Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning

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In the Future Work Skills 2020 report, the Apollo Research Institute found that the future workplace will require ongoing education to master new and emerging skills, and gain knowledge of disciplines outside our own area of expertise.

According to the report, longer lifespans will enable us to experience multiple careers over our working lives. That means adults in their middle and later years will become more common faces at business schools and universities. Staying on top of technology and new media is also critical in a technology-driven world. As clearly stated in the Future Work Skills report, the workers of tomorrow will need to be adaptable, lifelong learners.

Short courses

When it comes to short courses at universities and higher-learning organisations, Professor Amanda Dempsey, Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences Executive Dean at University of Johannesburg, says it’s important to choose an established organisation. “Avoid fly by night institutions which offer questionable courses. Universities are safe and regulated environments where content is proven and up-to-date.”

She notes that economic development is a much needed area of expertise in the country, which makes courses in finance and accounting very popular.

“Short courses are attractive options for people who are in the workplace and either want to beef up their skills or make a small shift in their careers,” Dempsey says. “It’s important to do some homework and ensure that you know the NQF level of the course you are interested in. There is no point doing a course which is at NQF level 4 when you already have a university degree, for instance.”

She also advises prospective students to be aware of the demands of their work environment. “You may have the best of intentions, but if you cannot come to class or complete your assignments on time because of work demands, you will not be successful.”On the whole, she notes, adult learners are far more likely to succeed than first-time students as they tend to be focused in what they want to do and have a more mature approach to their studies.

Going online

Many working adults who cannot afford to ignore their ongoing professional development, can’t just quit their job and complete a full-time course. Nor do they have time for evening classes. That’s where online learning makes sense.

“Online courses offer all of the benefits of a physical classroom, without the rigid limitations of classroom scheduling and travel requirements,” says Rob Paddock, MD of online education company GetSmarter. “The popularity of online education in South Africa is growing exponentially. Most of our students haven’t studied since they finished University, but once they get started, they find the experience of completing an online course and learning new skills deeply satisfying.”

Paddock says there are significant benefits to going the online route: “You can continue your studies without quitting your job. You can engage in a rich and interactive learning experience with access to a subject expert and a community of fellow learners, and you get access to support and motivation to help keep your studies on track.”

He advises people to seek proof from students who have studied with an online learning provider before signing up. “Make sure you speak to a past student who can give you feedback on the institution’s administrative and academic service. Also, ensure that the provider offers courses which are accredited by a reputable institution.

Working with a coach

Professional coaching focuses on using a person’s strengths to enable them to achieve their goals or overcome challenges. An experienced coach uses tools to get straight to the fundamentals of your success or your problems, instead of trying to cure the symptoms.

“A professional coach will help you to identify which skills to develop,” says Axel Rittershaus, president, Cape Town Chapter, International Coaching Federation. “It does not make sense to develop skills for the wrong reason, which often happens with training. If the real goals and needs are identified, your coach will keep you going towards your goal and help you to improve with every interaction.”

Harry Welby-Cook, head of ActionCOACH SA, says coaching is not a quick fix, but it is an excellent choice for people who feel they may have reached a plateau in their personal development and want to move to the next level. “Our clients have often seen their turnover double or triple following their engagement with a coach. One client achieved 600% growth. A lot depends on how invested you are in the process.”

Coaching is not regulated, so make sure you engage with someone who has an education and a verifiable qualification. “The ICF recommends at least 60 hours of coaching training,” says Rittershaus. “Don’t settle for someone with business experience only, as they will not have coaching know-how.”

He also recommends finding a coach who has ‘real world’ experience in business.

You have to be able to trust your coach. It’s essential to meet with them and get an impression of the person to see if he or she is right for you. “Empathy and trust are critical as you will be sharing information about yourself and answering some tough personal questions,” Rittershaus adds.

Top Tips

Never stop learning
Turn knowledge into experience.

Long-term business success relies on continuous personal growth. Achieving that means being better today than you were yesterday, and being better tomorrow than you are today. A common mistake for many entrepreneurs is that they “just don’t have time” to work on the things that will make them better at what they do. They get caught up in the daily operations of their business and can’t see past that. You may have heard the old saying that some things are urgent and some are important, but few things are both. Many business owners spend their time on the urgent things because their lack of planning and long-term perspective continually creates additional urgent things. Self-education is a good example of something that is extremely important but not at all urgent.

What you must do is immerse yourself in data and make it your goal to absorb and understand that information, turn it into knowledge and then use that knowledge to gain experience. This, of course, is a long-term task, and the main reason most people fail to stay with it is because the feedback loop is so long. It often takes months of hard work before you start to see positive changes — you won’t see the changes as they happen, but you’ll look back one day and be amazed at how much your judgement and business skills have grown. You’ll feel yourself start to think more clearly, you’ll understand more of what you see and hear, and your entrepreneurial vision will become clearer.

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.