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Lifelong Learning

In a sluggish economy and a workplace that is transforming at a speed that can make your head spin, how can entrepreneurs ride out the uncertainty and the changes?

Monique Verduyn

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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 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+.

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Company Posts

Rethinking Learning In The 21st Century

The changing world of work has disrupted the three elements of the traditional ‘career’: Expertise, duration, and rewards.

Wits Plus

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Vital Stats

Traditionally the concept of a ‘career’ was considered to include three elements:

  1. A career represented our expertise, our profession, and ultimately our identity.
  2. A career was something that built over time and endured. It gave us the opportunity to progress and advance.
  3. A career gave us financial and psychological rewards. It made life meaningful and paid us enough to live well.

The changing world of work has disrupted all three elements: Expertise, duration, and rewards.

A career can now be as long as 60 years; at the same time, due to rapid advancements in technology and the changes that bring about in the workplace, skill sets can become obsolete in as little as five years.

Increasingly, companies need to rethink the way in which careers are managed and learning opportunities are delivered, and many have already begun to overhaul their career models and L&D (Learning and Development) infrastructure in line with the digital age.

Related: Your Investment In Knowledge

Employees’ learning behaviour is also changing. In the past, employees were able to obtain the skills required for their career early on and as a once-off; now, the career itself is a journey of learning, up-skilling, re-skilling and continuous reinvention to remain relevant and to thrive in the changing world of work.

Older employees who studied at a time where most of one’s learning occurred prior to entering the workplace, find themselves working alongside millennials who place greater value on learning and progression rather than on earning potential as a first priority.

Eighty-three percent of the respondents surveyed in Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey say their organisations are shifting to flexible, open career models that offer enriching assignments, projects, and experiences rather than a static career progression.

However, in today’s fast-paced business world, even if companies are restructuring L&D delivery, no one is going to make you engage in a strategy that is essential to your future success – continuous learning. You will have to take the initiative yourself.

Noted self-help expert W. Clement Stone, in his many writings on this topic, recommended that one spends anywhere from a half-hour to two hours a day in study and thinking time. This tireless dedication, combined with an insatiable curiosity, will equip you to excel in the future world of work. What’s more, learning new skills and knowledge can be fun!

The good news for both companies and for employees is that an explosion of high-quality content and digital delivery models offers employees ready access to continuous learning. The Wits DigitalCampus offers a range of accredited and fully online short courses to support your continuous learning.

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Company Posts

Your Investment In Knowledge

When you understand the value of knowledge, in this world where technology is rendering previously expensive products or services much cheaper (and even free), it’s just a matter of getting more of it. Dedicate yourself to constant learning!

Wits Plus

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Vital Stats

Most people spend their lives collecting, spending, and worrying about money — so much so, in fact, that they say they “don’t have time” to learn something new.

However, some of smartest and busiest people in the world — Barack Obama, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates — all spend at least one hour a day on deliberate learning. They see what others don’t: That learning is the single best investment of our time that we can make. As Benjamin Franklin said long ago, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

When you understand the value of knowledge, in this world where technology is rendering previously expensive products or services much cheaper (and even free), it’s just a matter of getting more of it. Dedicate yourself to constant learning!

One of the very benefits of ongoing technological advances is that it empowers an accelerated and personalised learning experience that puts the learner in the driver’s seat. Modern learning harnesses the speed, power and ubiquity of digital capability. Online platforms, software and mobile devices means that the traditional hurdles to learning — such as income, status and location — have just about disappeared. Knowledge can now be gained by anyone with the passion to pursue it and the commitment to stick with it.

Related: Building Customer Relationships

We are only at the tipping point of what future learning technology can deliver. Artificial intelligence (AI) will transform all aspects of human capital management, including learning. Technology-enabled learning will be immediate and directly relevant to the task, for example:

  • personally tailored learning content and experiences delivered to you as and when you want or need them
  • chatbots and virtual assistants can source and categorise the information that you need for optimal decision-making
  • augmented and virtual reality simulations can provide a multi-sensory experience to speed up and embed learning.

Additionally, social connectivity already enables user-generated content to outpace and outstrip what traditional education and learning institutions can deliver.

Knowledge may be the new money but, unlike money, you don’t lose it when you use knowledge or give it away. Transferring knowledge anywhere in the world is free and instant. It’s fun to acquire and it makes your brain work better. It helps you think bigger and beyond your circumstances. It puts your life in perspective by essentially helping you live many lives in one life through other people’s experiences and wisdom.

