My Purpose

 

Artist J. Howard Miller – buy here

Focus: Upskilling The World’s Workforce.

Mission: Building World-Class Learning Engines

We have a problem. Our current workforce is in desperate need of upskilling and the old ways aren’t working. A fundamental shift in the way we think about workforce development is needed.  

We have unused capacity.  Among the unemployed, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) is 1.8 million and accounted for 25.9 percent of the unemployed. Do you what you can learn in 27 weeks?!?!? The number of involuntary part-time workers, who want to work full-time but can’t find a full-time job, is 5.3 million. That is 7.1 million workers who want to work and have some time on their hands. And yet we have have unmet needs. The number of job openings is 6.2 million.

The workforce is also changing how it looks at work.  One key area is their changing attitudes towards retirement. Many Baby Boomers have delayed it due to economic reasons.  Others have found it necessary to un-retire. Generations from X to Millennial continue to re-evaluate their relationship with work.  This has created gap years, freelancing and other workforce dynamics not seen before. These workforce changes create challenges for institutions built for linear upward skill development.

Magnifying this problem is that the pace of change continues to grow. In Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, Thomas Friedman describes a world being continuously reshaped by technology, globalization, and climate change. As his subtitle notes, this is an “age of accelerations,” and all of us need to keep up or get left behind. Being replaced by a robot is one thing but moving into a better job and letting a robot take your spot is another thing entirely.

While innovation will need to happen in all aspects of education I believe the greatest innovations will come from those portions of the “lifelong learning” spectrum with the greatest incentives. That’s the economist in me speaking.  I think that the large enterprises and the corporate learning and development functions that support them are where the action will be in the near term. Simply improving the L&D functions of Fortune’s Global 500 touches over 67 million people.  Helping these L&D organizations innovate will allow them to better prepare the employees they serve for this accelerating world.

While improvements have been made in the last couple of decades, there continue to be challenges within the corporate L&D functions of large enterprises.  The connection to the business, necessary to provide learning that moves the needle on core company objectives, remains inconsistent.  The structure and processes used by L&D are often more a hinderance than a help.  Limited use of data in what is now a data-rich domain is also a challenge. In his book Friedman quotes AT&T chief strategy officer John Donovan on the company’s new pledge to its workforce: “You can be a lifetime employee if you are ready to be a lifelong learner.” My goal is to ensure that the learning offered by AT&T and other like them is the most effective and efficient it can be.

Innovation can come from all directions. I along with Ed Trolley have launched Running Training Like A Business v.2 to explore the potential applications of techniques used in other domains to the provision of corporate learning.  We have started with techniques used by early-stage, fast growing companies.  What can be learned from these industry disruptors regarding their approach to delivering value? Having spent the last 20 years with a foot in both L&D and startups this was a natural launching pad.

While RTLABv2 will be focused on actionable tools, techniques and concepts this blog will be my workshop.  This is where I will go down rabbit holes only to come up empty handed. This is where interesting ideas with no obvious home will be archived. This is where I will deliver the transparency that rapid innovation requires. Working together we have reshaped the  workforce before. We can do it…again.

All job statistics taken from the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics June 2017 Report.

 

Learning Hacks

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

The term hack has had quite a life since it came on the scene around 1150.  Associated with everything from cleaver to clever, it has evolved and remained relevant.  Widely associated with computer programming languages the term hack has come to be understood as a “shortcut”, a “fix”, a new way to do something using pre-existing means. For example a college cooking “hack” is using your upside down iron to make grilled cheese ala dorm (allrecipes.com has an entire section dedicated to it here).

We chose the term hack deliberately.  It reflects the imperfect, non-traditional, playful spirit we approach training and development.  To be clear, we don’t think that today’s practioners are bad or that the current approaches are wrong.  We simply think that today’s business environment has changed dramatically from the one that existed only 10 years ago.  Combine this with the emergence of a slew of new technologies.  Now add new generations of learners with fresh expectations and we can’t think of a better time to take a look at how training and development is done.

 

The Spark That Started It All

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

Over a dozen years ago I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. I was a consultant with the Forum Corporation, a corporate learning and development firm. How I, with no formal corporate learning and development degree, came to be there is another story entirely but it was this very lack of industry indoctrination that made what came next so interesting. Forum released a book, “Running Training Like a Business”, that became all the talk in the corporate training circles. In the book, the RTLAB authors suggested…wait for it…that training focus on driving the core business of the company. This was revolutionary in an industry that ranked itself on classroom hours delivered and employee satisfaction. WTF? Since I had not drunk the Kool-Aid this seemed to me to be the most obvious of instructions on how a training department could increase its relevance.

RTLAB 2010

Fast forward to today. The book remains highly relevant to many in the industry and is in fact used in some university teaching. Is it because the book was so forward thinking or visionary? Is it because the results of applying its tenets have been so impressive? No. It is because the industry is still where it was when I left it a decade ago. Sure some companies have evolved their training function. The word “learning” has replaced “training” for most and the toys at the practitioners’ hands have changed. But real revolution? Not even close.

Change is hard. Anyone that has tried to get a large company to do anything new will tell you that. But change is no longer optional. And business-centric thinking is a requirement not something that makes you an industry leader. Over the next week or so I will be working to better define what I think running training like a business means in today’s business environment. As an industry, corporate training and development must re-examine everything from the way that it is organized, the way it produces its product and the measures it uses to determine its success.

Homo Learnicus?

I was lucky to be a small part in Forum’s efforts to make a change (I am mentioned in the acknowledgements which thrilled my Mom). But with a decade of business building under my belt it is time to take a fresh look. Economists talk about homo economicus, the perfectly rational actor in the market. Learning professionals have a similar prototypical learner, with identified general skill gaps and certain learning predispositions, whose performance they seek to improve. Neither exists. Today’s business environment requires ideas not ideals and the admission that the professionals are not the keepers of all the answers, the market (or the learner) is.

I do not wish to disparage the current learning professionals, many of whom I know and call friends. The best of them are smart, capable and making a difference in their organization, often with limited resources. This is also not about applying new technology in support of the current process. No this is about looking at the underlying principles and assumptions through the lens of today’s business environment. Self-preservation, both as an individual and as an industry is a strong force so I know I will likely upset some readers. If it in anyway advances the discussion then I am fine with it. And they should be too.