The rapid pace of technological change has rendered skills development more important than ever before‚ and therefore an ability to learn throughout our careers is vital. Alas‚ a recent study from edX reveals how few of us feel we have that ability in our work at the moment.
The survey found that despite over one in three of us having experienced a lack of proficiency in a key skill in the past year‚ nearly half of us felt uncomfortable asking our employer for help in developing our skills. Regardless of whether employees were lacking technical or soft skills‚ there existed considerable confusion about just who was responsible for ensuring skills development occurred‚ with around half believing it to be the responsibility of the individual‚ and a similar proportion believing it to be the employer’s responsibility.
A proactive approach
One company that’s attempting to take a proactive approach is the technology company Adobe‚ who provide employees with access to a learning fund that reimburses the cost of courses and other forms of professional development. The fund offers up to $10‚000 per year for degrees and technical certifications‚ or $1‚000 for various short-term learning opportunities‚ such as conferences and online courses.
The support is designed to help employees with the cost of tuition‚ course fees‚ course materials and certification‚ but the company does require that you pass the course with a good grade to qualify for financial support.
“Learning is something that’s taken very seriously at Adobe‚ as we appreciate the vital role our employees play in the success of Adobe‚ and so we want to make that investment in our people and our teams‚” Adobe’s EMEA President Paul Robson told me at the recent Adobe Influencer Summit in London.
While degree-level courses undoubtedly have their place‚ the rapid pace of change in the workplace is likely to necessitate access to shorter courses that allow for more modular learning that can be completed alongside clear need for those skills in our work. Various online courses aim to overcome the time‚ cost and location challenges that make learning in a bricks and mortar institution so difficult‚ and there has been considerable innovation in the delivery of online learning.
For instance‚ micro-credentials are increasingly available via platforms like edX and Coursera‚ with companies rapidly adopting these platforms to provide employees with flexible learning on the job. Few have done so with the gusto of tech startup C3.ai‚ who have been offering employees up to $1‚500 reward for completing a MOOC from the Coursera platform.
When I spoke to the company last year‚ 77 employees had already taken 177 courses across areas such as deep learning‚ neural networks and natural language processing.
The program is open to everyone in the organization‚ with employees from receptionists to executives participating to date. This learning feeds into a wider understanding of the skills available in the company‚ and of course the skills that are then lacking across the workforce.
The company has built on this foundation by offering the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne’s Masters in Computer Science to employees for free when they enroll via Coursera for Business. In addition to covering the cost of tuition‚ the company are also offering each graduate a $25‚000 bonus and a 15% salary increase.
“With this new opportunity for employees to earn a company-funded Master’s degree in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign‚ we are extending our efforts to create a culture of self-learning‚” Siebel says. “It builds on the enormous success of our existing program of rewarding employees with cash bonuses for completing various Coursera classes from a curated curriculum. Two-thirds of our workforce have now participated in that program‚ and we’ve paid nearly $1 million in cash awards to employees for completing courses. The return on that investment‚ in terms of furthering the knowledge and skills of our workforce‚ has been substantial. With the new Master’s degree benefit‚ we are doubling down on investing in our people.”
Speed of learning
The latest Human Capital Trends report from Deloitte highlights the crucial role continuous learning plays in the success both of individuals and organizations.
“In a world where technology is changing jobs and people are living longer lives with more diverse careers‚ organizations have not only an opportunity‚ but a responsibility‚ to reinvent learning so that it integrates into the flow of work—and life‚” Deloitte conclude. “In the age of the social enterprise‚ organizations will realize that creating and maintaining a culture of lifelong learning is not just part of their mission and purpose but is what gives their workers meaning both in and out of the workplace.”
The ability for employees to learn throughout their career will play a growing role in their success‚ both as individuals and as part of teams. The examples outlined above highlight some of the organizations that are taking this matter seriously‚ and providing the kind of support for learning that is vital to the profitability of their business. As the edX data suggests however‚ these vanguards are an exception rather than the norm‚ but hopefully they are showing the way and more and more organizations will follow suit and really invest in their people.
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