Vol. 11, No. 9
September 2009
PQ Systems
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Filling the learning void:
‘The more you learn, the more you earn’

As companies downsize, move, or close, thousands are finding themselves without jobs in a highly competitive job market that they never anticipated. A 55-year-old former NCR systems engineer is in line for jobs along with whiz-bang new college graduates as well as other laid-off former engineers. In some areas, such as northeastern Vermont, unemployment is more than 22 percent.

Any edge that a candidate has over other applicants may be miniscule—and a record of lifelong learning in one’s profession may provide that edge. Quality professionals and others are finding that professional development while on the job is essential to their continuous growth, and may indeed help them find another job if they are laid off, or make the difference when a company is deciding which positions to cut. And those who are unable to find work are returning to the classroom to enhance their professional skills.

In terms of formal education, the Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates a correlation between level of education and not only salary levels, but unemployment levels as well. “New data tell an old story,” the BLS asserts. “The more you learn, the more you earn—and the less likely you are to be unemployed.” (http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/1999/fall/oochart.pdf) Beyond this correlation with formal education levels, on-job training experiences and seminars can enhance one’s position and demonstrate a commitment to ongoing learning that may prove critical if one is called upon to retrain in a new position.

In some countries, governmental programs aim to encourage employee training and promote lifelong learning in the workplace. Ireland, for example, offers “One Step Up” to encourage on-the-job learning as well as retraining for the unemployed. In this country, the Department of the Interior’s Human Resources Division points out that on-the-job learning opportunities are among the best ways to develop ongoing professional development. The department encourages developing a plan for OJT, rather than approaching it in a haphazard way, and this same dictum applies to individuals who undertake learning on their own. Planning for professional development can be part of an employee’s annual goals, outlining subjects to be covered, number of hours involved, estimated completion date, and ways to evaluate the training.

Technical skills can be enhanced with on-line training, also know as webinars, in using specific software programs. Webinars that don’t require travel or time away from the office are a good investment of resources, since they often demand only a couple of hours to enhance learning about a particular software program or statistical concept. On-line learning opportunities are cropping up at an unprecedented rate.

Evaluating the value of on-line webinars and other training opportunities is essential. When resources are limited, using them in unproductive or ineffective ways represents a giant waste. How does one know if training will be useful? A few good questions might be considered before enrolling in a program.

Is the training offered by a legitimate source?

If you want to enhance your cooking skills, you would turn to an experienced chef or cooking school, not a fly-by-night center that generates whatever training is popular. Check the credentials of the organization offering the training. Ask whether their training is consistent with their core competencies as demonstrated in the services or products they provide.

Are the trainers themselves fully trained and experienced?

Before you sign up for training, use the Internet to find out what you can about those who are leading it. The training company’s own website should provide biography information for its trainers. We’ve all had the experience of feeling that we may actually know more than the instructors in some training situations.

Will the content enhance my job skills?

Learning a new software program that you will never use in the workplace would be a waste of time, of course. On the other hand, pursuing training in a program that you are using may help expand your ability to utilize its full functionality.

Is the cost commensurate with the value?

The days of 4-day conferences, or travel to exotic places for workshops, seem to be gone. Technology has filled this void, with inexpensive webinars that bring learning to one’s desk, rather than demanding expensive travel and substantial registration investments.

In the wake of the economic downturn, consumers are becoming more canny about their shopping patterns to be sure that their purchases are appropriate and their resources go as far as possible. The same awareness applies to training decisions. Organizations as well as individuals are scrutinizing expenses to make sure that the use of their resources is maximized.

And as for an individual’s own professional growth and development—well, it’s always better to have a little extra learning in your pocket, just in case.


Copyright 2009 PQ Systems.
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