Blog post

The future of HR: lifelong learning and continuous development is the road to success

Hans Janse
Hans Janse 18 January 2018

The world is changing very quickly, and so is HR practice. Are you ready to join us heading into the future? My name is Hans Janse, and I am one of the people responsible for the strategic development of our software and services portfolio. In this series of blogs, I set out to sketch the HR field as it will look in 2020. What will change? What new challenges will organizations face? I try to identify trends and ways in which we can prepare. This is the fourth installment, in which I look at the importance of continuous development and lifelong learning. 

Study, graduate, find a suitable job, and work for the same employer until you get a gold watch and start your well-deserved life of leisure after retirement. Not even twenty years ago, that’s what most people dreamed of. Although some may feel nostalgic for those simpler times, a job for life is increasingly difficult to attain these days. In my previous blogs, I noted the ever-increasing pace of change in most organizations, and explained that the new situation demands a different approach to recruitment. When all is said and done, it is the people within the organization who make the difference. This means that organizations and their HR departments must pay even closer attention to the employee experience. Now, let’s take a closer look at how people can and should pursue ongoing development to guarantee their long-term employability. 

Employees want to be doing something that helps to safeguard their future employability, which may or may not be tied to one organization.

If we consider past trends and the sheer speed at which companies and their business models have been forced to adapt, we see that employees have to be able to move and change with the times to ensure their employability. They must be flexible enough to meet various organizations’ requirements at any given moment. Today’s employee also has good reason to pursue personal and professional development. They want to be doing something that helps to safeguard their future employability, which may or may not be tied to one organization. This new perspective creates a new dynamic and raises a key challenge for HR managers: how can we support the needs and ambitions of both the organization and the individual employee? 

Ongoing development 

It is the task of HR managers to help their people stay on top of their game by learning new skills in keeping with the changing organizational requirements.

Rather than focusing on the here and now, today’s employee realizes the importance of personal and professional development. They make an effort to constantly glean new knowledge and develop new skills. This is how they remain valuable to their current employer while also preparing for future career moves. This process of continuous development demands a different approach on the part of HR managers. They must reconcile the changing needs of the organization with the developing skills of the employee. If they are aware of the organization’s requirements, not only today but tomorrow and beyond, the HR manager can determine whether those requirements will continue to be met by the current workforce. Is there still a good match between the organization and its people? The vigilant HR manager can anticipate changes which will demand skills that are not yet fully represented in-house. This influences the talent-acquisition process, and may prompt alternative arrangements such as outsourcing or insourcing. The same considerations underlie the employee’s development needs. It is the task of HR managers to help their people stay on top of their game by learning new skills in keeping with the changing organizational requirements. This is the first way in which the HR discipline plays an absolutely crucial role: managing professional development with a view to business continuity. Here, the HR manager’s primary concern is the organization’s interests.

Focus on the employee 

The other side of the coin is, of course, the employees themselves. Today’s staff, particularly the younger generation, view their career in the context of the world in which they have grown up. They are used to making quick decisions; information can be shared with the click of a button, as can feedback. The employee wants to be in charge of their own learning process, and will stay with a particular employer only if they have opportunities to learn, and if their qualities are appreciated. It is therefore crucial for HR departments to focus on the employee – their needs and ambitions. Make it clear that they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to their career path, and provide everything they need to realize their value and potential. It is also important for the organization to offer the tools and resources that the employee needs to remain competent, engaged, healthy, productive, and satisfied. Invest in education and training. Provide encouragement. Give feedback. Establish a good employment relationship based on mutually attractive terms and conditions. Maximize vitality! 

Abandon rigid career paths, imposed from on high. Instead, allow staff to plan their own career development.

In short, it is time for every organization to embrace a sustainable personnel policy. Abandon rigid career paths, imposed from on high. Instead, allow staff to plan their own career development. Some highly skilled employees may decide to move on and pursue new opportunities, taking their knowledge with them. This does not need to be a disaster: they may come back one day, and it is always possible to replace them with people who have equally well-honed knowledge and skills, perhaps even more appropriate to the organization’s current needs. This process underpins innovation, both at the organizational level and within society at large. Allow employees to develop and facilitate that development, and adopt the role of a serious and supportive business partner. We used to ask people where they saw themselves in five years’ time. This question is no longer appropriate or relevant, as the future is becoming more unpredictable by the day. It is now a question of examining a person’s potential to learn and adapt, and their attitude to change. That way, your employees will learn from you, and you will learn from them.

 
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Hans Janse

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