An executive manager told me that he does not hire anyone who does not display the desire to continue to learn new things and stay up-to-date on what’s current. He was head of the IT Department and said neither his employees nor the business could survive in the rapidly changing economic environment without learning this skill. To him, being someone who incorporated learning into their daily lifestyle was what gave his team and in turn the organization the competitive edge over its competition.
Two parts of his comments stuck with me:
- Being a lifelong learner is a skill.
- Lifelong learning is a competitive advantage.
Lifelong learning is a skill. That is a bold statement especially in a time when the “skills gap” and “soft skills gap” are discussed regularly. A skill is defined as the ability to do something well. Looking at lifelong learning from this perspective, anyone who is willing to squeeze something impactful out of each day through conscious or unconscious knowledge-seeking can be a master. We can all be lifelong learning achievers through upskilling, learning something new and working on closing skills gaps that exist so those employed feel empowered that their career choice is in their hands.
Lifelong learning is a change of mindset. It’s understanding that learning new concepts and ways of doing things does not start and end at a certain point. It is about formal and informal learning by traditional and not-so-typical sources and seeking learning opportunities in everyday actions. A recent article from Fast Company gives some great advice on how to seek and find something new nearly every day. By changing a mindset and practicing the art of continuously finding learning opportunities, you have found a skill.
Lifelong learning is a competitive advantage. Many current job seekers already understand this. Staying current on industry changes, enhancing skillsets that already exist and upskilling for “what’s next” are important traits talent managers hope to find in candidates. And since organizations often hire for a culture fit first, the continuous learner has the advantage of knowing to research the company thoroughly before applying for the job and dig even deeper if called for an interview. The continuous learner has a developed a network of learning tools to source for a clear understanding of an organization’s history, values, and business style while others may not realize this important step.
There is a line from the 1989 classic movie Say Anything that sums up how the need for lifelong learning has progressed. “Kickboxing, sport of the future!” Lloyd Dobler the main character proclaims in the movie. While kickboxing may not have materialized to the extent the character predicted, lifelong learning and upskilling have moved from a “sport of the future” to the need of today. The sport of lifelong learning must continuously be practiced and reviewed. As with fine-tuning any skill, it has champions who drive others to get involved and the skills gained give the competitive edge needed in the business world or to satisfy the cravings of a personal challenge.
Christine Johnson is President and Lead Learning Advisor for Cued Forward. She is a champion for connecting learning seekers with resources and learning experiences that drive a learner’s potential.