The world of work is going through a fundamental transition. In the age of digitization, automation, and acceleration, companies have a new imperative: to build workplaces in which employees are encouraged and given the opportunity to learn new skills as a regular part of their work lives. Workers of the future must be quick to evolve, constantly developing new skills. This is what Kelly Palmer and David Blake, two top officials at Degreed, argue in The Expertise Economy: How the Smartest Companies Use Learning to Engage, Compete, and Succeed.
The onus is on businesses to make this happen, they write. “While government can be a powerful force when it comes to launching skills initiatives, it’s companies and their leaders who need to lead the way.”
I interviewed Kelly about what businesses, employees and workers of the future — including today’s graduates — should know in order to come out on top.
“Expertise is any organization’s most crucial asset.” -Kelly Palmer
There have been previous major shifts in the world of work, such as the Industrial Revolution. Over the past couple of decades, there’s been a technological revolution. Now, we’re looking at an Expert Revolution, in which workplace skills are the most important currency. That’s why we call it the Expertise Economy — expertise is any organization’s most crucial asset.
With digital disruption constantly changing how business is done and offering new possibilities for how business can be done, we need a workforce full of agile learners who are passionate about developing new skills all the time.
This requires getting rid of the old ways of doing corporate L&D (Learning and Development). Top-down strategies in which bosses send employees to day-long lecture sessions in classrooms are no longer the answer. In our book, we explore the proven best practices for workers to develop real expertise, and for business leaders to inspire them to do so.
“It’s time to put learners in the driver’s seat. Businesses should let employees decide what they want to learn.” -Kelly Palmer
Hiring managers think in terms of degrees and credentials more than skills. Will this shift over time? Why or why not?
It has to shift. We call for this to happen as quickly as possible. Already, some business leaders hire new graduates only to find that these new hires are wholly unprepared to succeed at their jobs or to navigate the real world of work, especially in this challenging and rapidly changing environment.
A university pedigree doesn’t tell a hiring manager what skills or knowledge the applicant has. The same goes for GPA, job titles, and logos on a resume — all factors that have in the past been seen as “credentials,” but in reality, don’t show you a candidate’s potential.
This is why at Degreed, we offer skill assessments and certifications. These show the kinds of expertise each candidate brings to the table. Most current resumes don’t provide a clear picture of the knowledge a candidate has learned, whether through school, in a learning program, or through years of experience.
It’s also time to fill the gap between what students learn in college and what they need to do practically to be successful in the workplace. Universities and corporations can build closer connections to help give students a better shot at developing relevant skills for the job market.
“One of the most important skills is being an agile learner. You want your workforce to have a desire and passion for continuous learning.”-Kelly Palmer
Some people collect things. When I was growing up, I watched my father collect degrees. He was always taking a class, learning a new skill, or listening to an educational program. In fact, way beyond retirement and the age when most of us would consider it, he’s finishing up a doctorate in yet another field.
I learned early on: one of the secrets to happiness and success is to become a lifelong learner.
Kay Peterson and David Kolb delve into how you can renew and enhance your natural ability to learn. How You Learn Is How You Live will inspire your learning journey.
I recently asked Kay to share more about her research into learning styles and lifelong learning.
“Deliberate learning is a skill that is developed through practice.” –Kay Peterson
A learning style is a way of navigating the ideal process of learning- the learning cycle- that emphasizes some parts over others. It’s not a fixed trait. Learning style preferences can change to meet life situations.
How and when do we develop our primary learning style?
Culture, personality, education, career choice and the demands of life influence learning style. Your preferences start early; yet they are not fixed traits. An active child may prefer to be outside exploring rather than sitting in a classroom. If she finds success through actively experimenting, it will lead to greater skill in these areas and a greater desire to use this style. The child may practice the Acting style until it becomes a habitual way of approaching any situation. Your learning style and life path are based on the choices you make.
“Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” –Martha Graham
I’m a big fan of mentoring relationships. A mentor may be a formal relationship with someone or it may be a virtual relationship. In fact, the reason I read so much is that I’m curious and constantly learning from others. I’d rather learn from someone else’s mistakes than make them myself. I’d rather take a shortcut if someone else has already figured out the best way forward.
We believe that behind every successful person, you’ll find a mentor—usually several—who guided their journey. There are many famous mentor/mentee examples out there—Socrates and Plato, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey—the list goes on and on. With the pace of change today, we believe that mentoring can ground you and guide you in a way that few other activities can. The amazing thing about mentoring is that in many ways it benefits the mentor as much as the mentee.
“Potential mentors are all around you once you start looking for them.” -Blanchard / Diaz-Ortiz
Many people who want a mentor don’t know where to start. You point out that “Potential mentors are all around you once you start looking for them.” How do you identify potential mentors? Ones who match your needs?
There’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. We’ve found in our own lives that mentors are all around you once you start looking for them. You might find a mentor in a boss, teacher, neighbor, friend, or colleague. Or you might find one through a professional association, volunteer organization, or online mentoring organization.
That old saying works both ways—when you’re ready to become a teacher/mentor, the student/mentee appears. We encourage people to step up and become mentors, because you won’t fully discover, appreciate, or leverage what you have until you start giving it away.
As for identifying a potential mentor/mentee, it’s important to think about compatibility. In the book, we show that there are two aspects of working with someone: essence and form. Essence is all about sharing heart-to-heart and finding common values. Form is about structure—how you might work together. For a mentoring relationship to thrive, you need to establish that heart-to-heart connection.
Success Tip: writing about issues that arise during introspection can help to clarify them.
Why is it important to keep a journal of your mentoring journey?
One of Ken’s most important mentors, Peter Drucker, taught him that, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” It’s important to keep a journal of your mentoring journey so you can see where you’ve been and stay on track with where you’re going. In the book, the first step in our MENTOR model stands for “Mission”—creating a vision and purpose for the mentorship. Keeping a journal as you engage with your mentor/mentee will reveal the ways you’re fulfilling—or not fulfilling—that mission. For example, if your goal in a mentoring relationship is to create a career you love, you can record in your journal each step you take toward accomplishing that mission.
Success Tip: tread lightly on the networks of others. Never use or abuse the connections made for you.
“Tactful honesty in a mentoring relationship builds trust.” How have you seen that in practice in your own lives?
Ken’s earliest mentor was his father, a lieutenant in the Navy during World War II. Ken’s dad had a brilliant way of guiding Ken without dampening his spirit. For example, when Ken was in junior high, he was elected president of his seventh-grade class. He came home all proud of winning the election. Instead of telling Ken he was the greatest thing since sliced bread—or, on the other hand, telling him not to get a big head—Ken’s dad said with tactful honesty, “Congratulations, Ken. But now that you’re president, don’t ever use your position. Great leaders are great because people respect and trust them, not because they have power.” That One Minute Mentoring taught Ken one of the most valuable lessons he ever learned about leadership.
“Tactful honesty in a mentoring relationship builds trust.” -Blanchard / Diaz-Ortiz
When you’re young, you feel like you will live forever.
Soon enough, you realize that time is both fleeting and speeding by at a faster pace with each passing year.
Living to age 100 was once incredibly rare. When I was a teenager, I regularly visited a local nursing home, and it seemed most were in their 80s. Today, I know many people in their 80s and even 90s not only living on their own, but thriving, going to exercise classes, and even still driving.
100 just doesn’t seem impossible anymore.
Turns out, it’s not only possible, but now so common that it’s changing everything from the way we think and plan our lives.
Written by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, this book is full of surprising statistics and the implications for all of us. I recently spoke with author Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics at the London Business School about their new work:
Copyright Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, Used by Permission. Oldest age by which 50% of babies born in 2007 are predicted to still be alive.
