Much has been made of the abbreviation of employment tenure, now averaging just four years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it’s true, the notion of a mortarboard-to-gold-watch career has been largely replaced by at-will employment, outsourcing and automation. Educating workers for lifelong careers has been disrupted by the searing pace of change.
But there’s something else happening that tends to get short shrift in the discussion about this new career normal. Some responsibility for learning and development has shifted from corporations to workers.
Traditionally, a graduate in an entry-level corporate job could expect a clear learning program and career path. Expertise was accumulated over years or decades as they moved up the ranks. Today, the shelf life of useful expertise is so short that even the best corporate L&D departments can’t reskill existing staff at the pace their organizations need. And with unemployment the lowest it’s been in decades, corporations can’t easily hire expertise from the outside, either.
To cope with this double-whammy, some employers are moving away from the command-and-control training model of the past. Now, in-stead of exclusively organizing internal skills development, corporations are also encouraging employees to steer their own development. Airbnb, Intel and Mastercard, for example, equip staff with a diverse set of learning resources, career navigation tools and mentor networks, while New York Life and GitHub provide flexible budgets employees can spend on books, courses and learning tools of their choosing.
Tim Munden, chief learning officer of Unilever, identified this in his “The Future of Work” podcast: “The individual is fundamentally responsible for driving their learning. You cannot force people to learn. They’ve got to be hungry, and [the job of employers] is to create a culture that encourages that curiosity and that hunger.”
Mind you, this isn’t the first time that responsibilities have shifted from employers to workers. Previously, fixed-pension benefit guarantees became employee retirement contribution plans. Employer-sponsored health care became co-pay plans. Even responsibility for IT shifted with “bring your own device” policies. As a result, some workers found themselves unprepared and shorthanded, while others reaped the rewards of increased access and involvement.
To mitigate the risks and maximize the benefits of the new workplace self-training paradigm, employees need to stake a claim in their own expertise development. Here’s how you can help them do so.
First, encourage them to think of reskilling as a game — one they now have more control over winning. Learning channels are more diverse and accessible than before, and new opportunities emerge quickly.
Next, help workers manage their skills with regular checkups to evaluate their current expertise against market conditions. Encourage them to study industry growth areas and marketplace job openings to learn where expertise is lacking and monitor corporate newsletters and town hall broadcasts for trends in the expertise that employers are seeking. You can then help them evaluate where they are falling behind or where attractive adjacencies to their existing skills exist.
You also can help them plan out their skills development in incremental stages. A full-time degree isn’t the only way to progress. They can start slowly by consuming articles, books, podcasts and how-to videos on a daily or weekly basis. Advance to a short online course, seminar or boot camp every few months. Then round out their abilities with a stretch work assignment or a comprehensive certificate.
Finally, work with employees to pinpoint opportunities to put their new skills into action. The L&D department can provide a system of record that identifies and validates skills that employees have developed on their own, allowing them to be top-of-mind among decision-makers when opportunities to use those skills arise.
In this new expertise economy, skills are the currency of competition. Workers who take their own expertise development seriously today will be the big winners of the reskilling game in years to come.