Stacks of books in different colours, symbolising lifelong learning.
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Lifelong learning: 8 ways to show your staff you’re in it for the long run

21 Sep 2020

Jobseekers of today are looking for opportunities in lifelong learning and development. How can you meet their needs? Here are some tips to help you get started.

At the heart of any successful business is its people, so investing in them is key. One of the best ways to do this is by supporting their lifelong learning and development. Helping your people along their chosen paths will show them how much you value their contributions and potential and, ultimately, add to the company’s overall knowledge base. Win-win situation, right? Here are some ways you can get started.

1. Learning licences

A simple step in bringing more learning opportunities to your workforce is investing in licences for tools and platforms. Eoin Molloy, an associate software engineer at Fidelity Investments, has benefitted from these since joining the company through its technology graduate programme. “We were provided with multiple learning resources, including tutors, to get us up to speed as software developers,” he says.

These included licences to online learning platforms such as Pluralsight, Udemy and Safari Books. Through various courses, Molloy says, employees could learn about “almost any topic, from management skills to learning a new programming language”.

Third-party resources are also made available for both graduates and senior staff at Dun & Bradstreet. Dave Hill, a senior engineer at the company, explains that resources span video tutorials and dedicated platforms, ranging from teaching soft skills to providing access to technical education materials.

“Access is provided via licences that are allocated based on specific personal development plans,” Hill says. “Through these resources, I have been able to work on cutting edge technologies, take advantage of a cloud-training platform, review foundational concepts as well as direct those who have reported to me towards resources to support required learning topics.”

2. Learning days

Giving your staff the time to properly engage with their resources is essential. Some companies provide ‘learning sabbaticals’, for example. But even just allocating a few days can be a big help.

Alongside access to platforms, Fidelity also gives its staff members learning days, where they are encouraged to spend time using the resources provided. “For example, I am currently using learning days to study for the AWS Cloud Practitioner certificate, which I hope to achieve in the coming months,” Molloy says. “Learning days occur cyclically, and I find them to be extremely beneficial in continuously trying to improve my own skills.”

3. Learning groups

As well as the time and resources, a support network and opportunities to share what they have learned is another key step in empowering employees to keep learning.

Fidelity has cultivated internal groups called ‘communities of practice’ (COPs) for people that share common interests, such as data. “COPs often organise events and invite guest speakers to come and talk about a specific topic,” Molloy explains. “They offer an amazing opportunity to network with other employees and create connections with field experts, which can aid in your learning in the future.”

4. Learning for graduates

Many graduates are going to be on a steep learning curve when they join a company. According to Hill, learning and development should be instilled in graduate programmes from day one. Dun & Bradstreet’s engineering graduate programme, for example, has seen Hill become “heavily involved” in sponsoring and training a number of graduate engineers to “develop new talent in specific areas where additional resources were required”.

“This has been an opportunity to ‘pass it forward’ in terms of the investment the company has made in my own development during my time at Dun & Bradstreet,” he says. Learning opportunities should extend to the mentors on programmes too, he explains, as they need the support and resources to build “a bespoke approach”.

5. Flexibility for lifelong learning

One of the great things about today’s working world is the opportunities we are given to find something new. Offering internal options for change is a dynamic way of retaining staff and enriching their career journeys. Hill is grateful for the opportunity he was given to change disciplines, he says. After developing an interest in DevOps, his employer gave him the “financial and logistical assistance” to support his ambition and get the necessary certifications.

“I was also given the opportunity to transition into a role more focused on DevOps concepts and methodology and, having been in this role for over a year now, I’m still able to pursue additional academic studies to enhance my skillset and further my career,” he says, adding that this benefits not just his own trajectory, but that of the entire company.

6. A learning culture

The goal of any company hoping to invest in staff in the long term should be to cultivate a learning culture. Mastercard Ireland’s head of HR, Ann-Marie Clyne, says this should be based on asking employees “to unlock their potential by staying curious and celebrating the achievements of others”.

Her team encourages “thoughtful risk-taking” by supporting debate among staff, enabling them to take initiatives and teach them to welcome challenges as opportunities for learning.

“We support them through many initiatives, such as traditional classroom (now virtual) learning events, development conversations, learning lounge [and] access to learning platforms, tools and resources,” Clyne says. “Like many companies, we offer tuition reimbursement for employees who want to embark on external programmes at all levels, from certification, degree and MBA right up to PhD level.

“More importantly, though, we encourage continuous learning by the experiences in which our employees embrace in their everyday work life. We ask employees to be collaborative and inclusive when it comes to innovation and to invite diversity to the table when it comes to our projects.”

7. Personalised learning paths and in-house platforms

Lifelong learning cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach, says Sheila Curtin, head of the centre for learning and development at PwC. In addition to investing in formal learning for staff, she says, personalising employee experiences is crucial.

“One of the key changes we’ve seen in recent years in learning and development is the need for more personalised learning paths,” Curtin explains. “At PwC, in addition to the coaching they receive, we enable our people to take control of their development and personalise their learning through the extensive programmes and self-learning resources available through Vantage, our in-house learning platform.”

Through Vantage, PwC employees can engage with podcasts, videos, short articles and courses. “Our people can access this any time as it has been made available to them on their mobile devices,” Curtin adds. “Above and beyond the suite of tools, the coaching support and all the systems that we have here to support lifelong learning, at the end of the day I believe it comes down to each of us taking ownership for our learning, developing a growth mindset and being curious to learn. We have to want to learn.”

8. Celebrate learning achievements

An important part of supporting your staff in their progress is recognising their achievements, according to Workhuman’s global director of learning and development, Stuart Curtis. The company gives all of its employees – at every level – access to almost 16,000 courses. Its learning partners work with different departments to “ensure multiple development opportunities” through financial and organisational assistance and support internal career moves, too.

“We celebrate and share these awards on our Gratitudes platform when anyone achieves a growth milestone,” Stuart says. “It is part of our very culture to encourage lifelong development and learning.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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