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Entrepreneur Today

How Are South Africans Feeling About The Work Environment?

A new study reveals individual fear that their skills will outdate and a growing need for lifelong learning.

Andrew Johnston

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A research report by MasterStart has found that just 23.8% of working South Africans believe their current skills will keep them employed in ten years’ time. With the burgeoning Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerating the pace of change in the world of work, most South Africans are looking to ‘future-proof’ their careers. And for 95%, lifelong learning is the key to retaining relevancy.

Related: 15 Of The Best And Most Unusual Online Courses For Entrepreneurs

Based on a survey with a sample group of over 1000 people across varying demographics and industries, the MasterStart South African Workforce Barometer uncovered that – while artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) are on the radar – other factors are currently seen as more immediate factors impacting job retention.

Andrew Johnston, CEO of MasterStart says, “Our workforce is clearly concerned, but positively, our research revealed that people are aware that frequent upskilling and reskilling will aid them in remaining relevant and employable.

In a country where unemployment is an ongoing issue, it’s imperative that we empower people to future-proof their careers by making lifelong learning opportunities continuously accessible in order to bridge critical capability gaps and compete with global standards.”

Some pivotal findings in the report included:

  1. It’s tough out there: 80% of the sample believed the job market to be tougher now than it was ten years ago. People in media and marketing especially agreed with this (92.9%), along with those in the manufacturing (87.9%) and financial services (87%) industries.
  2. Why’s it perceived as so tough? Both macro and micro factors were listed, including the political and economic climate, increased competition, fewer employment opportunities and rapid change.
  3. Age and lack of skills are the biggest barriers: While age was referenced most frequently as a barrier to future employment – especially for those over 50 – in the 18-24 and 25-34 year old brackets, lack of skills was seen as the most prohibiting factor.
  4. People in IT and tech felt most secure about their skills: Collectively, just under half the sample felt they’d been held back by lack of skills. 30% of participants in IT and tech were completely confident their skills would survive the ten year test. Those in other industries were noticeably less secure.
  5. We’re not yet comfortable sharing our workloads with robots: Close to a quarter of respondents felt AI had already impacted their industry, but just under 20% said they were completely comfortable sharing their workload with robots or processes automated by AI. Surprisingly, 18-24 year-olds had the highest level of unease about this.

Lifelong learning is the best way to remain relevant

Whilst the Barometer found a workforce in a somewhat sombre mood, positively, people were putting plans in place to learn further to acquire the skills they need.

It was good to see that 80% of respondents were planning to study in the future, with self-enrichment being the primary motivator (66%), followed by the aspiration to get further and be promoted (54%) and the desire to keep abreast with industry-related changes (41%). 58% of people favoured online learning, and a number had already completed courses.

Johnston says, “This shows a workforce that’s committed to continuously learning the new hard and soft skills that’ll entrench the adaptability required to survive the breakneck pace of the workplace.”

Those that had already studied listed the ‘big gains’ as being:

  • Tangible results: like a salary increase, promotion, skills (to be more marketable), more experience and more opportunities.
  • Higher performance: like better knowledge, keeping up-to-date, better understanding of the way the workplace works, faster completion of tasks, and having to employ fewer people as they had the skills themselves.
  • Better motivation and soft skills: like being better at dealing with people, the ability to explain concepts to clients, and overall improved communication skills.

Johnston concludes, “Given the competitiveness of the market – which will only increase with the rise of automation – having a sought-after skillset is the best way to guarantee ongoing job retention.  This means using learning to get to grips with AI and RPA in order to build efficiencies and one’s overall value-add.”

He says we also need to consider providing alternate adult education programmes to give young people the best chance of gainful employment, “It’s important we make ongoing online learning materials easily accessible in ‘snackable’, bite-sized pieces to make learning easier.”

Lastly, he believes a lot of learning is up to corporates, “Providing ongoing executive-level education grooms great leaders and provides turn-key or customised solutions to bridge big capability gaps to foster greater efficiency, productivity and profitability. Our research shows that South Africans are hungry to learn – so companies that provide this opportunity will have a greater chance of talent retention, and attraction.”

To find out more, access the MasterStart South African Workforce Barometer report here.

 Related: 6 Free Courses That Can Help You Become A Successful Entrepreneur

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