Keep up at the back! The urgency of life-long learning

​Retraining a workforce to become more innovative is often seen as the business ‘challenge of our times.’

Nov 27, 2017
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This imperative has become all the more urgent because ‘technology is racing ahead of the skills people have,’ as this article by the FT’s Brian Groom explains. ‘Changing technologies and ways of working, coupled with longer working lives, are intensifying demand for new skills,’ he writes.

It’s a gargantuan task, given that one quarter of adults, for example, already suffer from poor literacy or numeracy, and is not being taken seriously enough. In the US, the share of workers receiving either paid-for or on-the-job training had fallen steadily between 1996 and 2008. In Britain, the average amount of training halved during a similar period to some 40 minutes a week. Even Germany is failing to keep up with the needs of the digital age.

The big question for L&D professionals though is ‘whether people ought to receive this continuous education from the state or their employer, or whether they must instead acquire it for themselves.’ There are some obvious areas where companies might take a lead. ‘Coding skills, for example, are sought outside the technology sector, with data analysts, designers, engineers, scientists and marketeers among those likely to need them.’  It’s not just tech skills that are in high demand. Softer skills such as problem-solving and communication are also valuable, given that so many technical jobs may soon be automated.

One such soft skill, that by definition cannot be automated, is charisma. A charismatic leader possesses ‘emotional intelligence, projects confidence and gravitas and exudes warmth,’ according to one coach interviewed by FT management writer Emma Jacobs, who asks if it can be learned. For some, it is a ‘special, innate quality that sets certain individuals apart and draws others to them.’ Others argue that is ‘a learnable skill or, rather, a set of skills that have been practised since antiquity.’

For managers who no longer believe in the hard graft of learning new skills, Andrew Hill provides a ‘handy guide to sorcery and superstitions in modern leadership’ with feng shui, an unquestioning belief in big data, leaps of faith, and hero worship among the many irrational fads in modern business.

Paul Lewis

Editorial director, Headspring

Paul Lewis is a writer and editor, specialising in business, management, economics and politics.