Posted: 28 May 2024 4 min.

Making lifelong learning a strategic imperative for business

Topic: Talent & Lifelong Learning

Do you remember ‘Cinema Paradiso’ – the movie about Toto, a fatherless boy, and Alfredo, an aging movie operator in the local cinema of a small Sicilian village?

It is a deeply emotional story about how their friendship develops as Alfredo teaches Toto the secrets of traditional filmmaking and how to operate a projector with reels. But the movie is also a story of an industry transformation and the boundless potential of lifelong learning.

Today, both films and projectors are digital. The development in the film industry has been nothing less than mind-blowing. In just a few decades, we've transitioned from analog films and manual projectors to digital formats. Current movies can, in principle, be entirely generated by AI and played on your mobile devices in high resolution while you are working out on your home trainer. This rapid and dramatic shift underscores the need for lifelong learning to keep pace with technological advancements.

This is just one example of an industry undergoing massive changes due to recent technological and societal developments. Many other industries are experiencing similar changes. The result is a pivotal shift in the need for lifelong learning within companies and organizations.

While Alfredo could run Cinema Paradiso most of his life with the skills he acquired as a young movie operator, Toto had to leave Sicily to pursue his dreams as a filmmaker. And today’s young generations will have to learn and adapt at a speed and in ways that Alfredo couldn’t possibly have imagined.

Our educational model is outdated
In Denmark, the state has invested massively in education over the past three decades. While in 1995, we used DKK 62 billion to educate people after elementary school, we now use DKK 82 billion. This investment has played a significant role in maintaining Denmark as one of the world’s most competitive, wealthy, and equal societies. Education is a prerequisite for highly productive industries, high-productive jobs and, ultimately, a welfare state.

However, almost all public funds for education are spent on young people under 35 years of age. When it comes to investments in adult and continuing education, the public funds are a lot less! 

It seems irrational that we initially spend five years at the university and then work for the next 40 years – for most people without any thorough upgrade of their capabilities.

In the book ‘The New Long Life’, Lynda Gratton and Andrew J. Scott argue that advances in technology and longevity have yet to be matched by supporting innovations to our social structures. Our three-stage life of education, work, and retirement is no longer suitable for the modern world. We need a multistage life with more transitions. And here, we cannot just rely on the state.

Businesses have to step in and step up. They must play a crucial role in promoting and facilitating lifelong learning.

Making your company a cool place to stay
With people changing jobs more often than before, companies might feel reluctant to invest in their employee’s development. But the investment is a pressing necessity. It not only makes an excellent case for employee retention, it also empowers companies to be at the forefront by building capabilities that allow them to adapt to industry shifts, drive innovation, and meet market demands.

The benefits of such investments are potentially enormous. It is thus about time that CEOs rethink their approach to lifelong learning.

In taking a more thorough look at their approach to lifelong learning, companies could, for example, begin by asking themselves the following four questions:

  • What capabilities do your organization need to succeed in the future?
  • What internal processes and learning systems do you already have in place to support lifelong learning?
  • What incentives will best encourage your employees to maintain, develop and expand their capabilities?
  • What are the most important internal factors currently hindering their lifelong learning?

This is by no means an easy task. Or as Alfredo would have put it: “Life isn't like in the movies. Life is much harder”

Forfatter spotlight

Nikolaj Malchow-Møller

Nikolaj Malchow-Møller


Nikolaj Malchow-Møller, Head of People & Purpose Nikolaj er leder af Deloitte Danmarks People & Purpose og en del af koncernledelsen. Nikolaj brænder for udvikling af mennesker i ”det læredygtige samfund” og står i spidsen for at udvikle Deloitte Danmarks program for livslang læring. Han drømmer om at skabe en arbejdsplads, hvor en diversitet af talenter kan udvikle sig professionelt og personligt i inspirerende, inkluderende og trygge rammer gennem hele deres arbejdsliv. Han har over 25 års erfaring med ledelse, forskning og udvikling af talenter, herunder som rektor for Copenhagen Business School og som professor i nationaløkonomi.

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