The Talent Opportunity: Working As Learning in the Near Future

At a glance, the world today looks very different than it did even ten years ago, when it seemed possible for companies to simply acquire the talent they needed, or to plug in remote workers to fill specific needs. Post-financial crisis, there was quite a bit of artificial slack built into the labour markets. Even then, however, the talent crunch was already looming, its magnitude hidden by the vagaries of a boom-and-bust economy driven by short term cycles.

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Åsa Einarsson

It's a new world now and talent is scarce despite the ongoing economic recovery. Research by Gartner indicates that the growing talent shortages everywhere are having measurable business impacts. The median time to fill critical roles increased by 30 business days in the seven years following 2010. This has resulted in stifled productivity, less innovation and slower business growth.

Looking out into the future, a 2018 study by the Korn Ferry Institute projected that by 2030 we could experience a global talent shortfall of 85 million workers, approximately the population of Germany. Researchers estimated that this would amount to a $8.5 trillion loss to the global economy.

Technology Accelerates as Education Stalls

In reality, the widening talent gap has been developing over the last half century, as technological development and the rate of innovation has outpaced the cadence and structure of traditional education.

Students today graduate and must immediately reskill if they are to find meaningful employment. New technology along with new ways of working require the ability to learn on the job, to solve problems, and to work as a team. As this happens, knowledge and expertise is being produced by and owned by the companies that create it.  After conducting research into companies that prioritise learning, Edward Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia in the US, concluded that, “Learning is the unifying theme that can allow an organization to be both operationally excellent and innovative.”

For learning-oriented organisations, the talent crisis has been an opportunity to excel.

How Talent Development Impacts Profitability

Even when unemployment expanded to its maximum in the developed world and created a temporary pool of flexible talent, accelerating innovation, emerging technologies, and the competitive nature of global business were already placing new demands on businesses. As the US and more European nations approach full employment, the full scope of the problem is becoming obvious.

Companies who want an edge in the market are nurturing and developing their own talent, and creating unique value in the process. These companies are owning and controlling their own intellectual property, and creating an environment that support a culture of innovation, from ideation to implementation.

Developing talent within their own workforce will be crucial for companies that want to reinvent themselves in the modern world where the next game-changing innovation has already been prototyped. True innovation is happening in discussions over how, when, and where to get to market first.

According to LinkedIn's 2018 report on Workplace Learning, 94 percent of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. Two thirds of those workers prefer to learn at work and more than half (58 percent) prefer to learn at their own pace.

"The workplace, rather than the traditional education system, is becoming the new producer and owner of knowledge and intellectual capital."

Learning + Unlearning

Digital transformation requires not just a fixed set of skills or competencies, but also the ability to learn and unlearn rapidly, combine talents collaboratively, and resolve complexities more creatively.

The structures that support shared workplace learning are more flexible and dynamic than inherited traditional models. New pathways are built directly through the redefined workplace, where learning is happening in discrete packets on a daily basis. New platforms support and capture the learning already happening all around workers, rather than extracting them from this dynamic environment to train in a sterile environment.

Education and training today is integrated into the workplace, even crossing over into personal enrichment and development. As professional and personal development come in closer alignment, the workplace becomes the center of growth and development. This fosters a supportive culture that drives loyalty, engagement and creativity.

7 Reasons Why the Future of Work Requires a Collaborative Approach to Learning

Here are some of the ways the workplace is changing to keep pace with rapid cycles of learning and unlearning:

  • Work is becoming more dynamic - it is no longer defined by rigid roles and responsibilities, but adapts quickly to changing conditions.
  • Work teams are often distributed across far-flung geographies, bringing together a rich diversity of cultures, perspectives, and learning styles.
  • Innovation is inherently experimental as functional hypotheses must be tested quickly and data mining helps identify hidden opportunities for growth.
  • Remote locations and flexible scheduling means that workers co-create with the business their own ideal working conditions, and to learn as they go.
  • Increasingly, workers and customers search for a greater sense of purpose at the companies they support and they are increasingly select for only the causes that motivate them.
  • The highly visual and social nature of learning in this new environment means that it is experienced in sporadic chunks and bites rather than in a longer, more formal classroom setting.
  • Radical new technologies have emerged that promote collaborative learning, including the Cloud, AI, and the automation of manual processes.

The workplace, rather than the traditional education system, is becoming the new producer and owner of knowledge and intellectual capital. Companies who are able to provide a structured but flexible format for this learning to happen will be able to produce their own knowledge and develop their own talent.

This is a powerful position for any company to be in.

The Evolution of Learning

Learning has looked the same for decades, with rows of students facing an instructor. The reality is that knowledge transfer is rarely a hierarchical process in the working world. With the advent of social technology, learning has become decentralised, collaborative, and agile.

We created Loops and our collaborative learning maps to reinforce the learning processes that occur in everyday situations. Since 2017, we have partnered with more than 50,000 users and enterprises who have chosen Loops as their internal framework for intelligent learning and development.

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Åsa Einarsson, learning designer, L&D strateg & processledare, Loops Education.


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