career development

Career Development, 2021 Style: Learning How to Learn

Think back to your first day of work with your first major employer.

You probably arrived early on your first day, ID card ready, and experienced a week full of inductions, walk-throughs, and hand-shaking introductions.

Now imagine if your first day took place in April 2020.

Your first day would probably be spent in your bedroom, opening a laptop and trying to figure out how to log on to Microsoft Teams or Google Workspace.

In a similar fashion, your mentors were also coming to terms with new technologies, new processes, and the dramatic events unfolding all around them.

It’s almost as if they were experiencing their first day in a new job, too.

The extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted everybody.

But most notably, it had a profound effect on the career development of younger generations and those entering the workforce for the first time.

Focus on Young Workers

Grappling with personal concerns and anxieties during a global health crisis is one thing, yet young workers also had to cope with:

  • Organizational learning taking a back seat, with leaders focusing on surviving the crisis rather than integrating new workers or transferring skills
  • Lack of authentic relationships; communicating with and meeting coworkers and mentors took place virtually, without the benefit of in-person interactions
  • Absorbing a diluted, online version of company culture, without the benefit of informal coffee, lunch, or hallway chats
  • Learning to work with new platforms and systems without in-person support
  • Working from challenging environments–such as shared housing or in a multigenerational household

By concentrating on learning and career development, business leaders can help workforce entrants find their place within organizations and focus on building their skills for the future.

Organizational Learning

Why is organizational learning important for career development?

An organization that empowers people to learn will drive personal growth, job satisfaction, and loyalty. In turn, this leads to greater performance and in-house skills.

Indeed, at a time when employees are choosing to quit their jobs rather than go back to the office, organizations must find more effective ways to find and retain talent.

(Let’s not forget, this also comes at the time of a global health crisis, the worst recession since the Great Depression, and a dire skills shortage.)

That’s why it’s crucial to invest in learning and development in your organization, but this doesn’t just refer to hard skills.

The Need for Soft Skills in 2021

Organizational learning comes in many different forms. Developing soft skills is arguably the top priority during this unprecedented moment in history.

But, the soft skills required now are markedly different from those of just five years ago.

The World Economic Forum’s top skills for 2020 places complex problem-solving at the top of the list, followed by critical thinking and creativity.

In 2015, the top three included skills related to in-person interaction, such as coordinating with others and people management.

“Employers overwhelmingly agree that young employees need soft skills, such as communication, creative problem-solving and entrepreneurial thinking,” according to the World Economic Forum.

Positively, all of these skills can be learned. The key difference is that in-person learning has, for the most part, been replaced by distance learning.

This may be new for many workers, particularly those working remotely for the first time.

That’s where the process of re-learning comes in, or “learning how to learn.”

Learning How to Learn

In 2018, Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, explained how to become better at learning, tackle skills gaps, and enable career development.

“A growing body of research is making it clear that learners are made, not born … In short, we can all get better at getting better,” Boser says.

Boser outlined three key behaviors to help workers focus on learning:

  1. Organize your goals: First, set achievable goals and plan each stage. This strategized approach will help to strengthen the commitment to tasks while minimizing feelings of self-doubt. “By setting targets, people can manage their feelings more easily and achieve progress with their learning.”
  2. Think about thinking: Also known as metacognition, “thinking about thinking” is the process of being more inspective. How do you know what you know? Could you explain it to a friend? Do you need more practice or clearer goals? Push yourself to really think about what you’re learning.
  3. Reflect on your learning: Have you ever noticed that when you step away from a problem, you achieve greater clarity? This process of reflection and focused deliberation is crucial for understanding. This cognitive quiet, says Boser, also helps explain why it’s so difficult to gain skills when we’re stressed or angry or lonely: “… for us to gain any sort of understanding, there needs to be some state of mental ease.”

Learning Starts Now

Young workers are the next generation of leaders in your workforce.

The sooner you can integrate them into your organization through a process of organizational learning and career development, the sooner they will become embedded in your culture and a part of your company’s future.

Consider the benefit of providing a virtual office membership to your remote employees and leveraging coworking options for future in-person collaboration. Investing in the well-being of your employees is investing in your company.

While nobody could have predicted the health crisis or its legacy, a positive outcome is that we can turn it into a process of constructive learning and equip young workers with a unique and invaluable set of skills for the future.