Business Skills Training Is A Never Ending Process
An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive business advantage…Jack Welch, former chairman, GE
No technology in history has grown as quickly as the Internet. Backbone bandwidth demand has been doubling, not every 18 months as with Moore’s law but every 3.5 months. That’s a 10X growth or 1,000% a year. The increased bandwidth is also fostering social media as well as video technology and applications to expand almost as quickly.
With it has come a complete change in who we communicate with, the way we communicate with them. It has also changed how we work and how long we work. While life in Silicon Valley is akin to working at the edge of disaster, we like to believe that the rest of the country – in fact the globe – is in much the same state of chaos.
Education Environment Has Changed
When we went to college eons ago, we sat in a classroom, listened to the instructor, took copious notes and regurgitated the information on a test. With two degrees we set forth to conquer and change the world. Unfortunately we didn’t change the world. Technology changed the world. The rapid changes in technology are so prolific that it has forced us to become lifelong learners. Rather than rigidly structured process learning is becoming a self-directed process.
There has been more information produced in the last 5 years than during the previous 5,000. A weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come in contact with in the last century in his or her lifetime. The change has been the Internet/Web as well as the value of and our use information.
Dynamics of Business
To understand how quickly life has changed and continues to change for us consider a study regarding e-mail conducted by Forrester Research and John Carroll University:
- 6 trillion email messages sent annually worldwide
- 8 billion messages sent worldwide daily
- 900 million users sending messages daily
- 1,600+ million corporate e-mail addresses
- 2,500 million personal email addresses
- average cost of e-mail per user per year — $750
- average value of email per user per year in terms of productivity — $4,500
- average cost of company to send 20 messages — $1.05
- average time spent daily reading e-mail – 50 minutes
- average time spent responding to email – 60 minutes
According to an article in BusinessWeek, every day 10,000 +/- new Web sites are added to the Internet. New social media locations open up on the iNet daily struggling for your personal and business attention.
Increasingly these sites are video enabled. All of this has forced us to broaden our interest and knowledge areas. It has made it imperative for us to deal and respond “comfortably” in a rapidly changing environment of uncertainty.
New Type of Worker
Peter Drucker in his book, Post Capitalism Society, noted that at least 2/3 of the industrial world’s employees work in the service sector. Knowledge is one of our most important products. This calls for a different type of worker because a degree and technical experience are far less important than the currency of your business skills.
No one can say what technology platforms will dominate this century or what lies beyond the Web and enterprise resource planning. Individuals, corporations and educational institutions are adapting their training goals and programs to prepare for unseen changes.
Experts who track technically-based career development and training see some trends emerging including:
- Business skills are becoming as important as technical skills in defining the success of professionals
- New technologies such as Web-based learning and video-on-demand coursework are rapidly supplanting classroom training
- Technical professionals must view education as a continuing and self-directed process
Many organizations have begun to identify core business competencies for technical professionals and make learning them mandatory. Increasingly they have to learn communications skills, budgeting and finance, strategic planning as well as project and performance management.
Firms are adding on-the-job training by matching people with appropriate learning tools. On-line video-on-demand courses, workshops and seminars are required for people at all levels and all disciplines. Some companies have gone so far as to establish required courses, electives and degree certificates.
Addressing Larger Issues
While select technical skills continue to be in critically short supply, organizations also understand that they must help employees embrace and address larger business issues including finance and marketing. Gartner Group reported early last year that corporate technical staff skills will shift from 65 percent technology to 65 percent business and management skills by the end of the year. While technical skills will continue to be important, much of that work will be outsourced and key internal personnel will be involved in business and technical management.
Because of the growing supply versus demand problem, traditional business schools are beginning to shift to competency-based education. For example the governors of the 14 western states and CEOs of major corporations created the Western Governors University (WGU) in Salt Lake City several years ago. The University enables students to earn credits toward a diploma by taking skill assessment tests rather than courses. The goal was to respond to business and industry needs by providing a means of certifying that an individual can do the job rather than simply prove that he or she has a diploma.
Gartner predicts that training delivery will shift from 25 percent technology and 75 percent instructor based to 50-50 by the end of the year. Video on demand and Web based training will grow rapidly over the next two years. Organizations of all sizes are beginning to view training not as a business cost but rather as an investment in key members of the organization.
For many, the accelerated pace of technology change over the past five years is straining their ability to keep up. Fortunately for generation X and Y workers skill development is viewed quite differently from boomers. For them, ongoing learning is a reality. It is part of the cost of participating in the world. They have become very adept at gathering, processing, analyzing and interpreting information – retaining and discarding data as needed.
It is all part of the “normal” day. Employees who are planning their future in an uncertain environment have to realize that just as they need money for food, rent/mortgage and utilities, they also need education.
When firms “re-engineered” themselves to become “lean and mean” they reduced their training programs. Those who plan on being productive are finding that they must invest in themselves.
While some may disagree, we feel that the shift is healthy. Today employer and employee loyalty is dead. Employees don’t feel guilty or obligated to pay back the organization for the training. They are investing in the training for their career advancement themselves.
Expanding, Changing Our Skills
As we move forward in the 21st century, traditional technical workers will have to expand their business skills while general business employees have to become more proficient in their understanding and use of technology. People across the board will need to not only know how the devices and applications work, where the information is located and what the data means. The lines between technology and business practices are blurring.
Good management skills are more valuable, more respected and more richly rewarded as we move further into the century because they are a combination of courage and strong, genuine concern for individuals, the company, society and the customer. Good management skills are based on the individual and how efficiently and effectively he or she executes the plans despite the lack of firm guidelines. These abilities are more difficult to acquire than course-taught capabilities.
In today’s global business environment, business skills – knowledge of your company, its mission, the industry and your competitors – are vital survival skills. They are skills which change with every tick of the clock. Everyone today is under tremendous pressure to leverage knowledge and information in everything that they do, even when the path and the destination are unclear.
People have to leverage knowledge and experience in innovative ways on an ongoing basis. For the success of organizations where decisions must be made with incomplete data, people who can embrace and deal with uncertainty will be a critical resource for organizations that prosper by leveraging its available knowledge and information.