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It’s time to develop a lifelong learning habit

27 August: As we start thinking of a future beyond COVID-19, it’s a good time to adopt a lifelong learning approach. Career futurist Helen Tupper explains how.

There has never been a better time to think about how you learn. Over the past five months, the way we work has changed beyond recognition. COVID-19 has simultaneously encouraged people to consider what they want out of work and seek out opportunities to upskill as job insecurity has increased. This is a long-developing trend on fast-forward.

Helen Tupper, co-founder and CEO of modern careers firm Amazing If and co-author of The Squiggly Career, has spent years looking into the way careers and learning is changing. She explains that as people work for longer, they think more about the value they get from their careers. They’re more interested in exploring and learning as a result. 

“People are going to have four different careers in their lifetime,” says Tupper. “There's a World Economic Forum report that says 50% of the skills that people have today are not going to be relevant in 2022. We're going to be doing jobs that don't exist with skills that we don't know that we need.”

At the same time, organisations are also no longer predictable. They don't want people to stand still as a result; they want people that are adaptable and constantly learning. “At its simplest, you need to approach things with a growth mindset. You need to be thinking about how you keep learning all the time, not just learning about what you need for the job today, but other skills that might help you in your job in the future.” 

Core skillset

It pays to build relationships with people outside of your immediate network, Tupper advises. Be curious about other organisations, individuals and sectors, and be open to feedback.

“Technical skills are still really important and more so for some roles than others,” continues Tupper. “But it's not enough just to have those anymore. A lot of HR directors look for adaptability as a core skillset. It’s worth looking at LinkedIn’s top soft skills, such as creativity, adaptability, curiosity, they are some of the skills that will futureproof you, which pairs with your professional qualification.” 

‘Learn-it-all approach’

For those at later stages of their careers, Tupper says it’s never too late to start taking a ‘learn-it-all’ approach, particularly as retirement can be an opportunity to pursue further career options, from a side business to consultancy or a non-executive directorship.

“Even though you might feel like you're at the end of your corporate career, you might not be at the end of your personal career or your career possibilities. It might just be that you're going to enter a new phase.”

As a leader, you should look to create a 'learn-it-all' culture – it starts with you, says Tupper. You need to lead by example, look to invest regular time in learning, ask people for feedback, and make it visible. 

“Make sure that learning isn't seen as going on a course; that holds people back. Around 50% of our learning is experience-based, 25% is exposure and 25% should be education. So helping people to really think about what learning looks like and how can you learn through your role not just through going on a course?”

The language that you use as a leader is important. Talk about career possibilities, rather than career plans. Stop talking about ‘next steps’ and start using terms such as ‘levelling up’ “It's not about what we call a ladder language. It's more about telling people where you are interested in moving to.”

Build learning momentum

Lifelong learning doesn’t have to take up too much time; you don’t need to make it too formal. Tupper talks about using learning moments to build learning momentum. “It could be that I will ask you for some feedback after this call, that will be a learning moment. Or I might spend 20 minutes a day listening to a podcast or ask someone in my network about their career. That's all learning.”

To get started, you might want to plan some daily learning, but it will still become a habit, giving you that learning momentum. “It just starts to happen; you start to look for learning. Even better, if you can find people who are curious about the same things as you are, collective learning is shown to be even more effective.”

However, you approach lifelong learning, the need for it is certainly not going away, and the time couldn’t be better to start building the habit. “Your ability to keep learning, unlearn what you’ve learned before, and then relearn what you need to go forward, no matter what level you are at, is fundamental.”

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