In our new campaign #LearnIn - why women need to lean into learning - we will be talking a lot about the importance of lifelong learning and in this blog, we explore why. But first, we thought it worth exploring what we mean when we say lifelong learning. What does a lifelong learner look like?
My dad was the analogue version of a lifelong learner. He didn’t go to University as he had to leave school at 15 to earn a wage, but that didn’t stop him. He was unemployed but read the FT every day to learn about global developments. He enrolled in several Open University courses and was always watching a tape of some academic talking about (what I considered at the time to be) boring, stuffy subjects. He bought how-to manuals to teach himself how to fix our car and then earned cash in hand; fixing other people’s cars. And he hired books on electronics from the library because he was interested in the topic and eventually learned enough to build valve amplifiers and speakers from scratch.
No one made him learn. He didn’t have a boss making him enrol on courses. He just loved knowledge and would then turn his newly acquired knowledge and skills to his advantage.
This is what it means to be a lifelong learner. Someone that builds learning into their lives of their own volition.
Lifelong learners tend to keep themselves motivated with the desire for self-improvement. More knowledge. More skills. Sometimes knowledge and skills are acquired with specific career goals in mind but often there is no explicit plan for exploiting them at all. It’s just all about the love of learning. They don’t rely on their employer to keep their knowledge and skills up to date. And it’s important they don’t, as there is no way employers can keep up with what you need to know.
Being this type of lifelong learner is easier in the digital age. Knowledge is at your fingertips. Informally, there are billions of reference articles, videos, and podcasts online. Formally there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of online courses available on any given topic.
My dad died twenty years ago so only just started to harness the power of the internet to feed into his learning addiction. But I have followed in his footsteps. I make sure I learn something new every day; even if it’s just a top tip from an article, skim read over coffee in the morning. Whilst I love learning, I also do this because as the Co-CEO of a digital-first business I know how important lifelong learning is to my future.
Why is lifelong learning so important?
The importance of lifelong learning has been growing steadily for decades due to forces impacting the labour market. The most significant of these is the growing speed of technological change and globalization. Every single year that passes, a gap opens up between what you currently know, what has recently been developed/discovered and what you need to know. The age of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies offer new job opportunities and avenues for economic advancement. But if your knowledge and skills have stagnated, you’re more likely to face risks from these developments than rewards.
There was once a time where you would train up in your twenties and be set for a steady career path until retirement. Those days are long gone. In fact, we’re entering an era where people are finding their skills irrelevant at age 40, 35...and younger. It's estimated that the 'half-life' of skill sets will soon decrease to five years. Over a thirty-year career - say age 32 to 62 - you'd need to update, refresh or completely retrain six times to stay relevant. That's a sobering thought when you compare it to how most people treat their careers and professional development.
Why is this such an issue for mothers?
Mothers already face systemic disadvantages that are stubbornly long-established. There are differences in pay, specifically, women may suffer a per-child wage penalty, resulting in a pay gap between non-mothers and mothers that is larger than the gap between men and women. There are differences in perceived competence. Mothers can suffer worse evaluations indicating that they are less committed to their jobs, less dependable, and less authoritative than non-mothers. Many new mothers face maternal discrimination and face redundancy. A lack of flexible working options keeps mothers out of the workplace altogether.
And now they face brand new challenges.
A new McKinsey Global Institute report focuses on the future of women at work. They predict that by 2030, 3 million women in the UK are at risk of having their jobs replaced by automation and a further 1-4 million may face a need to transition across occupations or skill sets to remain employed. To put that in context that’s between 30-51% of total female employment in the UK.
McKinsey predicts that even if women’s jobs aren’t displaced completely by technology, the ways in which they work will change. There will be a move towards new technologies, with more tasks becoming automated.
McKinsey state that:
“To successfully transition, women will need to be skilled, mobile, and tech-savvy. If women make these transitions, they could be on the path to more productive, better-paid work. If they cannot, they could face a growing wage gap or be left further behind when progress toward gender parity in work is already slow.”
Women will need new skills to make successful transitions, particularly new digital skills.
The challenge is that most people aren't even aware they lack digital skills. We think that because we use email at work and spend two hours a day on Facebook and Instagram, we’re savvy digital operators.
But the data shows we’re not keeping up. 22% of business owners in the UK believe a lack of digital skills among their employees is holding them back. Over 50% of the UK’s digital tech community highlighted a shortage of highly skilled employees.
The reality is that the digital skills gap - the ability of workers to keep up with the skills needed by businesses - is widening. Did you know that the most innovative companies aren’t even using email internally any more?
Without a strong grasp of how to leverage digital in the workplace, people will find it increasingly difficult to add value at work. Their professional development will stall and over time they’ll struggle to find well-paid work. And, eventually, maybe even any work.
Clearly, lifelong learning isn’t a ‘nice to have’ it’s an absolute essential to make sure you don’t get left behind. The single most important ability you can possess in this new world isn’t coding. Or social media marketing. Or data. It’s the skill of being an effective learner.
Avon’s #stand4her report shows a worrying statistic for UK women. Out of the 15 countries surveyed, UK women were the least likely to have undertaken any training or self-development (self-funded or otherwise) or gained new skills or knowledge in the last three years. Just 50% of UK women had done so compared with 91% of women from the Philippines, 87% of women from Columbia and 84% of women from Peru.
Things aren’t looking good.
Over the next few weeks we will be shining a light on this issue and exploring:
- The benefits of learning from employment and personal benefits that will mitigate some of the issues mentioned above, to the social benefits that will impact positively on society
- The evidence base that shows mothers are facing particular barriers to accessing learning opportunities and how they can overcome them
We will also be launching a free short course designed to help you to become a lifelong learner.
Follow the #LearnIn campaign on the social platform of your choice to learn more and don’t forget to visit our Work That Works Academy to access the free courses that we will be launching over the next few weeks.