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Why Repeated Doses of Learning Will be Needed in Our Pandemic Recovery

Recently, a lot of interesting articles about “what’s next” are popping up in my LinkedIn feed. I notice articles about whether remote work is here to stay, whether employers need to brace for a huge wave of turnover as workers start to see more openings, and whether we will embrace a new, COVID-informed definition of what constitutes an “essential worker.” And like many, I find myself with a strong need to eliminate at least some of the unknowns that have been part of our lives for the past year.

At this point, it goes without saying that we are living in “unprecedented times.” It is hard to anticipate what our work life will look like in six months or even a year. Amidst all the constant juggling, worrying, and reshuffling, it can feel empowering to make a plan to tackle an important “to do” list item that does not require input from the local health department! As the job market heats up, many working adults will respond by updating their skills, obtaining new credentials, and paying more attention to where they are heading in their careers. They will revisit skill-building and career development plans, revise them, or start over completely.

While revisiting their skills and careers, workers might benefit from thinking through their experiences during this year of working “differently.” In a new PWC Pulse Survey, “What’s next for America’s workforce post-COVID-19?,” this finding is notable: “The skills employees are most focused on building are clearly influenced by the lessons learned from the pandemic, including adaptability and the ability to learn and apply new skills quickly.” Employees may not necessarily know which skills will be needed, but given their recent experiences, they know that having the ability to learn critical skills quickly will be key.

Workers from all sorts of industries have been forced to pivot and re-skill quickly during the pandemic. Front-line workers have learned new skills related to workplace safety. Remote work for many other occupations has led to rapid skill acquisition related to technology and communication. Many employees have been acquiring skills at a rapid pace, even though these may not be the ones that they had planned to focus on.

While workers may be aware that they have expanded their skills sets, they could benefit from some guidance on leveraging these skill sets for career advancement. It’s a great opportunity for employers to step in and provide that guidance. This win-win proposition can help the employee while also demonstrating how to align the need to learn with the skills that have strategic importance for employers. Providing employees with guidance around future skill needs will drive faster and more meaningful skills acquisition that can also support a company’s talent development needs and bottom line.

Strada’s Institute for the Future of Work set out the model for this new learning ecosystem prior to the pandemic. In their work, they emphasize the importance of navigation support for learners. Employers are in an excellent position to help with career and education navigation, either through working with an intermediary or providing that support directly.

Some working adults may feel like they need time to reset. For them, the idea of pursuing learning right now likely ranks low on their list, which is understandable. The thought of returning to the “familiar” is very appealing after a year of unprecedented disruption. However, we all should first reflect on all the skills and on-the-job learning we have pursued. Make a list, making note of which learning activities have been the most engaging and beneficial to your job performance. When the time comes for a formal discussion with your manager, you will be prepared to talk about how your future plans are informed by your most recent skill gains. And you might just be that much closer to reaching your career goals.

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