Make Skilling A Life-long Goal

The absorption of digital technology in all walks of life has made the skilling ecosystem very fluid

If you are reading this, you may also likely recall Abraham Lincoln's famous quote: "If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first six of them sharpening my axe." I would cringe as much as the next person to even think about editing Lincoln's words. While the great leader's words written more than a century ago are as invaluable today as they were back then, the 'sharpening' part may need some updating. So here goes: If you have eight hours to chop down a tree, take a break every few minutes to sharpen the axe.

Today professionals and organisations are grappling with a special kind of challenge. The shelf-life of vocational skills is constantly shrinking. This may be more pronounced in the technology business, and the way even manufacturing is getting smarter these days, this challenge will soon be universally even. While life-long learning is an obvious solution that we all acknowledge, it is yet to seep into our culture. There is a historical reason for this.

As a nation, we woke up to the value of skilling (even before we get to upskilling) pretty late. We invested in national institutions like ITI or Industrial Training Institute for over six and half decades. Regarding relevance, that idea fell by the wayside because it could not keep up with the changing needs of its principal stakeholder – the industry. It was not until 2009 that India came up with a skilling policy. For over a decade, we are still grappling with the skill gap challenge across every conceivable sector. Pedagogy, content, and quality trainers continue to be critical areas of challenge and scaling up is not happening fast enough. If this was not challenging enough, we have a whole new dimension added to it now – digitalisation. 

By its very nature, the absorption of digital technology in all walks of life has made the skilling ecosystem very fluid. What was learnt a year or two ago may not be very relevant. This is a problem not just for the professionals (to stay relevant and hold on to the job), but for organisations too. We hear about technologies like machine learning, data science and artificial intelligence and think of them as something alien to our life. If you have a bank account, car, or order food online, you are already a big consumer of these technologies. The point is technology is a vital part of our lives more than ever, and we are going to need a very robust skilling ecosystem to be able to manage the supply side effectively.  

Under a broad umbrella of Learning & Development L&D, businesses are addressing this challenge, but with mixed results. The spectacular growth in the number of edtech companies and the endless reports about the growing skill gap across sectors are testimonies to both these facts. But there is something more we should be doing: making continuous or life-long learning a cultural phenomenon. In our business, we call it upskilling.

Such a skilling ecosystem's logistics are complex, but our collective attitude towards life-long learning is the more significant challenge. We are used to stopping learning once we are out of college. This is a very linear and siloed approach, i.e., we have put an age limit on learning and see skilling as a very transactional one-time investment.  

So how do we make this a cultural thing? I believe this has to happen at the organisational and individual levels. In the case of the former, we can make career growth heavily dependent on the relevance of skills, providing the means and opportunities to learn at an individual's own pace of learning and doggedly advocating upskilling by telling individual success stories.  

At an individual's level, the first step must be to create an insatiable appetite to learn. Financial or other material incentives to keep learning are one thing, but in the long run, life-long learning can be sustained only by a deep love for learning and knowledge. I think this is best summed up by Microsoft's Satya Nadella when he said 'learn-it-all does better than the know-it-all' as a mantra for the growth mindset.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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