The Lifelong Learning Imperative: Why Continual Learning at Work Should Be HR’s Priority


Digital transformation has altered how we work and is set to bring about even more changes in the near future. Lifelong learning is essential for employees and employers looking to keep pace. In this article, we discuss:

  • Trends that have led to the rapid rise of lifelong learning
  • Five reasons why you need to incorporate lifelong learning at work
  • Insights from BenchPrep’s CEO, Asish Rangenekar

K12 and college education is only the beginning of a person’s learning journey. As skill requirements change and new learning opportunities emerge, people are actively upskilling themselves within and outside the workplace.

Take the example of women in technology. HackerRank’s surveyOpens a new window of 12,211 women developers revealed that they are acutely aware of market skill requirements. 59% of hiring managers are looking for JavaScript skills, and although only 50% of Gen Z women know JavaScript, 35% of the remaining respondents plan to learn it in a year.

Scenarios like this indicate the active interest employees are taking in lifelong learning. Education is now viewed as a continuum, with adults eager to explore new terrain outside the boundaries of formal curricula. Could HR gain from investing in lifelong learning in the workplace?

The answer is a definitive – YES!

Learn More: How Can Organizations Close the Skills Gap? IBM Offers an AnswerOpens a new window

A Changing Skills Landscape Calls for a Change in Mindset

The idea that one’s graduate degree or early-career-stage specialization will determine all future roles no longer applies.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) reportedOpens a new window that as many as 375 million people across the world would need to rethink their occupational categories in the face of digital transformationOpens a new window . The WEF also noted McKinsey’s findings that suggest how skills that are perceived as important today (data input, equipment operations, etc.) won’t be relevant in the future.

In short, those who engage in lifelong learning will gain a competitive advantage. And companies investing in lifelong learning in the workplace will benefit from more agile, future-ready talent.

Ashish Rangenekar, CEO of BenchPrep, told us how lifelong learning could play a massive role in engaging/maximizing today’s workforce.

“It starts with the demands, expectations, and desires of our workforce. Upskilling and reskilling are c-level issues as millennials indicate training & development is their #1 job benefit, ahead of flexible work hours and cash bonuses,” he said.

“This speaks to an even greater need: Ensuring our workforce is prepared to fill not only the jobs that are currently available but those that will be created owing to the rapid evolution of tech,” he added.

So, why should HR pay special attention to lifelong learning at work? We believe that there are five clear reasons.

Learn More: The Robots Are Coming – Skills Workers Need to Future-Proof Their JobsOpens a new window

5 Reasons Why Lifelong Learning at Work Makes a Difference

A dynamic business environment means that the shelf life of skills will get shorter. Companies will require a new set of skills every half-decade (or even every year) – to take advantage of fresh business opportunities. And employees will have to meet this demand.

Vodafone’s 2019 surveyOpens a new window of 1700 respondents found that 70% of businesses agree on the increasingly short shelf life of skills. Lifelong learning could be the answer to this challenge, offering five benefits:

1. You empower people to go beyond their formal education

In many cases, formal education won’t reflect the capabilities and ambitions of an employee. This is particularly true for disadvantaged geographies of the world, where the formal education system isn’t equipped to meet demand. Or, an employee might have pursued a course during college, only to discover later that their interest lies elsewhere.

Lifelong learning is an effective way to break through these constraints. It allows employees to diversify or upskill, according to market needs or their personal aspirations, and increase their employability.

2. You build a workforce that’s resilient to automation

Automation has introduced a tectonic shift in job roles and occupational categories. Between 2004 and 2009 alone, the U.S. witnessed 40 mass layoffs Opens a new window – impacting over 7 million workers – due to technology changes. And in 2019, the BBC reportedOpens a new window that up to 20 million manufacturing jobs around the world could be replaced by robots by 2030.

To make your workforce resilient to this shift, you need lifelong learning at work. Instead of only role-based training sessions, employees should get a chance to continuously learn new ideas and concepts, increasing future-readiness. For instance, an employee now engaged in equipment operations could learn more about Industrial IoT and gradually transition to a connected “smart factory.”

3. You bridge generational and gender gaps in skill sets

This is an important driver for lifelong learning. There is a clear generational divide when it comes to digital skills, and different employee groups may not enjoy the same level of digital literacyOpens a new window .

Apart from age, factors like socioeconomic background, gender, or country of origin might play a role. For instance, women comprise only 35% of undergraduate degrees in STEM fields, despite leading in the number of college degrees overall, as noted byOpens a new window Diane Fanelli, vice president of global system integrators, Citrix.

Lifelong learning levels the playing field, giving every employee equal opportunity to upskill themselves with zero stereotypes.

4. You make your company an “employer of choice”

Did you know that employees who are happy with positive learning opportunities in the workplace are 21% less likely to leave the organization?

This finding from Degreed’s survey Opens a new window of nearly 800 employees (in partnership with Harvard Business Publishing) indicates the value candidates attach to lifelong learning at work. By making learning a part of your benefits package (via sponsored online education, partnerships with universities, etc.), you can strengthen your employer brand as “employee and growth-focused.”.

5. You positively impact employees’ mental wellbeing

This impact of lifelong learning is often ignored. Employees might be anxious about the viability of their job roles in the near future, as technology transforms your workplace. Or, they might simply lose motivation, doing the same set of tasks day after day.

Lifelong learning curbs the risk of “falling into a rut” as they say, keeping employees actively interested in their work. This impacts one’s mental wellbeing (as employees are closer to reaching the self-actualization rung of Maslow’s pyramidOpens a new window ) while contributing to your company’s profitability.

“The impact is felt both by professionals who want to be trained for modern positions and employers that need to fill these positions to achieve their business objectives,” said Rangenekar.

Learn More: Can Data Help Close the Language Skill-Gap?Opens a new window

The Bottomline: Lifelong Learning is Good for Your Company and Society as a Whole

The writing is on the wall. Technology shifts like AI and automation, as well as the rapid breaking down of international barriers, calls for a whole new set of skills, very fast. From new languages to familiarity with new tech, from soft skills to hard skills, the ambit of learning is expanding continuously.

By investing in lifelong learning, you do your part for the global economy, building a better and more profitable future. And it also helps your company in the five direct ways we suggested. Rangenekar recommends HR to leverage external sources for effective lifelong learning at work. These freshly equipped professionals can then act as mentors and coaches internally.

“HR can look at external sources to power upskilling in areas for which the organization doesn’t have the resources or expertise to offer training. This can bolster internal training so that employees can bring what they’ve learned from third parties back to the organization with peer-to-peer training,” he said.

As we progress towards a technology-driven, human-steered, and more equitable business landscape, lifelong learning will be the secret to success. Organizations that understand its individual and societal import will stay a step ahead of the competition, no matter the external c

Is lifelong learning part of your agenda for 2020? Tell us on FacebookOpens a new window , LinkedInOpens a new window , or TwitterOpens a new window . We are eager to know about your strategy!