What Companies Need to Do to Encourage Continuous Learning
Vasudeva Devapura Venkatachala Rao
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With the rapid pace of change in the IT industry, knowledge is the most valuable currency. For IT professionals to compete and succeed, they need to invest time in continuous learning. In addition to improving skill sets, boosting confidence in capabilities, and preparing professionals for change, ongoing career development benefits the organizations they work for.
With current knowledge of trends, tools, coding language, and more, IT professionals will be better positioned to solve day-to-day IT challenges and prepare their companies for future technological changes.
The company’s role
With the tech world undergoing rapid integration, it’s no longer possible for IT professionals to be proficient in every available platform. From information science and systems to computer software, hardware, and data security—they are all separate disciplines. Offering training in these different disciplines to employees is crucial to meet the new challenges in the IT world and ensure their businesses thrive.
Some companies simply hand out printed documents, job aids, and e-books to employees, telling them to teach themselves about evolving technology. This method is outdated and not effective. To remain competitive, teaching and learning need to be far more sophisticated. That means investing in classroom training, workshops, on-the-job training, and research opportunities are essential. By committing to multi-field learning, IT companies can create smart, capable employees who can move the industry forward while simultaneously becoming better developers, testers, managers, and leaders capable of taking on challenges with greater skills.
Benefits to employees
Continuous learning also offers a boon to employees, both in their day-to-day jobs and their career development. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, increases their confidence in their current roles, enables them to tackle issues, boosts their problem-solving skills, and allows them to apply the knowledge they have acquired in other positions. These skills don’t just look good on their resumes; it also allows them to bring more experience, knowledge, and a variety of techniques to their next project, where they will continue to grow. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report noted that 94 percent of global employees stated they would stay at their companies longer if they invested in their career development. Its 2022 report revealed that in the wake of the pandemic, 72 percent of leaders believe fostering a culture of continuous learning is critical. LinkedIn Vice President of Talent and Development Linda Cai noted, “People are rethinking how, where, and why they work. And they’re in the driver’s seat as employers try new things to attract and retain great people.”
Continuous training and professional development
Training is more connected to the person’s job and what they need to do their best work, such as a software developer learning a new coding language. Professional development focuses on helping employees move up in their careers and be better able to deliver solutions across the board.
Both are necessary, but there are downsides to continuous learning if it is not approached correctly. Companies need to provide the right type of training in a suitable environment. Plenty of companies offer some form of training. However, they don’t explain its purpose to their workers. Consequently, many workers aren’t invested and do not take the training seriously. Even employees who request training rarely have the right focus and mindset because they are simply occupied with completing their projects by the deadline and addressing day-to-day priorities.
On the other hand, those who approach continuous learning seriously with long-term goals in mind and who are supported by their employers experience greater benefits. They share their findings with their colleagues on LinkedIn and other work sites and encourage and motivate others in the industry to undertake training and professional development.
Fostering an environment of continuous learning
Companies tend to focus more on delivering products in a timely fashion and making their clients happy rather than on cultivating their employees’ growth. Creating committed workers who will take full advantage of the new skills through continuous learning starts when management emphasizes professional development.
Senior Director of Learning and Development at Paylocity Joe Dusing stated in an interview with Worklife News, “In today’s labor market, people want to know that development programs exist in an organization and if they don’t, that’s a red flag for them. New employees expect paths forward to both grow skills and further their careers.” However, traditionally, conversations with employees about their goals and aspirations tend to happen during the yearly appraisal cycle. Even if management determines an employee needs coaching or mentoring, it tends to be forgotten promptly by both employer and employee. A better approach is for management to reinforce a key interest in reviewing the training and professional development needs of their employees by offering training at least once a quarter.
In return, employees need to assist management by creating a professional plan. Management should pose the following questions to employees: What are your long-term goals? What problems would you like to solve? What do you see as the purpose of your job? Employees can work with management to identify the skill sets they require and what to work on.
Network, network, network
Networking is a core part of continuous learning, even though many in the industry tend to avoid it. Networking is a perfect opportunity to ask questions and seek advice from peers, industry experts, and those in senior roles, particularly if employees aspire to serve in these roles.
Also, it is important for mentorship to be a core component of management strategy, with every employee being assigned a mentor, no matter how experienced or capable the employees are in their fields. Mentors should encourage their mentees to participate in ongoing training and professional development, review their progress regularly, and advise them on how to improve continually.
Certification as a core asset
Beyond in-house training, if companies hope to compete in the growing tech world, they need to allow and encourage employees to undertake outside certification and cover the financial cost. Certification builds skills and motivates employees to learn more. There are multiple certification programs for IT professionals including, but not limited to, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, Microsoft Azure, and Project Management Professional (PMP).
Some companies balk at paying the fees for these types of certifications, particularly if they see no benefit to employees in their current positions. Not only is this a short-sighted approach, but by refusing to lay out the relatively small cost for an employee’s certification, the employee becomes demoralized, and motivation to learn is curtailed.
Collaboration with content training companies
There are also excellent and cheaper online courses offered through Udemy Business, LinkedIn Learning, Pluralsight, and Docebo, with thousands of courses. Companies can sign up for an account with third-party training content companies and allow employees access. These courses, however, provide no opportunity for participants to interact, ask questions, or clarify any issues, which means employees won’t be able to obtain deeper knowledge on the topics they study. Still, this is a golden opportunity for IT companies to collaborate with third-party training companies by building systems together, particularly as companies actively try to identify current and future needs in the industry.
Creating a value culture
For companies and individuals to succeed in an evolving IT market, employers must do more than solely focus on an employee’s resume. They need to invest as much time, energy, and effort in their employees as they do in their profit margins. In the wake of the pandemic and the subsequent “Great Resignation,” some companies are slowly starting to see the value of investing in continuous learning. According to a 2022 Capterra study, 49 percent of companies are now increasing their learning and development budgets, compared with 41 percent in 2021. By helping their workers study, discover, and nurture their professional aspirations via continuous learning, a company’s investment in its staff will pay off with well-rounded employees capable of tackling the ever-changing challenges in the industry and contributing to a healthy bottom line.
About the Author
Vasudeva Devapura Venkatachala Rao is an associate director IT delivery with more than 23 years’ experience. He has wide-ranging engineering, program and project management expertise, managing large-scale implementation across domains and technology solutions. He holds a master’s degree in computer applications and can be reached at email@example.com or on LinkedIn.