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The Future Employee Must Posses the Skill and Will to Learn

Posted by on April 4, 2013

Thomas Friedman recently wrote an article for the NYT titled, “Need a Job? Invent It” which addresses how our educational institutions are not teaching students the skills that value most.  He goes on to point out that in today’s economy there is no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job.  Things are changing quickly and by time most students graduate from college the things they studied have evolved.  What’s more common is that the jobs people are going to school for haven’t really been invented yet.

I went to school at UCSC and graduated with a double major in business management economics and psychology.  When I was in school social media, enterprise social software, emergent collaboration, and anything related to the future of work was not taught.  Facebook was just getting started, Twitter didn’t exist and neither did many of the enterprise collaboration platforms such as Jive, Yammer, Chatter, and dozens of others.

Experience used to the the hot commodity to get a good job.  When I graduated from UCSC even the entry level jobs I was applying for were asking for 2-3 years of experience and these were basic jobs.  I was always candid during my interviews and told the people interviewing me that even though I may not know how to do something that I’m sure I could figure it out.  Experience, experience, experience, that’s all I would ever hear.

Today experience is no longer the primary commodity.  Things are changing and evolving so quickly that experience is becoming less and less relevant.  New jobs are emerging that didn’t exist a few years ago and so experience for them is irrelevant.  Instead what is more valuable today is the ability to learn new things and then apply them in order to solve problems.  Anyone with an internet connection has access to limitless information to help them learn about anything and everything they want.  However as Friedman points out in his article, we spend too much time getting people to be college ready instead of innovation ready.

According to Thomas Wagner (who was featured in the article), author of “Creating Innovators” and Harvard education specialist:

“Today because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know.  The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.  As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.”

The future employee must have the skill and will to learn.

  • Too many employees reply on the employer to provide necessary training. In my experience, even most employers have this belief…until they realize how expensive and unsustainable that prospect is.

    Employees need to take more responsibility for learning the skills they want/need…and employers need to take more steps to support this by providing a list of skills it needs most and encouraging employees to learn them. The employer also ought to provide access to resources (unblock YouTube, for example) and open tuition reimbursement programs to include non-degree learning experiences (conferences, seminars, etc), and access to experts in their own organization so people can learn from each other (social learning). Formal training ain’t gonna cut it. Employees have to be responsible for their own career development.

    • Hi Bill,

      Great points and I completely agree. It’s not just up to the employers to make sure that the employees get what they need. Unfortunately many employees either don’t have the confidence or the desire to take matters into their own hands to learn what they need to on their own. At the end of the day nobody is really going to look out for you, but you!

  • Kristy

    Hiring a proactive and efficient employee is easy if the employer will provide proper training for them to be motivated at all times. Racks and UPS

  • Anna Pham

    The willingness to change, adapt and learn new things before job and during job is one of the most important trait that employers are looking at people they might hire nowadays.