tuition costs. There are a variety of options to help with these costs. Consider offering grants to your employees who want to take courses to improve their skills. Also, investigate what grants, scholarships and loan programs are available in your area to help your coworkers with tuition.
Many schools offer funding options to lessen the costs of tuition for their students. Be sure to check on school websites to learn about the various options available for funding for continued education. Colleges and universities also have offices that provide extensive information on all the available funding options that they offer or their students can access in the area. Gathering this information for yourself or your employees is the key to figuring out how to fund your continued education.
Continued Learning is For Everyone
There are no limits on who can benefit from ongoing learning. There are opportunities for everyone, and often very good reasons for you to jump in. Workers in health care management have found that the changes to their industry involved in the Affordable Care Act are motivating them to go back to school. Shifts in your industry can create powerful reasons for you to retrain or offer retraining to your employees.
Women who have taken time away from their profession to raise their children can benefit from continued learning as they attempt to re-enter the work force. Many continuing education programs are particularly designed to help women get back in the game. JPMorgan runs a work force re-entry program specifically for women in this situation. Whatever your situation, whether your industry has changed or you have, there are continued learning opportunities for you or your employees.
Today’s global market is subject to more rapid changes than ever before. Retraining and continuous learning are essential in order for you or your business to grow and succeed. Finding the right program and funding options for your employees isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.
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