Lifelong learning: A tri-sector responsibility for ensuring relevance
In the learning and development circles, there is quite a bit of discussion about the importance of lifelong learning these days. While this is not necessarily a break-through idea, there is a critical question that is fuelled by access to micro-learning opportunities as well as the ease of tapping into digital platforms for developing new skills. The key question is who has the responsibility for lifelong learning? Businesses provide support for current jobs, the government provides support for educating youth, and non-profits support those in need. When it comes to developing new skills when your career is disrupted by technology advances, there is not a clear solution. In other words, it is up to you to maintain your relevance over the lifetime of your careers.
Most governments spend significant amounts on education, but this typically stops after university age. It would be great to see more ongoing support of vocational and professional education that is available for citizens later in life
This may sound okay, but most individuals do not have the discipline, means, or know-how to develop future skills. When autonomous vehicles arrive, who will facilitate the re-skilling of lorry drivers? While individuals clearly have a role, lifelong learning is really a tri-sector responsibility as the government as a vested interest in keeping people employed with good skills; the businesses want people with good talents, and the non-profit organizations benefit from ongoing skill development and progress. Let’s consider a lesson from history.
When the Boeing experienced a significant downturn in 1970, they released 35,000 employees, who were suddenly faced with a challenge of finding new employment in the Seattle Washington area. If you only know how to build airplanes, how easily can you find a similar occupation? This layoff was devastating for the city of Seattle due to the ripple effect on all the suppliers and supporting businesses, it had a significant impact on the economy and government. Non-profit agencies kicked in with some retaining efforts and the unemployment pay-outs from the government affected the entire state. We have seen other such layoffs around the world over the years as businesses are sometimes forced to make rapid adjustments due to shifts in the economy, technology disruption, or simply poor planning. When changes cause a reduction or elimination of certain skilled employees, the impact on the business, employees, and local community can be significant. How do we work toward preventing these situations and who is responsible?
Hence the importance of lifelong learning to maintain relevance as the cycles of disruption are coming more frequently to economies and industries all around the world. Of course, individual employees must take care to look out for themselves, but employers and government agencies should also do their part to support lifelong learning. Since all sectors have a vested interest in the human capital in their region, it would be great to see more tri-sector support for lifelong learning by government, businesses, and non-profit organizations:
Many countries have social systems to help people who are unemployed by providing retraining and perhaps other services to assist in the job search. However, this is often too late and can be a challenge as resources are often limited. Most governments spend significant amounts on education, but this typically stops after university age. It would be great to see more ongoing support of vocational and professional education that is available for citizens later in life. One example of this is in Singapore. The country has been proactive with its “Skills Future” program that provides annual funding for all Singaporeans to attend qualified courses and training in areas that may be useful for a current or future career. Investing in skills becomes a critical economic lever to attract and retain businesses in today’s globally connected world.
Large companies will provide training and on-the-job learning for employees for skill and professional development. In some cases, firms have corporate universities with courses tuned to fit the needs of the business and industry. While these are a great benefit for both the employee and the company, most organizations are not thinking about course offerings to help people find their next career. Yet, that is exactly what is needed when we consider lifelong learning. Recently, some proactive firms have started to recognize their role in ongoing learning of all types. For example, the global consumer products firm, Unilever, recently announced the introduction of an internal talent marketplace called “Flex Experiences” based on an AI-powered platform. The new capability allows employees to explore new areas with strong company support.
As technology advances accelerate and global shifts in the industry occur, it will be even more important to create new opportunities to develop skills or perhaps reskill
Many of the non-profit organizations are concerned with the welfare of those in society who may have special needs or require support. In many cases, these organizations receive both government and donation funding with a mission focused on an unmet need for a group of citizens. While there are several associations to help the disadvantaged youth and elderly in society, there is often not enough resources to provide proactive re-skilling services on a proactive basis. However, an initiative across the EU called the Lifelong Learning Platform has sponsored a network of non-profit providers to join forces in addressing cradle to grave education needs. The ambitious vision for the Lifelong Learning Platform is to ensure equity and social cohesion as well as active citizenship.
It is encouraging to see some examples from governments, businesses, and non-profit sectors supporting the lifelong learning needs of individuals. As technology advances accelerate and global shifts in the industry occur, it will be even more important to create new opportunities to develop skills or perhaps reskill. Of course, individuals must be proactive in seeking out opportunities to remain relevant and develop new competencies in their areas of interest. However, it is a tri-sector responsibility to provide opportunities and to encourage people to take the initiative. Working together, it would be great to see more efforts to support society’s needs for learning, developing, and preparing for the future.