Careers and learning: Real time, all the time

By Bernard van der Vyver and Bill Pelster

Right now the concept of career is undergoing a radical transformation. With employees in the workforce for 60-plus years and a declining half-life for skills, workers are looking for an environment that offers constant learning and development (L&D) opportunities. Employees are no longer learning to gain skills for a career; now, the career itself is a journey of learning.

Take millennials. For this up-and-coming age group, the “ability to learn and progress” is now the principal driver of a company’s employment brand—and 42 percent say they are likely to leave because they are not learning fast enough.i It’s a 24-7 digital world and these employees want “always on” learning experiences that allow them to build skills quickly, easily, and on their own terms.

HR and L&D departments are already struggling with this new career-learning paradigm. Improving employee careers and transforming corporate learning emerged as the second most important trend in the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report. Nearly half of surveyed executives cite upheaval in learning and careers as urgent or very important.

But what’s the best way forward? The answer lies in flexible, open career mod¬els. These models allow for enriching assignments, projects, and experiences rather than a static career progression. Mobility in an organization will involve cross-functional learning and problem-solving—drawing on the explosion of digital learning tools available—exposing workers to new opportunities, mentors, and technologies. Employees are increasingly empowered to decide what to learn based on their team’s needs and individual career goals, rather than what is prescribed by managers or the traditional career model. It’s no longer “up and out” but a career that can move in any and all directions.

The challenge is that this is almost the complete opposite of most L&D mandates. Instead of linear learning and career development, it’s a shift to learning that inspires people to reinvent themselves—encouraging, even pushing, them to move across jobs. Instead of delivering a suite of courses that enhances skills in a given role, it’s a move to interdisciplinary knowledge that’s shared across the organization.

This new trajectory will require L&D leaders to move out of their comfort zone. The good news is that they have a growing number of tools at their fingertips—tools such as YouTube, Coursera and many more now offer access to an enormous amount of high-quality, free or low-cost content which offers organizations and employees ready access to continuous learning. L&D departments need to tap into this ongoing commoditization of content or risk watching their learning programs become obsolete. Flexible, open career models will give L&D professionals a chance to reinvent themselves as well, becoming part of the entire employee experience.

Leading companies are already embracing dynamic career models. Top names in consumer banking and telecommunications have rolled out new models to retain employees by offering ample reskilling opportunities and the ability to change roles. Some initial steps any company can take to start this transformation include:

  • Evaluate internal mobility: study existing patterns of career mobility and begin more aggressive programs, including developmental and rotational assignments
  • Review the organization’s job architecture: be sure it is as nimble and streamlined as possible to support new career models
  • Build a culture of hiring from within: hold managers accountable for supporting internal candidates in new roles
  • Track learning metrics: forward-looking companies are collecting and leveraging this data
  • Refocus the L&D team: move toward curation, culture, and bringing people together
  • Rethink the entire L&D technology infrastructure: this may involve replacing core LMS with new learning-experience software
  • Rethink the corporate university: bring people together for cross-functional and interdisciplinary programs in addition to great learning
  • Manage the employment brand: tools such as Glassdoor keep metrics on whether a company provides opportunities for career growth—and potential hires take note

These recommendations should help enable employees to explore, learn, and develop within their current setting—and not by moving on to the next company. What steps are your organization taking to build a flexible and dynamic career model? Tell us about it in the comments section below. 

Christie Smith and Stephanie Turner, The Millennial majority is transforming your culture, Deloitte, 2016, pp. 1–15,, accessed December 21, 2016. 

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