Imagine you have nearly 15 years of experience under your belt and have earned regular promotions throughout your career. Naturally, you’d probably feel that you were up to speed in your field. That’s the situation Toby Barnard found himself in after working for the Armed Forces for 13 years in professional development.
But after joining IBM as their Talent and Engagement Consultant in Europe, where he is responsible for the company’s continuous learning programs for employees, Toby quickly saw how much opportunity there was for continued education.
“I realized there was so much more out there that I could learn, and that’s been a key point in my career after landing at IBM—having the opportunity to continuously learn and develop myself,” Toby explains of the past six years.
Now, Toby prioritizes his own education, regularly using Your Learning, IBM’s continuous learning platform, and watching TEDx talks that relate to his field. “I use and discuss what I’ve learned, sometimes even writing white papers or giving presentations,” he says.
So, why should you put in the effort? Toby explains:
Why You Should Continue Learning
Beyond keeping things fresh to sustain your professional creativity and passion, learning keeps you relevant in our ever-changing world. And, it’s arguably the best job security tool you could have, not to mention that achieving higher levels and honing new skills is a great argument for seeking promotions and raises at work.
“Organizations can’t keep transforming if their employees aren’t learning and their skills aren’t aligned with shifting business demands,” explains Toby, stressing the importance of creating an environment in which learning is encouraged and failure is safe as long as employees learn from it.
“All managers should make learning a core goal for their employees. It’s directly related to their team’s and their company’s success,” he says. “Employees should get the time and support to achieve learning–and be recognized for it.”
His best advice for professional development? Take personal responsibility for your learning.
So, now that you know why you should continue to learn, here are Toby's top tips for doing so on the job.
Decide What You Want to Learn
First, consider how and in what way you want to develop yourself.
Start with broad industry knowledge, which can help you pinpoint areas that most spark your curiosity. Read broadly and often. Your reading list should go beyond regular news. Follow both general business news, like the Harvard Business Review, as well as blogs related to your field. You can also join virtual communities related to your field to read and participate in discussions with your peers.
Try to work in at least half an hour of reading and professional networking each day. As specific topics in your field inspire and interest you, explore them further. Once you identify where you want to specialize, try to attend relevant conferences and even take specific courses to further your knowledge.
Take Full Advantage of Your Company’s Resources
Companies with the most effective continuous learning programs make their resources accessible, personalized, and engaging for employees. Take IBM’s Your Learning platform as an example. Powered with Watson’s artificial intelligence analytics, Your Learning integrates formal, informal and social learning formats and curates content for each individual learner. This Netflix-style development platform offers employees a set of channels to choose from. Employees can see how others have rated the various offerings and there’s also a live-chat adviser, who is available to help them at any time.
And, employees earn digital badges based on the level of expertise and experience in specific skills they have completed, which is a great way to empower employees, keep them engaged, and perpetuate the culture of learning.
“When you’re allowed to influence your training in this way, following your own interests and even adding material you find on your own, the learning experience is irresistible. You can gain control, create your own learning pathways and develop your skills in a faster and more efficient way,” Toby explains. Customization is something the IBM Learning platform offers by getting to know you as a learner and providing personalized learning recommendations based on not only your job role, but your learning patterns and personal interests.
To get started, do some research and ask around. If you’re new to an organization, there may be a learning portal you aren’t familiar with yet. And even if you’ve been somewhere for years, policies may have changed and there could be budget available for online courses or conferences.
Once you’ve dug around a bit, check in with your manager and HR about the resources that are available and how you can best fit this into your regular work schedule. It’s not uncommon for organizations to allow employees to make time for professional development during the workweek.
Ask for More Learning Opportunities at Work
But, if you’re left wanting more when it comes to professional development resources at work, don’t let that deter you, Toby advises. When asked how employees can push for more learning options, he suggests starting by demonstrating how it will help your company.
“Have a vision of what your organization wants to look like, and show how employee learning fits into that," he explains. Companies must recognize that the environment is constantly changing, he says, and that their responsibility to clients to stay up-to-date and relevant with the latest knowledge and tools can be best met by empowering their own employees to keep learning.
If your company doesn't offer an accessible internal learning platform or have the resources to create one, Toby suggests employees lead the charge by requesting access to readily available external training and learning services.
“Be curious," he says. “Go on forums, watch TEDx, be active in LinkedIn communities. And within your day to day, remember that learning happens everywhere. Reach out to your peers and communities both within and outside of your organization,” Toby says. “Continue to stay curious and find the way to always be learning.”
And make your own suggestions. If there is a professor from a local university that is an expert in a topic you want to learn more about, see if your company will organize a lunch and learn session with him. Be vocal about what you're interested in, and suggest ways to make it happen.
So, take a proactive approach when it comes to your education. And remember, learning can happen in many different ways. Don't discount what you can get out of a podcast on a favorite subject, or email digest focused on your industry. The important thing is you're soaking up the knowledge, and using it to better yourself and your career.