Lifelong learning Reloaded – you need to know that

VUCA world, digital transformation, artificial intelligence: our guest author explains why the time is ripe for further training and personal growth.

“Lifelong learning” is a household word in common parlance – either meant as an educational policy mandate or understood as a hollow phrase. The term “learning” is sustainably shaped and charged by the school. “Lifelong” can easily be associated with a punishment: In German criminal law this means 15 years. “Lifelong learning” has been part of the discussions of educational policy makers and employers’ associations since the 1970s.

In the past, employees who had completed their apprenticeship were referred to as “learned out”, but the situation is different in the 21st century. Due to the VUCA world and an explosion of information, there is an increasing inundation, which makes it difficult to filter and find current, suitable and relevant knowledge. Methodical and content-related learning become a permanent challenge. The change is taking place from an institutional (governmental or corporate) task to an increasingly personal topic – with individual willingness, openness and curiosity. Companies have the task of supporting employees and accompanying them on their own learning journey.

Taking responsibility for one’s own learning is the core of this – even if specific further training measures are paid for by employers, for example. The development is accelerated by the technological change, the company and the world of work: Digital business models, platform companies and the disruptive developments in various industries are putting existing companies under pressure and driving structural change in the economy. In the VUCA world, planning horizons are shortened. Companies drive more on sight. It is important to become agile and adaptive in order to react to changing customer requirements and disruptive competitors with the development of new products and solutions.

As a result, business models, company processes and role profiles are put to the test. Companies and employees are particularly in demand in the face of increased market or other professional requirements. In dialogue, companies are challenged to recognize potential and to present their employees with offers for the further development of the skill and tool set. The associated challenge is exemplified by the topic of automation: In the future, jobs will be lost, job profiles will continue to develop and the need for further training will increase.

Globally, 41 percent of respondents to a study stated that their worries about rationalizing their own jobs had increased in the twelve months prior to the survey. This was the result of a worldwide study by Stepstone and the Boston Consulting Group. In Germany, this value was only 28 percent – against the background of the corona-related advances in the digitization of the world of work. Closely related to worrying about losing one’s job is taking the initiative to gain additional qualifications and further training. In Germany, 55 percent of those surveyed indicated a willingness to retrain – significantly less than the 68 percent global average. The authors of the study conclude that there is a close connection between the feeling of being affected by the automation (mindset) and the willingness for further training and retraining (skillset).

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Career resilience or: investing in your own future today

Employees who see sole responsibility for their own further training with their employer quickly find themselves in a dilemma when it comes to automation: Many companies have a different agenda than their employees when it comes to automation. What is needed here is a growth mindset that is open to new challenges and shows a willingness for lifelong learning. This attitude promotes the resilience and sustainability of skills in the working world of the future.

Learning, shaped by the school context, is therefore closely linked to fixed, quantitative learning goals and qualitative qualifications. Further training in the VUCA world is specifically geared towards the needs of employees in the context of dynamic industries and companies in transition. Even if individual learning trips cannot be discussed here, the following aspects are relevant for Lifelong Learning Reloaded:

  • Professional-technical content: When industries change and new technologies are used, job profiles change. As a result, it is still important to acquire new professional and technical content and methods in accordance with the role in the company. Companies should discuss their potential with employees and specifically promote strengths. Supporting, financing and offering employees professional and technical training is becoming a key task for companies.
  • Personal responsibility: In Lifelong Learning Reloaded, personal initiative and responsibility for one’s own competencies are the focus. This includes recognizing risks and opportunities in one’s own professional field and building up skills in a targeted manner – also with the support of companies and government programs. Companies would do well to use curiosity management to encourage openness and willingness in their employees.
  • “Active unlearning”: Further training measures often mean the acquisition of new areas of knowledge. At the same time, the validity of yesterday’s knowledge comes under attack and the half-life of information is falling. Keeping your own knowledge up-to-date increasingly means actively unlearning in full awareness – wherever new findings refute old beliefs.
  • Integrated knowledge: The flooding with information puts the human filters under constant tension. The identification of relevant information becomes a key task. It is important to integrate them into the personal knowledge and competence profile. Beyond unsystematic collections of simple snippets of information, the aim is to create learning effects, to network areas of knowledge and to increasingly adapt to unpredictable demands on the job market.
  • Context competence: Depending on the context, information can also be in a different context. The reflective handling of information and the assessment of the sender or source is correspondingly important. In his book “Connections”, Wolf Lotter, author and co-founder of Brand Eins, explains that knowledge “first has to be made productive and put into context”. The added value of information therefore always arises from the respective thematic context – be it a technical, economic or social one. These areas are growing ever closer together in the VUCA world – and cause-and-effect relationships are becoming more diverse.
  • Continuous learning processes: “Trained” employees are a thing of the past. New situations, crises and the acceleration of technological change make ongoing training and adaptation essential. This is the only way to keep fields of competence up-to-date in the VUCA world and adapt them to new disruptive challenges. Lifelong learning Reloaded takes place in an environment of uncertainty and complexity.

In order to meet the challenges of the VUCA world, digital transformation and artificial intelligence and to shape the workplaces of the future, a new awareness of further training and responsibility for one’s own learning journey is required. Living practice can arise from an attitude of openness and curiosity: Lifelong Learning Reloaded.

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