It’s well known that we are living longer, and there are more old people. However there is less understanding that there is strong evidence that each generation is living longer than the previous and is in general healthier for longer. Life expectancy has been increasing by about 2-3 years every decade for the last 200 years. That means that each generation lives around 6-9 years longer than the previous generation. There are major debates about how long and at what rate this can continue, but the signs are that best practice life expectancy is continuing to increase.
In our view people mistakenly take the fact that we are living for longer to mean that we are older for longer. They focus more on aging than longevity. However longevity means we have more years of life and will restructure our life accordingly. Many of our economic, financial and social patterns of behavior are based on an outdated view of life expectancy of around 70. We need to restructure to account for the likely possibility of a 100 year life.
With a long life we will see the end of the dominant model of a three stage life of education, work and retirement. Just as the twentieth century saw the emergence of new stages such as teenagers and retirees, so longevity will bring about whole new stages of life. Further in a multi-stage life, lockstep comes to an end. There is only one way to structure a three stage life – education, then work and retirement. There are many ways to structure a multi-stage life, so we will see the end of a strong link between age and stage. In the future you could be an undergraduate and be 20, 40 or 60. You could be a senior manager and be 30, 50 or 70. To support this multi stage life we will, and are already, seeing changes in how society structures itself. When life extends you reach previous milestones (such as marriage, having children, etc.) at different times, and ages are redefined.
“The antithesis of vitality is stress.” -Gratton / Scott
Work-life balance may become more important. What’s emotional spillover and how do we positively impact it?
If you take a 100 year life seriously and calculate how much you need to save for a pension, it’s likely that people will have to work in some form into their late 70s. This is why we think a three stage life can’t survive as it involves a 60 year career. While working for 60 years may solve your financial problems, it does nothing to solve the deeper issues. We emphasize that living a good life requires investing in intangible assets – productive assets such as skills and knowledge, vitality assets such as health and friendships, and—of growing importance—transformational assets, the ability to deal with change and transitions. While working for longer solves your financial problems, it means your productive, vitality and transformational assets are run into the ground. This is why we think a multi stage life with breaks and transitions is inevitable, with people spending time in between stages recuperating and rebuilding their strength and talents. A longer career also means that at some points you may well take on a traditional job where financial assets are your main focus but at other points you will seek jobs that better balance life and work.
Stress at work is associated with a 20% increase of heart disease.
Talk about education and how its value may change.
If working life extends over 60 years, it’s hard to think of any education you can learn at 20 that can last that long and remain that relevant. This is especially true if you believe the stories of technologists and the rise of Artificial Intelligence. Either because your industry becomes obsolete or because your knowledge becomes outdated, you will need to seriously reinvest in education at different stages later in life. Perhaps this education will in part be provided by traditional sources, but it is also likely that we will see new organizations develop to fill the gap.
It is an interesting question then what you should learn when young if you know that at some point this knowledge will become obsolete. One common sense prediction is that when young you learn how to learn, how to think creatively and critically, and how to evaluate from a broad-based disciplinary perspective. Then you may add to this with some detailed specific technical knowledge knowing, however, that in a decade or more this may become irrelevant.
“In the end, long life is the reward, strength, and beauty.” -Grace Paley
What are the implications for retirement? It seems daunting enough today to save with current lifespans.
As currently understood retirement is a product of three stage life thinking. It is already being undermined with a century long downward trend in those aged 65 staying on at work reversing itself. More and more people are either working past retirement or working after retirement.
Copyright Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, Used by Permission
In a multi-stage life you will need to prepare not just for eventual retirement but also for career breaks and career transitions, all of which will require financing. Lifetime planning will not just be about end of life planning.
Retirement will still exist, e.g. a time when you stop work, but it will occur later. At traditional retirement age you will see more varied behavior. Either people will choose to carry on in their existing roles and continue to earn if their skills and firm allow, or they will break and do something different. We are seeing a rise in entrepreneurship in people in their 60s. Becoming what we term “an independent producer” is an interesting option. In this stage of life you do something that blends work and fun together, earn just enough to cover your expenses and so keep your savings intact.
“If you want to live a long life, focus on making contributions.” -Hans Selye